New child-relevant laws in effect July 1

Hundreds of new laws go into effect in Georgia on July 1, 2019, including more than two dozen pieces of child-relevant legislation. Many of the laws change processes and procedures, but several will have a significant impact on the kids in our state.

HB 346 protects renters from being kicked out of the homes when they complain about unhealthy conditions, like mold. Supporters of the bill say landlords will now have to fix the issues instead of just evicting tenants over the complaints. Landlords who try to evict tenants wrongfully will have to pay them a month’s rent plus $500 and legal costs. While not specifically child-focused, it has an incredibly impact on children who suffer from asthma. Consider this:

1.  According to the GA Department of Public Health, in 2014, more than 10 percent of Georgia children suffered from Asthma.  Asthma is often exacerbated by environmental factors, including housing conditions.

2.  Asthma prevalence was higher among children whose family annual household income was less than $25,000 than among children from families making $75,000 or more per year.

3.  Asthma is the leading cause of chronic disease-related school absenteeism.

Children require healthy homes to reach their fullest potential, and this law gets us one step closer to ensuring children have a healthy home to grow up in.

HB 228 raises the minimum age to marry to 17 years old. Additionally, it requires the other party to the marriage with a minor to be no more than 4 years older, and requires the minor to be emancipated by a juvenile court. Supporters of the bill say the law will help to protect children from domestic violence, high divorce rates, child abuse and human trafficking. Before those under 18 could marry, they will now have to complete at least six hours of premarital education from a professional, including instruction on conflict management, communication skills, financial responsibilities and parenting responsibilities.

SB 48 will ultimately require all elementary schools in Georgia to screen every kindergartener for dyslexia, following a three-year pilot program that will begin in the 2020-2021 school year. Children in grades 1-3 who have been identified as having characteristics of dyslexia will also be referred for a screening. Voices’ board member Phil Jacobs testified in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Dyslexia last Fall. Read his testimony here.


Voices followed more than 250 pieces of child-relevant legislation during the 2019 Legislative Session. Here’s a look at all of those laws going into effect on July 1, 2019.

CHILD WELFARE/VULNERABLE YOUTH

HB 12 (Williams-145th) Requires every public school to post a sign containing the toll-free telephone number operated by the Division of Family and Children Services of the Department of Human Services to receive reports of child abuse or neglect.

HB 64 (Prince-127th) Requires the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to make efforts to determine whether a parent or guardian of a child who is the subject of abuse allegations is on active duty in the military and if so, to notify military installation family advocacy programs. The bill also grants immunity for reporting child abuse to military law enforcement. 

HB 227 (Frye-118th) Expands the prohibitions on discrimination against victims of family violence to include victims of sexual assault. 

HB 281 (Anulewicz-42nd) Increases the penalty provisions relating to pimping and pandering. 

HB 543 (Efstration-104th) Allows an individual to be adjudicated an equitable caregiver of a child provided that the relationship between such individual and the child is in the best interest of the child and providing that there is no open child welfare and youth services case involving such child or his or her parent. 

HB 553 (Dempsey-13th) Eliminates the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children from the membership of the State Victim Services Commission and the bill of rights for foster parents, as the agency reference is now obsolete. The bill also cleans up various other code sections by eliminating references to other obsolete entities.

SB 9 (Jones-22nd) Prohibits sexual extortion or coercion of adults or minors. Language from HB 43 was amended to this bill. The amendment revises the crime of sexual assault when committed by persons with supervisory or disciplinary authority over a student in a school setting. The degree of the crime and punishment vary based on a number of factors including age of the perpetrator and victim. The bill also better defines the term “dangerous sexual offense”.

SB 158 (Strickland-17th) This bill is in response to the Anti-Human Trafficking Protective Response Act and represents the shift away from criminalization and towards providing victims with services. It authorizes DFCS to provide care and supervision to children who are victims of human trafficking; allows a law enforcement officer or agency or DFCS to refer any child suspected of being a victim of commercial sexual exploitation or trafficking to a certified statewide victim services agency which provides comprehensive trauma-informed services designed to alleviate the adverse effects of trafficking victimization; raises the age from under 17 to under 18 years old for purposes of determining the offense of prostitution and codify the process for identifying sex trafficking victims; and makes it easier to prosecute owners of places where trafficking occurs. This bill would align Georgia law with federal trafficking laws such as the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Families Act and the Trafficking Victims Protections Act. This bill absorbed HB 234, which was nearly the same.

SB 167 (Brass-28th) Allows a foster placement for a child to be deemed as the child’s fictive kin in determining such child’s permanency plan, if after 6 months and reasonable diligent search efforts conducted by DFCS, no relatives or fictive kin have been located. In all cases in which the child has reached the age of 11, the judge shall consider the desires of the child. Additionally, if a child has been in a stable foster placement for 12 months or more, a presumption shall exist that remaining in that placement is in the child’s best interests. 

SB 190 (Kennedy-18th) Allows a party to bring a counterclaim for contempt or enforcement of a child custody order or for modification of legal or physical custody in response to a complaint seeking a change of legal or physical custody. 

HEALTH

HB 63 (Cooper-43rd) Requires health benefit plans to establish step therapy protocols. (Step therapy is a type of prior authorization. In most cases, the patient must first try a less expensive drug on the drug list that has been proven effective for most people with the same condition before you can move up a “step” to a more expensive drug.). 

HB 324 (Gravley-67th) “Georgia’s Hope Act” – Allows for the legitimate use of medical cannabis for health care, and creates a means for the production, growing, manufacturing, and dispensing of low THC oil to patients on the Low THC Oil Patient Registry via pharmacies in Georgia. The bill also provides regulations on the production of marijuana used to create low THC oil and requires growers and processors to obtain a license. It creates the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, which will oversee the manufacturing of low THC oil in Georgia. 

SB 60 (Martin-9th) Requires the GA Department of Education to develop and post on its website guidelines and other materials to inform students (grades 6-12), parents, guardians and coaches about the nature and warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest. The bill also requires such students participating in sports to review the information. Additionally, if a student passes out in a sport then they will be removed from the activity by the athletic coach and if a student exhibits symptoms of cardiac arrest then the athletic trainer can remove the student and may notify the parents. Once a student has been removed, they cannot return until they have been evaluated and cleared to return by a health care provider.

EDUCATION

HB 59 (Belton-112th) Allows military students to enroll in a public school based on official military orders prior to physically establishing residency. The bill was amended to add HB 558, which states that a state charter school with an attendance zone that includes all local school systems in this state shall be considered to have state-wide jurisdiction. 

HB 68 (Carson-46th) Prohibits any entity that operates, owns, is affiliated with, or is a subsidiary of an association, organization, or other entity that provides accreditation of elementary or secondary schools from becoming a student scholarship organization (SSO). 

HB 130 (Nix-69th) Authorizes the Georgia Foundation for Public Education to establish a nonprofit corporation to qualify as a public foundation

HB 218 (Williams-145th) Extends the window to access the HOPE scholarship from 7 to 10 years and states that active military duty shall not count against that window. 

HB 527 (Dickey-140th) Changes program weights in the Quality Basic Education Formula for funding purposes. 

HB 530 (Hitchens-161st) Requires the Georgia Department of Education provide a copy of a parent or guardian’s declaration of intent to utilize a home study program for their student to the local school systems in which the home study programs are located, and should a child stop attending public school for 45 days without submitting such a declaration to GADOE, the school shall refer the matter to the Division of Family and Children Services to conduct an assessment to determine whether the withdrawal was to avoid educating the child. If a parent/guardian can present a copy of a filed declaration, the Division shall immediately terminate the assessment.

SB 67 (Burke-11th) Allows drawdown of K-12 capital outlay funding to complete restoration of fire or disaster damaged school buildings. Educational facilities that are more than 20 years old and are extensively destroyed or damaged by a fire or natural disaster can supplement insurance to rebuild all of the building, even undamaged parts. Expands low wealth category to include systems consolidating schools but lacking sufficient ESPLOST capability. 

SB 83 (Mullis-53rd) Requires public schools to offer elective courses in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible to grades 9-12. HB 562 was amended to this bill. The amendment establishes the Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen (REACH) Scholarship Program and sets its criteria.  The bill also stipulates that the scholarship, which is subject to available funding, will provide $10,000.00 for each REACH scholar for the first year of the REACH participating school system’s participation, and then each year after, the participating school system will be responsible for providing a proportionate share of the scholarship based on the school system’s designated tier in the Department of Community Affairs’ job tax credit designation. 

SB 108 (Martin-9th) Requires courses in computer science in middle school and high school (phase-in) and for grants for professional development programs for computer science teachers.  The bill also requires annual reporting to select General Assembly members regarding outcomes related to this legislation. 

MISCELLANEOUS

HB 226 (Lariccia-169th) Extends the sunset for penalties related to violation of Joshua’s Law to 2022. FYI, Joshua’s law is the part of Georgia law related to driver’s license requirements for teen drivers. 

HB 459 (Ehrhart-36th) Creates a verification process for driver’s licenses of school bus drivers. The bill was amended to include language from HB 394, which allows non-certified personnel (“public safety ambassadors”) employed by or volunteering for law enforcement agencies or fire departments, to assist in traffic control. 

SB 1 (Parent-42nd) “C.J.’s Law”- Creates a felony and 1-10 year sentence for a driver who causes an accident that results in bodily harm, and then leaves the scene of the accident.