2022 Session: Week 12 Update
Last week was the final full week of the 2022 legislative session. I have mixed emotions about wrapping up the session on Monday, April 4. Three months in Atlanta is a long time, and I’m ready to get back home to our district. However, I will miss my colleagues and the friendships that we’ve formed while we do the work of the General Assembly. As the end of session draws near, last week was undoubtedly our busiest week yet as we worked to see that crucial legislation crossed the finish line. My colleagues and I spent time both in the House Chamber and in our committees resulting in several key votes on House and Senate legislation.
Two bills passed the House this week to combat heinous human trafficking crimes in our state and protect trafficking survivors. I was proud to carry my very first bill on the House floor, Senate Bill 565. It would allow a victim to apply for vacatur of his or her sentence through a petition that could be filed immediately following a misdemeanor or felony conviction that was committed as a direct result of human trafficking. If a sentence is vacated, any court fines or fees that the victim previously paid for the sentence would be reimbursed through the Georgia Crime Victims Emergency Fund. It is our hope that this bill would allow more survivors of human trafficking to avoid long waiting periods when filing these petitions so they can focus on recovery and getting their lives back. Furthermore, we passed Senate Bill 461, which would add human trafficking-related crimes to the list of crimes that are not eligible for an unsecured judicial release. This means these criminals must pay bond before being released from jail. With SB 461, human trafficking offenses would only be bailable before a superior court judge, which would bring human trafficking crimes in line with other severe crimes in Georgia.
In addition, we passed Senate Bill 361, the Law Enforcement Strategic Support Act or LESS Crime Act, to establish a tax credit for Georgians who make contributions to 501(c)(3) law enforcement foundations. With these donations, foundations could use the funds to issue bonuses or training for law enforcement officers, pay for equipment for officers, or cover costs of a co-responder program comprised of law enforcement officers and behavioral health specialists. SB 361 would create an innovative way for citizens and businesses to come together and give back to their local law enforcement agencies as they work to keep our communities safe.
We passed Senate Bill 87, the Senator Jack Hill Veterans’ Act, to provide a simple way for Georgians to donate to college scholarships that are only for our veterans. With SB 87, taxpayers would have the opportunity to use a portion of their income tax return to make a voluntarily contribution to the Technical College System of Georgia Foundation, which would be able to expand its efforts to support veterans who are seeking technical degrees. Specifically, the funds received by the foundation would be used exclusively to award scholarships to veterans with service-connected disabilities to attend TCSG programs. This legislation would allow Georgians to support our disabled veterans who are looking to transition to sustainable, long-term careers. This bill was named in honor of the late State Senator Jack Hill, whose legacy will live on through this legislation.
Another bill that passed in the House this week would help identify causes of maternal mortality and improve maternal health outcomes across our state. Senate Bill 496 would require a medical examiner’s inquiry in cases where a pregnant woman dies or when a new mother dies to help determine if these deaths were postpartum-related. This requirement would be waived in cases when the cause of death is clearly known and not linked to pregnancy. The General Assembly has been dedicated to lowering maternal mortality rates in Georgia in recent years, and this legislation would help find ways to prevent similar deaths from occurring in the future.
The House also gave unanimous passage to Senate Bill 562 to prohibit companies owned or operated by the governments of Russia or Belarus from working with our state government. Under this bill, any company that submits a bid for a state contract would be required to certify that it is not owned by or affiliated with these governments. Our state leaders recently announced that Georgia would divest any state investments in Russia, and SB 562 would further reinforce our condemnation of the Russian government as Putin continues to senselessly murder and violate the sovereign rights of the Ukrainian people.
Here are a few of the other bills and resolutions the House passed during Week 11: Senate Bill 10, which would make it a felony offense to impersonate a court officer; this bill would also make it a crime to intentionally place a global positioning system (GPS) on a vehicle when the car owner or lessee has a protective order against the person placing the GPS; Senate Bill 96, which would allow notaries to accept a valid Veterans Health Identification Card issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as confirmation of identity; Senate Bill 116, which would allow for the registration of maternity-supportive housing residences that provide housing for pregnant and postpartum women and their children; Senate Bill 319, which would repeal the requirement for weapons carry licenses for those who are not otherwise ineligible to possess and carry a firearm; Senate Bill 330, which would prohibit insurance companies from canceling, modifying, or refusing to issue life insurance based on an individual’s status as an organ donor; Senate Bill 337, which would discontinue compensation for a public official if the official is suspended as a result of a felony indictment; Senate Bill 345, which would prohibit state and local governments from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination as a condition for providing services, accessing a facility, issuing licenses or permits, performing duties, and other matters; Senate Bill 514, the Unmask Georgia Students Act, which would prohibit local public and charter schools from making or enforcing any rules that require students to wear face masks or face coverings at school, unless the rule would allow parents to exempt their child without disclosing their reason for opting out; Senate Bill 576, which would update Georgia’s laws for grandparent visitation rights; House Bill 1013, the Mental Health Parity Act, which would create parity for mental health coverage to the same degree as coverage for physical care; this legislation would authorize workforce development initiatives for mental and behavioral health professionals; it would expand transparency and accountability mechanisms for consumers and enhance resources and tools for frontline responders and communities; it would encourage interagency collaboration to allow state agencies to collect data to evaluate the effectiveness of these comprehensive changes.
By the time this update is published, we will have completed Legislative Day 40, and the 2022 session of the General Assembly will have ended. It has been an honor to represent the 156th district at the Capitol, and I look forward to continuing the work back home. You can continue to reach me throughout the year by email at [email protected], and I hope you will do so.
By Leesa Hagan R-Vidalia House of Representatives)