4/11/2017 - The 40th and final Session day came to a close after 1 AM, Friday, March 31st! Major issues were put to rest, while others await further debate in 2018. I am sorry I didn't get this in last week’s news, but after the week of the 31st I was exhausted. My sweetheart, Marcia, had hip surgery that morning and with everything else, I just didn't get it done in time for the News.
So at this point here’s how this works; bills introduced this year not receiving final passage are still eligible to be voted on next session. Meaning that, casino gaming and other controversial issues are still on the table for 2018. All legislation that passed both the House and Senate before adjournment are now on the way to Governor Deal, where he will either sign the measures into law or use his executive veto power. Of course in my space, I can’t cover everything, but I will hit the high points.
Expansion of Medical Cannabis Oil
Those suffering from certain conditions will find relief, as we have expanded the use of medical cannabis oil. Last week, the House and Senate came to a compromise in the form of Senate Bill 16, which includes six additional illnesses on the list of qualifying medical conditions. Added conditions are as follows:
• Tourette’s syndrome (when diagnosed as severe)
• Autism spectrum disorder (when the patient is at least 18 years of age, or if under 18, has been diagnosed as severely autistic)
• Epidermolysis Bullosa
• Alzheimer’s disease (when diagnosed as severe or end stage)
• AIDS (when diagnosed as severe or end stage)
• Peripheral neuropathy (when diagnosed as severe or end stage)
• Hospice patients who have been authorized by their physicians
SB 16 also allows reciprocity of medical cannabis registration cards issued by other states, if the oil meets our requirements. Furthermore, this bill does away with the one-year residential requirement, allowing those moving to Georgia to be eligible for the oil registry immediately. Lastly, this bill requires physicians to report pertinent information regarding usage and patient effect on a semi-annual basis. It is the legislature’s hope that patients can find pain management and symptom relief through medical cannabis oil.
In recognition of our state’s opioid epidemic, we passed Senate Bill 88, known as the Narcotic Treatment Programs Enforcement Act. I carried this bill in the House for the bill sponsor, Senator Mullis. This legislation expands a bill passed in 2016, which placed a moratorium on new applications for the licensure of narcotic treatment programs. SB 88 updates licensing requirements for Georgia’s drug abuse treatment facilities, which treat those dependent upon heroin and opiate-like drugs. The bill establishes rules for quality standards, regulation, and oversight for narcotic treatment programs under the Department of Community Health (DCH), including an updated application process for opening new programs and facilities.
Georgia currently has 67 narcotic treatment programs, far more than our population demands. Unfortunately, some of these facilities have been found to be less than reputable by over-prescribing drugs while taking advantage of patient addictions. We are hopeful this legislation will provide life-saving educational programs while helping to resolve our opioid and heroin epidemic in Georgia.
We continue our efforts of strengthened public safety policy through the passage of Senate Bill 250, which protects Georgia’s children from sexual predators. This bill closes a loophole in existing law dealing with those registered as sex offenders in other states. Currently, we prohibit registered offenders in Georgia from residing, working or loitering in areas where minors gather. However, coverage of the law does not extend to or include sexual offenders registered in other states. SB 250 fixes this problem, ensuring those registered in any state follow the same laws and requirements as Georgia registered offenders.
Rural Health Care
Our commitment to rural health care initiatives continues as we passed legislation last week to ensure all Georgians, regardless of where they live, receive quality care. Sadly, due to extreme financial strain, five rural hospitals in Georgia have closed since 2013. In an effort to assist these struggling facilities, we passed two measures aimed at increased funding for our rural healthcare systems.
The first bill passed was Senate Bill 180, which modifies the Rural Hospital Tax Credit legislation we passed in 2016. This bill increases the amount of the tax credit for contributions to rural hospitals in hopes to incentivize and attract individual and corporate donations to care facilities in less populated areas. Additionally, the bill offers health care professionals willing to serve rural areas a tax credit for volunteering, mentoring, and training physician’s assistants and advanced practice registered nurse students. We are hopeful this legislation encourages donations, lessens financial strain, and incentivizes our medical professionals to work in rural area hospitals.
In addition to SB 180, we also passed The Rural Hospital Organization Assistance Act of 2017. Senate Bill 14 works to offset financial stress in these facilities, by allowing rural hospitals to apply for state grants. Under SB 14, the Department of Community Health would be responsible for distributing the grants, capped at $4 million each, to eligible hospitals under the following conditions:
• Eligible Hospitals are required to engage in long-term planning and restructuring programs.
• Facilities awarded must provide primary health care services and quality care.
• Grants made available for infrastructure development, strategic planning, nontraditional health care delivery systems and the establishment of 24-hour emergency room services open to the public.
I will wait a few weeks before putting out anything else about what we did. Now starts the waiting time as the Governor is reviewing legislation. Those measures upon Governor Deal’s signature will become law. If the Governor does not sign or veto a measure within 40 days, it automatically becomes law. Let’s see what he does; then I will report further.
While the 2017 legislative session has adjourned, I remain dedicated to serving your interests as your State Representative. Today I am headed off to a meeting out of town and have a couple more this week. I did get my plants planted that I bought from the 4-H plant sale. (Whew!)
I hope that you will contact me with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the 2017 legislative session or with any proposals or recommendations for future legislation.
Thank you so much for allowing me to serve as your Representative. Your support and encouragement means so much to me. If you ever need anything at all, please let me know. I work for you, and let me just say, it is a great honor to do so.
You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-7857 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, because the House has adjourned for the year, I will be spending much more time in our District. Feel free to contact me at home 770-893-2039 or speak in the grocery store!