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Update from the Capitol - 2/13/18

Senator Tyler Harper

By: Sen. Tyler Harper (R - Ocilla)

Eighteen legislative days have come and gone and the pace has definitely picked up under the Gold Dome. We now have a steady routine of passing legislation in the Senate Chamber before adjourning to take part in our many committee meetings. We passed many bills the last two weeks and are on pace to take up quite a few more next week.

 

Last week, the first meeting of the Natural Resources and the Environment Committee took place. It’s a new role that I’m still settling into, but after meeting many of the men and women who make up the agencies which protect and conserve our natural resources, I am confident that our committee will help ensure our state’s natural beauty remains for generations to come. In our first meeting, we took up a bill which I have sponsored, Senate Bill 322. This bill would incentivize individuals who have never held a hunting or fishing license in Georgia by offering the licenses at a reduced cost. It would also establish a hunter and angler mentor program where individuals who have always been curious about these sports can learn from those who have dedicated their lives to them. This bill will help reduce some of the barriers standing between citizens and these activities and will teach those new to these sports how to be good stewards of the environment.

We also passed several bills, many of which will have a direct impact to our district. Senate Bill 129 would allow former active duty military veterans who began their service after January 1, 1990 to buy into the Employee’s Retirement System. This is a great bill which serves the dual purpose of encouraging potential employers to hire veterans, while also seeing to it that they are set up for retirement.

We also passed a bill that would increase the penalty fee for cases of Medicaid fraud to match the federal fee amount. This is significant because we want to ensure that our valuable Medicaid dollars are going to those who are actually in need. This bill is a win-win because it punishes those who do not display the need for Medicaid while at the same time using the funds collected from the fees to be used for healthcare.

Regarding healthcare, we recognized Tuesday, January 30 as Telehealth Day at the state Capitol. The Georgia Partnership for Telehealth, headquartered in the 7th Senate District, is a non-profit organization that works to increase access to primary care and reduce costs in rural and underserved communities throughout the state. It was a pleasure to recognize them for the great work they are doing, not only in Georgia, but all over the world. On Thursday, February 1, 2018, we recognized Community Health Centers Day. Across the state, federally qualified health centers help to provide high-quality primary and preventive care to more than 600,000 Georgians adding nearly $300 million to Georgia’s economy every year. I want to commend South Central Primary Care and McKinney Medical Center for the roles they play as Community Health Centers in the 7th Senate District. It is always a privilege to recognize the good work of businesses and individuals in our district and I want to commend each of them for the roles they play in our district and across the state.

The final pieces of legislation that I want to mention that were passed last week are Senate Bill 257 and Senate Resolution 502. Senate Bill 257 would require a veterinarian approved by the Depart­ment of Agriculture to advise and consult with law enforce­ment in cases of suspected animal cruelty before charges can be filed. With the importance that agriculture plays in the 7th District, this piece of legislation will go a long ways in protecting our farmers and ranchers in our district and across the state. Senate Resolution 502 would encourage the United States Congress to take action and bring high-speed broadband internet access to the rural areas of our state. I know that many of us in rural Georgia often have difficulties getting consistent internet access. There are so many opportunities that broadband can provide from education, to healthcare, to economic development. It is critical that rural Georgia keeps up with the urban parts of our state when it comes to internet access.

I am happy to report that after tireless work, numerous meetings and com­promises on both sides, the House and Senate came to an agreement on HB 159 this week. I want to commend my colleagues, our friends across the hall, staff, and all stakeholders who came together to update Georgia’s adoption code. We showed that we can all work together and put our differences aside to ensure that Georgia’s children and families come first instead of political games and gain. As part of this measure, the Senate and House also suggest a joint study committee to analyze a birth mother’s living expenses when paid through private attorney adoptions. This legislation is now on its way to the Governor for his signature and I look forward to HB 159 being signed by Governor Deal and becoming law.

Also, this week, we passed a handful of bills designed to make our healthcare system more streamlined and responsive to the state’s opioid epidemic. Senate Bill 352 would create a new commission specifically designed to deal with this issue, the Commission on Substance Abuse and Recovery, as well as naming an Executive Director of Substance Abuse, Addiction and Related Disorders. The Senate also passed SB 357, also known as the HEALTH Act, which calls for the creation of a new Health Coordination and Innovation Council and a Health System Innovation Center to help facilitate communication between both the public and private sector to make our health care system more streamlined.

As always, we appreciate those who have served us or continue to serve us. In recognition of that, we passed House Bill 38 which states that anyone who has served in the United States military and was honorably discharged would be eligible to receive a driver’s license with a veteran designation. The bill would also make licenses free of charge for veterans. In further recognition of those who serve us, we recognized February 6, 2018 as Firefighters Recognition Day at the state Capitol. These individuals play an important role in maintaining firefighting standards and educating the public on fire prevention and suppression methods. It is always a privilege to see so many firefighters from across the district at the Capitol each year for this recognition. I appreciate them taking the time to visit with me and allowing us the opportunity to recognize them for the jobs they do every day.

I was also honored to welcome several guests to the Senate Chamber this week. We welcomed and recognized the Chattahoochee Forestry District as the 2017 District of the Year, the Bleckley-Pulaski Forestry Unit as the 2017 South Georgia Forestry Unit of the Year, and the Pike-Spalding-Lamar-Upson-Clayton Forestry Unit as the 2017 North Georgia Forestry Unit of the Year. I was also privileged to present Corporal Brian Adams of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Law Enforcement Division with a resolution to congratulate him for being named the 2017 Game Warden of the Year. It was a pleasure to recognize each of these groups and individuals for their hard work and commitment as well as highlighting the vital role they all play in protecting our state’s natural resources. I was honored to have played a part in granting them the recognition that they deserve.

The days are beginning to get longer and more filled with committee meetings, but I am never too busy to address any questions or concerns that you might have. Please reach out to my office if I can ever be of any service to you. My door and phone lines are always open!