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2/27/2017 - On Monday we were back under the Gold Dome, discussing, amending, voting for and against legislation. It might surprise you that many bills are killed in committee and a few on the floor each week. Many more are changed substantially in the important committee process where members of a committee can change a bill, hold it in place, or even defeat it. Our committees are where the work is done, and it's a member’s responsibility to be there and make sure good legislation comes out for a floor vote.

With Crossover Day coming up next week, there were many meetings on into the evening each day preparing for this week. Again I will summarize a few bills that were passed but you are always welcome to ask me to send you the complete list of bills we vote on each week. Remember that the House bills also must be voted on in Senate committee, by the Senate Rules Committee, and by the Senate at large before the Governor receives them.

One of the first measures that passed the House this week was a bipartisan bill to provide support to Georgia’s foster parents and foster children. House Bill 250, which passed unanimously, would allow foster parent applicants and caregivers to foster children who are early care and education program employees and who have received satisfactory background and fingerprint records checks within the previous 24 months. These fine folks can submit evidence from their employee background and finger print check to the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to satisfy the department’s records check requirements. Currently, any individual who cares for a foster child must successfully complete a background check through DFCS, and the department does not accept background checks completed by other state agencies. HB 250 will allow greater flexibility for those who are taking the steps to care for and improve the lives of children in our state’s foster system.

Another measure that unanimously passed the House chamber was House Bill 159, legislation that would modernize and reform Georgia’s adoption laws based on best practices and the best interests of the child, birth parents and adoptive parents. I found it amazing that many of the laws surrounding the adoption process have been around since the 1920’s. It took one of our members two years to improve the adoption laws in our state. I thank him, and I know many families will in the future. HB 159 would reduce the minimum age of a single petitioner from 25 to 21, allowing judges to use discretion to decide on a case-by-case basis if an adoption is in the best interest of the child. It would also update and streamline the path for domestication of a foreign decree of adoption and provide a path for the adoption of a internationally-born child for whom Georgia parents were only previously able to obtain a guardianship, making the adoption process much easier for Georgia’s adoptive parents who have already complied with complex and stringent federal foreign adoption laws. HB 159 would add the option for an individual over the age of 18 who signs a surrender of parental rights to waive the 10-day right to revoke his or her surrender so that the individual may elect to have the surrender become final and permanent upon signature. Finally, HB 159 would allow birthmothers in non-agency adoptions to receive limited living expense payments to cover the cost of food, rent, and utilities, authorizing independent attorneys to dispense expenses for a limited period of time in connection with private independent adoptions. HB 159 will simplify the adoption process. Children will more quickly and efficiently be united with their forever families.

This session, the House has made it a priority to pass legislation that improves the lives of our veterans, active duty military personnel, and their families; and this week we continued in those efforts with the unanimous passage of two bipartisan bills that would benefit Georgia’s military students. House Bill 224 would give military students the ability to attend any school within their school system beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. School-aged children of a military service member living in military housing, on or off-base, would have the flexibility to attend the public school of their choice within their local school system if space is available at that school. Similarly, House Bill 148, also known as the Educating Children of Military Families Act, would authorize the Department of Education to create unique identifiers for students whose parent or guardian is an active-duty military service member or reserve member of the National Guard to monitor the progress and educational needs of those students. These unique identifiers would allow teachers, counselors, and other relevant school employees to track the progress and educational needs of military students to ensure that school employees are aware of the distinctive and unique challenges facing military students since they have likely spent most, if not all, of their educational career in different school systems. These bills are intended to improve the quality of life of Georgia’s military personnel and their families.
Improving education in Georgia is one of the General Assembly’s top legislative priorities each session, and as such, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill this week that is intended to help our State’s low-performing schools. House Bill 237 would provide a way for individuals, corporations, and communities to financially assist Georgia’s low-performing schools by establishing the Public Education Innovation Fund Foundation under the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. Under HB 237, the Foundation could receive private donations from taxpayers in order to award grants to public schools to fund academic and organizational innovations to improve student achievement, with priority given to low-performing schools. HB 237 not only promotes partnerships between businesses, nonprofit organizations, local school systems, and public schools for the purpose of improving student achievement, but also provides a simple way for taxpayers to assist schools that may need support.

The week you are reading this will be one of the busiest weeks of the legislative session. On Friday, March 3, we are scheduled to complete legislative day 28, otherwise known as “Crossover Day.” Crossover Day is the deadline for legislation to be passed out of its chamber of origin to remain eligible for consideration for the session, With this deadline in mind, my colleagues and I will put in a lot of time to evaluate and possibly pass legislation through the House chamber. I hope that you will contact me during this critical week so that I can address any concerns you might have. Please feel free to stop by my Capitol office #401 in Atlanta, call my Capitol office number at 404-656-7857 or email me at rick.jasperse@house.ga.gov.

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

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