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- Cyber crime cost Georgia nearly $99 million in 2020 according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
- Local governments and state agencies have been increasingly hit by cyber attacks in recent years.
- Cost of cybercrime to Georgia victims has risen 832% in the past decade and the number of victims has more than doubled in the same time period.
Bills to expand hospitals, de-escalate traffic stops and inject religion into public education on the move
Conservative lawmakers in the Senate presented a slew of bills igniting culture wars and First Amendment concerns this week. Meanwhile, bipartisan bills passed in the House would make interactions between motorists, law enforcement and some judges less stressful.
Here’s a rundown of notable bills moving through the General Assembly this week:
In the House
Dueling hospital expansion bills. The House now has a bill to modify Certificate of Need requirements that govern how and where new hospitals and medical facilities can be built, legislation that will compete with a similar measure under development in the Senate (not yet filed) that would largely repeal CON regulations altogether.
Sponsored by Rep. Butch Parrish, R-Swainsboro, HB 1339 would allow hospitals that have maintained occupancy of 60% for a previous 12-month period to increase their bed capacity by up to 20% without needing CON approval. The bill would also exempt other facilities, including facilities in rural counties that agree to serve as a teaching hospital, train medical residents, operate as a trauma center, provide access to behavioral health services, and provide indigent and charity care that represents at least 5% of their gross revenue.
New or expanded psychiatric and inpatient addiction treatment programs serving Medicaid patients, and some facilities providing new obstetric services, would also be allowed to sidestep existing rules that require new medical facilities to prove their services are needed in the community.
The bill also proposes to create a study committee to look at Medicaid expansion, meaning legislation to expand health care to uninsured Georgians will likely not move this year.
Cheap prescription meds. The House passed HB 1072 to expand a mail-order pharmacy program that, as bill sponsor Rep. Sharon Cooper put it, “redistributes pills that were going to be destroyed.” The bill permits pharmacists to supervise two additional pharmacy technicians to help sort the drugs collected from nursing homes and other institutional donors that are made available on goodpill.org, a discounted prescription drug site that offers a 90-day supply of many drugs for only $6. The Marietta Republican said the program is aimed at uninsured and low-income patients, but works on an honor system. The pharmacy has filled 796,000 prescriptions with a value of $64 million since it launched in 2018, said Cooper. The House passed the bill 165-1.
Traffic court no-shows can keep their licenses. People who fail to appear in court for a traffic ticket or other misdemeanor would no longer have their driver’s licenses indefinitely suspended if a bill sponsored by Rep. Matt Reeves, R-Duluth, is enacted. In presenting the bill to the House Judiciary Non-Civil committee, Reeves said the purpose of HB 926, called the “Second Chance Workforce Act,” is to allow people who’ve committed a low-level offense and missed a court date to be able to continue working, given that “if you lose your driver’s license, you’re probably going to lose your job.”
Atlanta Municipal Court Judge Gary Jackson spoke in support of the bill, which he said would address a huge backlog of failure to appear cases in his court, and give some people who deserve it a second chance.
“What gets in my craw,” Jackson said, is that current law and the several weeks or months it takes to get a new court date induce some people to plead guilty or no contest and to forgo their day in court “just to get their license back” so they can get to work, or take their kids to child care without breaking the law.
The committee approved the bill unanimously.
The House passed two other driver-friendly bills:
No jail for refusing to sign a ticket. When a driver gets a traffic citation and refuses to sign it, current law directs law enforcement to arrest that person and take them to jail. HB 1054 would allow the officer to “say no problem … make a note of it, and send them on their way,” said bill co-sponsor Rep. Yasmin Neal, D-Jonesboro, a former Clayton County police officer. “No more arguments, no more fights, no more instances of officers risking their lives … Everyone gets home safe at the end of the night.” Co-sponsor Rep. Matt Reeves, R-Duluth, noted that the bill de-escalates conflict on a roadside “but doesn’t compromise public safety or guilt or innocence of the defendant.” The bipartisan bill passed 156 – 10.
Digital driver’s licenses more widely accepted. The House passed HB 1001, which will expand usage of digital driver’s licenses on smartphones. Rep. Clay Pirkle, R-Ashburn, said current law allows him to use his digital driver’s license at the Atlanta airport “to get on a plane to anywhere in the world,” and he’d like to be able to use it more broadly. His bill directs law enforcement to accept a digital license during traffic stops and other interactions. Pirkle noted that a screenshot of a driver’s license would not suffice; only one produced on the Department of Driver Services website will comply. The bill passed in the House 168-1.
Pulling over for a funeral procession. You may already consider this a societal norm, but it will become a legal requirement to pull over to the side of the road to let a funeral procession pass, if HB 907 succeeds in the Senate. The House passed the bill 169-1.
In the Senate
Help for military vets. The Senate passed a package of bills this week intended to address the educational, mental health and housing needs of Georgia’s military veterans. Here’s what they do:
- SB 375 adds the commissioner of Veterans Service to the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council.
- SB 385 expands degree options for Georgia Military College.
- SB 398 reforms the Georgia Joint Defense Commission to help grow Georgia’s defense industry.
- SR 527 creates a Senate Study Committee on Veterans Mental Health and Housing.
Chaplains as school counselors. A bill that would allow faith-based chaplains to replace school counselors narrowly passed out of the Senate Committee on Government Oversight by a vote of 6-5. The bill would let schools hire chaplains or bring them in as volunteers. The issue has caused an uproar in the counseling profession which is seeing a shortage of school counselors.
Opponents of SB 379 said while corporations are relying on chaplains, many do not have proper certification or training to deal with school children of different backgrounds and religions.
“They’re not trained to the standards that counselors are and they just wouldn’t be able to support all students,” Isabelle Philip of the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition told State Affairs.
Library restrictions. Some Georgia lawmakers want to restrict school libraries from obtaining material that shows sexual intercourse or arousal. There’s a push to get school libraries to cut ties with the American Library Association because of the organization’s president’s alleged Marxist beliefs. On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Government Oversight cleared a bill out of committee that limits libraries from taking ALA donations. SB 390, with some tweaks, passed the committee in a 6-5 vote.
Here are some other bills that would limit student access to educational materials being considered:
SB 365 would notify parents of public school students each time they check out a book or other school library materials.
SB 394 would determine what would be considered “harmful materials.”
“This session, things are really heating up,” Philip said. “There’s so many good opportunities to actually put funding towards our public schools and support young people at this time, but all the bills we’re seeing that are being pushed through committee are very damaging and just completely getting in between students and teachers and their parents.”
The Ten Commandments in every school? A controversial bill requiring Georgia public schools to display the Ten Commandments passed out of committee Wednesday, but not before about a half dozen members abruptly left without voting.
Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Government Oversight walked out of the meeting just as Senate Bill 501 came up for a vote. The bill, known as the Foundations of Law Act, calls for public elementary and secondary schools in Georgia to display the Ten Commandments as a means of recognizing its importance in American history.
“To be ignorant of the Ten Commandments is actually to be uneducated, because they are a foundation of all law,” said Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, the bill’s sponsor.
But critics don’t see it that way and believe it flies in the face of the nation’s growing religious diversity, and violates the separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution.
Arrivals & Departures
After 26 years in the legislature, State Rep. Penny Houston, R-Nashville, announced this week she will not seek re-election to the House of Representatives after 26 years of service.
“I feel like it’s the right time to retire, spend more time with family and find new ways to contribute to my community,” Houston said in a statement. “I am so grateful that the people of South Georgia, who first gave me the opportunity to represent them 26 years ago, have entrusted me with their support ever since.”
Rep. J Collins, R-Villa Rica, announced Thursday that he will not seek re-election to the House of Representatives after eight years of service in the House, and 20 years of public service.
Collins said in a statement, “It has been the honor of my lifetime to serve my friends and neighbors in Carroll County in House District 71 for nearly a decade in the House of Representatives. … I would like to thank my constituents for placing their trust in me as their state representative for these last several years. I am proud of the great work that we have accomplished under this Gold Dome. But it is time to turn the page and allow someone new to represent our community’s values and interests at the State Capitol.
“I look forward to continuing to spend more time with my family, tending to my funeral home and serving our community in new capacities,” Collins said.
The Senate welcomed a new member this week. Tim Bearden will represent District 30, which encompasses Carrollton. Bearden was sworn in on Wednesday as his wife Triska and daughter, Reagan, looked on. The Republican won 59% of the votes in a special, four-person race held Feb. 13. This is Bearden’s second time in the legislature. He previously served seven years in the House. Bearden succeeds Sen. Mike Dugan who vacated the seat in January to run for U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson’s seat. Ferguson, a four-time incumbent, said in December he would not seek re-election.
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Last spring Fanetta Craig had to make an emergency move from an apartment she rented in northwest Atlanta after an inspection by the Atlanta Housing Authority found excessive mold and mildew, a structurally unsound retaining wall and a sinking driveway.
She’s now in an apartment near downtown Atlanta, which she says also has some issues. Craig’s gotten the landlord to deal with the rats, put locks on the windows and replace a broken stove, but she’s still waiting on him to replace a shaky stairway rail and address flooding in her garage.
Craig, 52, walks with a cane, and has multiple health issues, including congestive heart failure, diabetes, asthma and kidney disease. She said she’s had to move four times since 2015 due to unsafe or unhealthy conditions in subsidized housing.
“When you come into your house, you shouldn’t have to deal with hazards,” she said. “Your home should be a safe place where you’re going to have the peace that you need to live.”
A bill working its way through the Senate is meant to provide more protections for Georgia renters.
HB 404, also known as the Safe At Home Act, would require that all rental properties are “fit for human habitation.” Unlike 47 other states that have enacted similar laws ensuring habitability, HB 404 does not define what that means. But housing advocates say it is generally understood to mean that properties must meet local and state housing codes and health and safety standards.
“It will be subject to interpretation by landlords and tenants, but most importantly, by the courts,” said Elizabeth Appley, a lawyer and lobbyist who represents several housing advocacy organizations that are supporting the bill. “And the courts will be in a position to put flesh on those bones.”
The bill, which has been amended several times since it was introduced last year, also requires landlords to provide tenants who are behind on rent, utilities or other fees with three days’ written notice and a right to “cure,” or settle, the debt before filing an eviction action. It also forbids landlords from shutting off cooling along with other utilities prior to eviction, in order to force a renter out, and caps security deposits at two months’ rent.
Because the bill doesn’t address remedies for tenants if the law is broken, Appley said, “It’s also up to cities and counties to enforce existing housing code and hold property owners accountable in a meaningful way, promptly. To keep cases open, and protect people from being evicted in that process.”
The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, said the bill is a “measured step” meant to better protect tenants from unsafe housing conditions and unfair evictions “but doesn’t go too far to rock the boat to have unintended consequences.”
Last year while promoting the bill Carpenter said, “My family moved to 16 different rental properties throughout my childhood, so I understand the problems that many tenants face on a daily basis.”
At a Senate Judiciary committee meeting last week, Hayden Stanley, a lobbyist representing the Georgia Apartment Association, said, “We’re not asking you to amend or vote against this bill,” but wanted lawmakers to know that the several months’ lag time between an eviction judgment and a writ of possession being acted upon by law enforcement means that thousands of rental units “are held off the market” while property owners lose rental income.
Alison Johnson, executive director of the Housing Justice League, an Atlanta nonprofit, said the bill “is weak and doesn’t go far enough to protect tenants from irresponsible landlords. Because we don’t have a definitive definition of habitability, I think there are so many tenants that are still going to be fearful of reporting conditions. Because there’s so many intimidating tactics that landlords use, like not renewing leases, or increasing the rents … I think this was a way to pacify tenants and tenant advocates. But I also think it is moving the needle on tenant protections.”
Miracle Fletcher, a fair housing advocate who formerly led a group of tenants in advocating for repairs and better safety conditions when she lived in public housing, said the three-day grace period prior to eviction actions could make a big difference for some renters.
“Especially for low income renters, it will give tenants the ability to reach out for resources, as opposed to, like, ‘I got this note on my door, and I have to be out tomorrow,’ ” said Fletcher, who now serves on the Atlanta Housing Commission. “Maybe something happened with payroll, maybe they have a [housing] voucher check that’s been held up — it gives them some leeway to kind of work something out financially, even borrow the money, before all of the warrant fees and court fees and negative financial consequences of eviction rain down on them.”
Even if overdue rent is paid back, an eviction filing record remains on a renter’s credit historyand can prevent them from qualifying for public assistance or from being approved for private rentals.
“An eviction filing doesn’t come off. It’s there,” said Appley. “The Federal Reserve record says it’s just as damaging as an actual eviction. I mean, you read about these people living in extended stay hotels … and one of the reasons they end up spending a huge amount of money, I mean, more than what it would cost to rent an apartment, is because they can’t scrape together the security deposit and the first month’s rent and the last month’s rent and the utility deposit, and then this record of an eviction filing just makes it impossible.”
If it passes, Appley said, HB 404 “is a carefully crafted compromise that will provide important tenant protections that will help to keep tenants safely, stably and affordably housed.”
The bill, which passed unanimously in the House but was held up in the Senate last year, was approved as amended by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
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Some state lawmakers are attempting to address homeowner allegations that homeowner associations, better known as HOAs, are terrorizing property owners and in some cases threatening to take away their property.
No fewer than three bills have been introduced in the state Legislature this session to address the often contentious issue of homeowner and HOA rights.
Senate Bill 356, sponsored by Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, would create an ombudsman who would serve as a mediator between dueling homeowners and their HOAs. The bill is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“This is a big issue because people’s homes are being taken from them,” said James, who began hearing complaints about HOAs a decade ago and who has three HOA-related pieces of legislation circulating through the Statehouse. “Also, they’re getting fined enormous amounts [at a time] when taxes have just gone up. Now, mortgage companies are even going up. So with all these costs, we need to put some kind of restrictions on HOAs.”
For Bryant Morris, legislation can’t come too soon.
Morris spent years “sleeping in 18-wheelers and couch-surfing” to save enough money to buy his dream house in 2018: a five-bedroom, four-bath, split-level abode in Covington, complete with a mini golf course in the backyard.
What was supposed to be an idyllic life has turned out to be five years of legal hell for Morris after he asked his homeowners association why his HOA fee was increased, and a few other choice questions: Who was heading the homeowners association? Was the HOA legit? And who voted to raise his annual fees?
Instead of getting answers, the 59-year-old homeowner was slapped with a lien totaling nearly $6,000. For a time, he feared he’d lose his home.
“I’m in my house [in my bed at night] with my pistol on my chest, scared that somebody’s going to kick my damn door in, ready to take me out of my house,” said Morris, whose fears about having his home taken were assuaged after a conversation with county officials.
Morris initially paid his HOA fees when he first moved in but stopped after he was unable to get answers to his questions. He says he repeatedly tried to meet with HOA board members but was told they were “inaccessible and unavailable.” In the end, the association worked out a payment arrangement for Morris to pay off the fees. His final installment is in March.
The whole experience, Morris said, was “very retaliatory” and gave him a glimpse into a legal process that he says has given HOAs unfettered power.
“It literally is going to have to be an entire restructuring of the hierarchy of the power ,” said Morris, who has spent the last five years delving into the inner workings of HOAs in Georgia. “The power needs to be put back in the hands of the homeowners and not in the hands of the investors and developers. This is power out of control.”
The United States is home to an estimated 365,000 community associations. Nearly a third of Americans — some 75.5 million people — live in a homeowner association community, according to the Foundation for Community Association Research. That’s up from about 2.1 million in 1970. New homes that are part of a homeowner association are growing fastest in the southern and western part of the country.
An estimated 2.2 million — roughly 22% — Georgia residents live in an HOA or some other type of community association, according to the Community Association Institute. They pay about $3.8 billion a year toward the upkeep of their communities and nearly 75,000 people serve as volunteer leaders in their community associations. By 2040, community associations are expected to become the most common form of housing in Georgia.
More people are opting for HOAs because they provide amenities like swimming pools, tennis courts and fitness centers. They also reduce homeowner responsibilities such as snow removal and community upkeep.
But increasingly, an ugly side to HOAs has emerged. For example, if an HOA doesn’t have cash reserves to cover expenses, it can impose assessments to come up with the money, according to the Community Association Institute. Historically, many HOAs are underfunded, which has led them to hike dues or seek ineffective outside funding when unexpected costs arise, according to Enterprise Bank & Trust, which suggested HOAs should try to maintain a 70% funded reserve.
Stories about people losing their homes after falling behind on HOA fees — despite being current on their mortgages — abound. In other cases, people have been hit with liens and fees that often mushroom into thousands of dollars.
Real estate broker David Washington specializes in helping people faced with foreclosure to stay in their homes.
“Georgia is a creditor-friendly state,” Washington told the Senate Urban Affairs Committee last September. “The state’s legal code related to rent ‘“is not designed for if life happens,’ ” he said. Even if over a 30-year period a homeowner has a sterling payment history, an HOA does not take costly life events into account the way that some loan companies do, offering forbearance, he noted. “Whether it’s COVID, a car accident, a divorce, a death — if you owe $5,000 to an HOA, they will foreclose on you. And the law allows it.”
That type of homeowner vulnerability prompted James to seek some solutions.
“I’ve heard of a number of cases where they’ve taken people’s homes,” James told State Affairs. She recalled one couple whose condo was auctioned on the courthouse steps after they racked up a $1,000 lien.
“They were refusing to pay the HOA fees because they were having problems with the water,” recalled James, chair of the Senate Urban Affairs committee, which has held hearings about HOAs over the last year.
It’s been nearly two years since an HOA forced Wanda Cooper out of the Douglas County home she had owned for 15 years.
“My life has not been the same since the HOA did what they did to me,” Cooper told State Affairs. She and her youngest two children have had to move three times since then. She now lives in Carrollton.
The run-in with the HOA was among a series of setbacks Cooper has had in the last five years. Prior to her HOA troubles. Cooper had sold her Douglasville home to investors to get money to enable her to recover from the effects of a botched surgery. As part of the sale, she was allowed to stay in the home and pay rent. But she ended up being hit with a series of fines for parking on the street, overgrown grass, and having a flat tire on her car. She said she even received a $775 bill from the HOA for a towing job that never occurred. The HOA fines wound up totaling $1,501.40 and the organization eventually put a lien on the home, prompting the investors who owned Cooper’s home, to evict her in April 2022. In the midst of all of that, Cooper’s mother who was living with the family during COVID-19, died.
“It turned my life upside down. It’s a serious domino effect,” Cooper, a 56-year-old legal researcher, said. “At the time, I had an excellent rental history and a 701 credit score. Now no one is going to want to rent to me, my credit score has plummeted, and on top of that, I’m dealing with depression and I’m still dealing with the loss of my mom.”
Why It Matters
Complaints about HOAs come as Georgia lawmakers are taking up other housing-related matters this legislative session. The General Assembly is considering bills that would create more affordable housing to help the state attract more workers; provide safer, more inhabitable places and rent control for apartment dwellers to live; and better oversight on housing conditions.
“The more attention we’re placing in general on housing, the more clear it became that we need … to focus on homeowners and HOAs because we don’t want to see people [put] out of their homes,” said Sen. Sonya Halpern, D-Atlanta, a member of the Urban Affairs Committee.
While other housing issues have garnered more and broader attention, HOAs are an issue in “pockets” of the Legislature.
“There are those of us in the Legislature who are very, very aware of the problems that our constituents are having related to HOAs,” Halpern said. “I don’t know if it’s kind of an overwhelming issue where all 236 of us in the Georgia General Assembly are focused on it. But it is a problem, and it is a growing problem. And we do need, as a state, to position ourselves to help people get into homes, stay into homes, keep their homes. And in this case, the HOAs that are not being run properly really are wreaking havoc on homeowners. And, and sometimes that’s leading to the homeowners actually losing their homes and having it sold out from under them.”
“The way HOAs have been conceived and developed, they do have a lot of power,” Halpern conceded. “It’s the reason why this particular bill [SB 356] tries to create some guardrails around what they can do, what they can’t do, and how they need to actually operate. And part of the problem is there really is not a clear line of oversight to HOAs.”
Here’s what James’ three pieces of legislation would do:
SB 356 also would ban HOAs from imposing liens that would immediately cause a homeowner to lose their homes.
SB 29 would limit the ways homeowners, condo and property associations can penalize people for nonpayment of fees, and requires them to seek arbitration before placing liens on a property. The bill is in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senate Resolution 37 would create a study committee which would take a comprehensive look at the policies and practices of HOAs and other such property associations. It’s in the Senate Rules Committee.
James’ bills face a lot of hurdles.
Crossover Day — the deadline when bills must pass one chamber to the other in order to still be in the running to become law –– is Feb. 29, a little over a week away.
State Affairs reached out to Sen. Brian Strickland, chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Matt Brass, head of the Rules Committee, to get a sense if James’ legislation will be considered in their respective committees. Neither legislator returned calls or emails by press time. So it’s unclear what the fate of these pieces of legislation will be.
Nonetheless, James is optimistic. “All of them are alive,” she said. “We’re just trying to move them.”
Senior Investigative Reporter Jill Jordan Sieder contributed to this article.
TYPES OF COMMUNITY ASSOCIATIONS
Here’s is a breakdown of the percentage of residential property types by association types:
Homeowner Association — 60%
Condo Communities — 38%
Co-ops — 2%
This table shows homeowners associations, by U.S. region, for new construction homes:
Region New construction*
* 2021 data
Source: U.S. Census
WHAT HOA RESIDENTS PAY
Here are the mean monthly HOA fees for major metro areas in the United States. Note: These are a small sampling of fees. Fees can range from as little as $50 a month to over $1,000 a month.
- Atlanta: $117
- Boston: $444
- Chicago: $312
- Dallas: $98
- Detroit: $114
- Houston: $127
- Los Angeles: $366
- Miami: $283
- New York City: $653
- Philadelphia: $171
- Phoenix: $148
- San Francisco: $390
- Seattle: $189
- Washington, D.C.: $193
Source: American Housing Survey
BUYER BEWARE: What to know before you sign on the dotted line
- Read all legal documents so you know what you’re entering into contractually.
- Review the HOA or condo association budget. How much money does the association have in reserve? If it’s zero, that’s a red flag. Ask what percentage of owners aren’t paying.
- Be aware of the differences between homeowner associations and condo associations. If you’re late on your condo fee, a lien can be automatically attached to your unit. HOAs generally must file liens with the court.
- Be leery about buying a foreclosed home in an association or subdivision with few owners and lots of vacancies. You could get stuck paying for the pool and other expenses originally meant to be spread among a lot of owners.
- If you buy your property, keep records of your payments.
- If you have trouble paying your dues/fees, tell the HOA or condo association you’re having problems. Many associations are willing to work with members who are facing financial hardship due to illness or job loss.
- Try to work out a payment plan before going to court.
- Seek legal advice. But be aware, you may not have much legal recourse.
- If you do reach an agreement on back dues, pay it quickly.
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Georgia lawmakers spent week six of the legislative session fashioning bills that would double leave time for parents, provide more protections for renters and make cornbread the official state bread.
In the House
More parental leave. The House passed HB 1010, which would increase state employees’ paid parental leave to six weeks from three following the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a child in their home. Sponsored by Rep. Jan Jones, R-Milton, the House speaker pro tem, the bill would cover more than 300,000 state workers, including 170,000 teachers.
“This would provide a low-cost, high-value benefit to help recruit and retain employees and tangibly demonstrates our respect and support for them at a most significant and life-changing time in their lives,” Jones said.
Several Democrats praised the bill, including Marietta Rep. Solomon Adesanya, who said several studies have shown that length of paid leave is crucial for infant and maternal health and is linked to decreased postpartum depression in mothers and fathers.
Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn, said the bill is “momentum in the right direction” because “the gold standard for parental leave is 12 weeks.” Because most child care centers don’t accept infants younger than 6 weeks, Clark said, the bill also addresses an important societal need.
The bill passed by a vote of 153-11 and moves on to the Senate for consideration.
Maternal and infant health commission. The House unanimously passed HB 1037 to create the Georgia Commission on Maternal and Infant Health. The commission would seek input from perinatal facilities, health care providers and other professionals on the state of perinatal care in Georgia, review current scientific and medical recommendations for care of infants and mothers, and submit statewide policy recommendations by June 30, 2026.
Rep. Lauren Daniel, D-Locust Grove, the bill’s sponsor, noted the U.S. has seen a rise in maternal health issues such as heart disease, cardiomyopathy, pre-eclampsia, embolism, gestational diabetes and mental health conditions, which “can lead to consequential health issues in infants.” The bill passed 160-0 and moves on to the Senate.
More career readiness for teens. The House passed House Bill 282, which would require schools to offer a minimum course of study in career readiness education for students in grades six through 12. Such coursework would include training experiences focused on employability, career exploration and work-based learning programs such as internships and apprenticeships.
Sponsored by Rep. Mesha Mainor, R-Atlanta, the bill says students would be better prepared to enter the workforce and succeed in their chosen careers by participating in such programs and learning more about “professionalism; problem solving and resiliency; effective communication; time management and efficiency; and collaboration, teamwork, and leadership competencies in the workplace.” It passed 165-0 and moves on to the Senate.
In the Senate
Georgia’s official state bread? The Senate is considering a House-passed bill that would make cornbread the official state bread. House Bill 1048 states that “cornbread enjoys a singular stature in Georgia history and culture that is rivaled only by its undeniable appeal as a versatile and satisfying food. Establishing cornbread as the official Georgia state bread is necessary to fully recognize the importance of this product to this state.” The bill was read in the Senate and referred to its Economic Development and Tourism committee.
Limiting tort reform. The Senate passed Senate Bill 426, which would limit a plaintiff’s ability in lawsuits against commercial truckers to sue the trucking firm’s insurance carrier directly. The “direct action” legislation is a tort reform priority of Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who presides over the Senate.
Property tax relief. Local governments would be prohibited from raising residential property assessments more than 3% a year under Senate Bill 349 which cleared the Senate Thursday in a vote of 42-7. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome.
Legalized sports betting. A proposed constitutional amendment — a necessary component — allowing Georgians to vote on whether to legalize sports betting in the state cleared a Senate committee this week. Roughly 80% of the tax revenue derived from sports betting would go toward Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship and pre-K programs. The Senate Regulated Industries Committee unanimously passed the bipartisan measure, Senate Resolution 579, Tuesday.
Protections for renters. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed HB 404, a bill to increase tenant protections. Called the Safe at Home Act, the bill would require landlords to provide rental units that are “fit for human habitation,” though it does not define what that means. The bill, which has been amended since it stalled in the same committee last year, also provides tenants who are behind on rent a three-day grace period before their landlords may file for eviction, caps security deposits at two months’ worth of rent and does not allow landlords to turn off utilities for cooling before an eviction action. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
Removing remnants of the pandemic. Under a new bill, businesses and health facilities would no longer have to display warning requirements regarding COVID-19. Senate Bill 430, sponsored by Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, unanimously passed the Senate on Thursday. The bill would eliminate certain warning requirements on health care facilities, health care providers, entities and individuals related to COVID-19 liability claims. The bill now heads to the House.
Preserving dwindling farmland. The Senate adopted 47-1 a resolution Thursday to create a study committee on preserving farmland. Georgia has lost 2.6 million acres of farmland and timberland to development, resolution sponsor Sen. Billy Hickman, R-Statesboro, told his peers. Farmland is renting for about $100 an acre and selling for about $25,000 an acre, an alluring proposition for cash-strapped families. The seven-member study committee will include four farmers and will take up the issue this summer, focusing on farmland and timberland preservation, industry expansion and water protection, Hickman said.
Other legislative updates
Enacted bill: Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation this week that will give Gwinnett County voters the chance to decide if they want Mulberry to become Gwinnett’s 17th city. A vote could come as early as this spring.
New Rules chair in the House: Speaker of the House Jon Burns, R-Newington, appointed Rep. Butch Parrish, R-Swainsboro, the new Rules Committee chair in the House, filling the vacancy left by Rep. Richard Smith, who died Jan. 30.
The Rules Committee oversees the flow of legislation from passage in committee and serves in a gatekeeping role to decide which bills should be debated and voted on the House floor.
Parrish said he was honored to be chosen, adding, “Throughout my time in the House, I have strived to bring an open mind, focus on the facts and deliver results for my constituents and the people of Georgia — and that’s what I intend to continue to do as Rules chairman. I can only hope to live up to the legacy that my good friend Chairman Richard Smith left on the Rules Committee and build on the tremendous work that he accomplished here.”
This week’s legislative activities have created a hankering for cornbread. Here’s a cornbread recipe shared by our editor-in-chief and food aficionado, Alison Bethel. If you’ve got a great cornbread recipe, we’d love for you to share it with us.
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