As Crossover Day approaches, the Senate got to work perfecting some of the biggest pieces of legislation of the year in committee and passing bills to address Medicaid Waivers, school safety and more on the Senate floor. Overall, we heard and passed 28 Senate and House bills on the floor this week, and next week is sure to be even busier.
On Tuesday, the Senate heard Senate Bill 106, which is also known as the “Patients First Act.” This bill is simple. It allows the Governor and Department of Community of Health to request the 1115 and 1332 Medicaid Waivers from the federal government. Everyone knows that health insurance is financially unattainable for many Georgians. And for those who are paying for it, they are often paying more than their monthly mortgage for their health insurance. However, outright Medicaid expansion is not the answer, as it is a broken system that both patients and providers are unhappy with. This bill simply allows Georgia to develop its own health care plan, waiving certain federal requirements and tailoring a solution to problems Georgians face every day. I am positive this plan will allow residents all over our state in several different socio-economic classes to lower their health insurance costs without increasing our state’s budget on a system that isn’t putting patients first.
Another piece of legislation that was passed in the Senate this week is Senate Bill 15. That is the “Keeping Georgia’s School Safe Act.” This bill does several things in regards to securing our students and schools from all kinds of threats, including natural disasters and school emergencies. However, something important to note is that this bill doesn’t infringe upon our 2nd Amendment rights. This legislation has taken into account the many problems schools face and allows them to create a safety plan with help from local law enforcement and other agencies. Through the work the study committee did this fall, we know that the problems metro area schools face are often different compared to those faced by rural school systems. This bill provides enough flexibility to ensure that each school district can address school safety in a way that will best benefit them directly.
On Friday, the Senate heard and passed two bills that I sponsored. The first, Senate Bill 37 passed 52-1. I have already covered this topic in a previous column, but as a reminder, it will clarify that an agreement to make an alteration, modification, revocation, recension or cancelation to a contract under the statue of frauds must be made by both parties in writing. This is a simple measure that was brought to me by banks that want to ensure that an agreement, such as a loan, cannot simply be dissolved by a verbal agreement. This ensures that everyone involved in the contract is aware of agreements and that a physical record is available, should there ever be need for it in court. It takes out the “he said, she said” argument and could save citizens from paying court fees later down the road.
My other bill that reached the floor, which Rep. Jeff Jones asked me to carry after his great research and work on the mariculture issue, was Senate Bill 182. I appreciate all his hard work on this shellfish bill that passed the upper chamber 54-0. This bill would allow the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to oversee certain aspects of the oyster farming industry. The primary purpose of the legislation is to open up more opportunities for mariculture along our coast so that Georgia’s oyster farmers can develop a sustainable commercial shellfish industry that potentially could provide the restaurant industry safe-to-eat oysters year-round. The bill establishes a process by which shellfish farmers can lease intertidal and subtidal water bottoms and ensures safety monitoring. In addition, in years past, the overharvesting of wild oysters had a significant impact on the wild oyster population along Georgia’s coast. This legislation also provides protective measures to reduce the possibilities of that happening in the future.
Lastly, I want to make sure you are aware of a bill I authored that would deter coal ash dumping in our state. Senate Bill 123 received a hearing in the Natural Resources and the Environment Committee this week. If passed, this bill would require solid waste disposal facilities that accept certain materials, including coal ash, to charge $2.50 for all materials. This is a change from the current $1 imposed for certain materials. I hope that this will discourage our state from continuing to be a dumping ground for coal ash. We continue to work on various aspects of the bill and expect to see passage of this next year. The financial benefits to landfills is not worth the ecological and health risk this substance poses to our citizens.
Finally, I want to say I am glad to be a co-sponsor on two additional bills introduced this week. They are the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Senate Bill 221, and the Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act (LIFE), Senate Bill 218. These bills need your support, so it is time to call the Lt. Governor’s office (404.656.5030) to urge that these bills go to the Senate floor before Crossover Day, which happens on Thursday, March 7th.