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2/13/2017 - We returned to the Gold Dome on Tuesday, February 7 to begin the fourth eventful week of the legislative session, which included a full schedule of House committee activity and hearings on many important topics. We are pretty busy every day, so I can’t go to every committee meeting at the Capitol. Sometimes I watch them at night or early in the morning or even on Saturday if something I need to know is being discussed. You can do this, too, by going to the “house.ga.gov” website and click on House of Representatives, and then on the left you will see “video broadcast.” Click that, and you can choose from the live broadcast, or the House committee meeting archives to see what you want. A few bills are beginning to make their way out of their respective committees and onto the House floor for a vote; and this week, my colleagues and I saw the passage of several significant bills.

One measure that the House passed this week was House Bill 146. This legislation will greatly benefit the men and women who risk their lives for the safety of our communities and State – Georgia’s brave firefighters. HB 146 would require fire departments to provide and maintain adequate insurance coverage for Georgia’s firefighters who have served on-duty at their department for 12 consecutive months, have been diagnosed with cancer, and are disabled and unable to continue to work as a result of that cancer. The insurance benefits would include a lump-sum benefit of $25,000 or $6,250 based on the severity of the cancer. Additionally, if the firefighter is not able to perform his or her duties because of their diagnosis, a monthly benefit equal to 60 percent of the firefighter’s monthly salary at the time of diagnosis, or a monthly benefit of $5,000, whichever is less, would begin six months after the firefighter has submitted proof of their diagnosis and would continue for three years. HB 146 would also provide coverage for volunteer firefighters who are unable to work due to a cancer diagnosis. Under HB 146, volunteer firefighters would receive a monthly benefit of $1,500 for the same three year period. Additionally, HB 146 would allow firefighters to maintain their insurance coverage upon retirement or a career change, but he or she would be responsible for paying insurance premiums in those scenarios. The bill would authorize counties and cities to use tax revenue to purchase insurance for firefighters covered under this bill. Eligible cancers covered under HB 146 would include bladder, blood, brain, breast, cervical, esophageal, intestinal, kidney, lymphatic, lung, prostate, rectal, respiratory tract, skin, testicular, thyroid, leukemia, multiple myeloma or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Due to the nature of this line of work, firefighters are increasingly exposed to cancer-causing carcinogens, and studies show that firefighters have higher rates of certain types of cancers than the rest of the population. Georgia’s firefighters run into burning buildings while everyone else runs out, selflessly, without thinking about the long-term risks associated with their heroic actions. We were glad to see the hard work of creating a bill pay off and pass overwhelmingly this week that would meet the needs of firefighters.

As legislators, it is our inherent responsibility to protect the lives of Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens, and this week, we unanimously passed legislation that would change open records laws involving children in order to safeguard our youngest Georgians. House Bill 75 would protect Georgia’s children by allowing law enforcement or prosecution agencies to confidentially share vital information regarding ongoing child abuse, neglect, or dependency investigations with the Department of Human Services, including the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), and other governmental child protective agencies. Currently, any information law enforcement officials share with child protective agencies in any pending investigation or prosecution of criminal activity is recorded in case files and subject to open records requests. This bill was introduced after a law enforcement agency in North Georgia shared information with DFCS regarding a pending investigation into the death of a child in an effort to protect the lives of other children who were in potential danger of the perpetrator. While sharing this information was necessary to protect the lives of other children, it also opened the possibility that those confidential law enforcement records could be made publicly available through DFCS and no longer considered confidential. Therefore, HB 75 seeks to close this loophole by ensuring such information is redacted and kept confidential until such an investigation is completed in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our precious children.

We had a number of area residents come to the capitol this week. Dental Hygienists, Librarians, Optometrists, Dentists, Pharmacy students, CASA volunteers, Fire Fighters, newly-elected County Officials, College representatives, Volunteers for tax reform and spending, Teachers, Conservationists, Magistrate Judges, and a few others were in the Capitol. I got to see a lot of folks.

Now that the session is picking up its pace, we will begin voting on more bills and resolutions every day that we are in session. I encourage you to provide me with your input and thoughts as I serve you and your family here at the Gold Dome. Please stop by and visit if you are in Atlanta or call my office at the State Capitol, as I am always happy to speak with you regarding any questions or comments you may have concerning legislation. If you need help with figuring out how to watch the video broadcast, call us. My capitol office phone number is 404-656-7857, and my email address is rick.jasperse@house.ga.gov.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your State Representative.

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