Each year, Voices for Georgia’s Children follows approximately 250 separate pieces of child-relevant Georgia legislation, as well as an array of federal issues, bills and acts. Of all those bills, resolutions and budget items in 2019, the following are some of the more high-profile child-relevant policies set in play by the votes of the General Assembly:
1. Getting Ready to Get Counted
The U.S. Constitution requires the entire country to count itself (all residents, not just citizens) in order to assess things like political boundaries, political representation and appropriate funding levels for things like schools, highways, children’s health insurance, government assistance programs and more. For every person that does not get counted, the state loses more than $2,000 a year in federal funding. That adds up over a 10-year time span.
With Voices advocacy, the Legislature appropriated $1.5 million for a targeting marketing campaign to increase Census participation in hard-to-count areas. They added another $2.6 million in bonds for public libraries for technology improvements and upgrades to prepare for the Census.
2. Supporting Success in School
In keeping with the increased awareness by our legislative leaders regarding supports that improve student academic and life success, a number of bills and budget items were passed that improve a child’s learning outcomes.
SB 48 (Martin-9th) creates a pilot in three local school systems which would begin in the 2020-2021 school year with the ultimate goal (post-pilot) to require all kindergarten students to be screened for dyslexia and a handful of other learning disabilities. The bill also updates teachers’ professional development regarding dyslexia. $200,000 allocated in the FY2020 Budget for the dyslexia pilots.
HB 83 (Douglas-78th) requires schools to provide 30 minutes of recess daily for grades K-5.
SB 83 (Mullis-53rd) codifies the Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen (REACH) Scholarship Program and sets its criteria [The underlying and retained bill (SB 83) also requires public schools to offer elective courses in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible to grades 9-12.] Additional $782,000 allocated in the FY2020 Budget to REACH.
3. Improving Pay for Those Serving Georgia’s Children
Teacher retention is a significant issue for Georgia schools, and so, raises were appropriated for Certified School Employees ($3000/year) as well as State Workers (2% Merit Increase), many of whom are in child-serving positions that support children and youth across the board.
4. Safeguarding Children
Child safety was of great concern to lawmakers this year. A top priority was preparing the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) for implementation of the new federal Family First Prevention Services Act, which shifts child welfare policy and funding more toward abuse prevention (as opposed to being simply reactive). There were a handful of bills designed to improve the process for determining placement for children who are on the verge of coming into or are in the custody of the state, as well as a bill allowing DFCS to investigate withdrawal from or absence of children from school beyond 45 days (the bill was a response a child murder case uncovered in Effingham County this past December).
Other bills of note:
Child Abuse Registry
HB 478 (Ballinger-23rd) improves the Due Process regarding placement on the list and preventing children under 18 from being put on the registry.
HB 281 (Anulewicz-42nd) tightens laws around pimping and pandering.
HB 424 (Silcox-52nd) improves systems to protect and provide victims of trafficking with services.
SB 158 (Strickland-17th) and makes it easier to prosecute owners of places where trafficking occurs.
HB 228 (Welch-110th) raises the minimum marriage age to 17 and requires the other party to a marriage with a minor to be no more than 4 years older.
Healthy and reliable housing
HB 346 (Cooper-43rd) protects tenants from retaliation (e.g. eviction, increased rent, etc.) by landlords in response to requesting reasonable improvements for health and safety (the bill also protects landlords from such tenant actions when the tenants intent is vindictive). Remember: asthma, often triggered by housing conditions, is one of the top reasons children miss school.
Student safety, both in terms of student physical health as well as safety protocols and systems
SB 60 (Martin-9th) is modeled on last year’s Concussion Bill. It sets in place education and sports-related protocols when high school students may be at risk for cardiac arrest.
SB 15 (Albers-56th) addresses school safety plans and attempts to coordinate communications between some agencies when safety issues arise. Unfortunately, a few provisions of the bill, namely those allowing untrained “School Safety Officers” to report “suspected criminal activity” to local public safety officials, will likely impede the progress our state has already achieved in the realm of school climate, child and adolescent mental health, and school safety. Such a broad mandate will likely result in overinclusion and imprecision of disciplinary engagement – neither of which facilitate greater school safety. There were significant appropriations for various school safety elements in both the amended FY 19 budget (nearly $70 Million), as well as the FY 2020 budget (nearly $2.2 Million in all).
5. Considering Pregnancy, Motherhood, and Early Care
Several pieces of legislation focused on pregnancy, birth outcomes and early child policy, including the highly publicized and controversial anti-abortion bill, HB 481 (Setzler-35th).
HB 345 (Cooper-43rd) prevents the physical restraint of pregnant inmates during labor.
HR 589 (Newton-123rd) creates a House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality.
Budget items: the Legislature appropriated $13,000 for lactation rooms in the General Assembly offices, $700,000 in all to address Maternal Mortality specifically, $500,000 in new monies for Child and Parent Services (childcare subsidies), and more than $2.3 Million for Newborn Screenings for four additional disorders.
6. Improving Access to Healthcare
Healthcare was a big topic at the state house this year.
SB 106 (Tillery-19th) allows the state to seek waivers to expand Medicaid for childless adults up to 100% of the Federal Poverty Limit and attempt to shore up the private insurance marketplace.
Interstate Compact bills, which make it easier for providers to work across state lines
HB 26 (Belton-112th) for psychologists
HB 39 (Belton-112th for physical therapists
SB 16 (Kirkpatrick-32nd) for doctors and certain other health professionals
Additionally, there were appropriations for two new Federally Qualified Health Centers (Screven and Chatham counties), 139 new primary care residency slots, 54 new OB/GYN residency slots, and a respectable handful of other residency opportunities in the state.
7. Making Access to Medical Marijuana Easier and Kratom Harder
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.
HR 589 (Newton-123rd) makes it illegal to sell Kratom to people under 18. It is currently a misdemeanor.
8. Expanding Mental Health Care Access and Awareness
HB 514 (Tanner-9th) creates the Georgia Mental Health Reform and Innovation Commission, which is tasked with assessing mental and behavioral health systems across the life trajectory.
HR 421 (Dempsey-13th) creates a study committee on Infant and Toddler Social and Emotional Health. The study committee will conduct meetings before next session.
Budget items: The Amended FY 2019 budget added $8.4 Million for Georgia Apex Program to provide mental health counselors in high schools, and the FY 2020 budget added more than $43 Million across line items to support mental health and addiction services for children and adults.
9. Improving Communications Infrastructure in Rural Georgia
Several bills encouraged the investments by various utilities to build out broadband and cell service throughout the state. Three key bills include:
SB 2 (Gooch-51st) allows an electric membership corporation (EMC) to provide and operate broadband facilities.
SB 17 (Gooch-51st) gives cooperative non-profit corporations the ability to furnish, improve, and expand broadband services.
SB 66 (Gooch-51st), the ‘Streamlining Wireless Facilities and Antennas Act’, streamlines the deployment of small cells in public rights-of-way.
10. Educating, Convening, Engaging Stakeholders by Voices and GSAN
Voices and GSAN had one of the most productive (and prolific!) sessions ever. In addition to our usual amazing policy, research, coalition, and convening work in the off-season, we took it to a whole new level during the Legislative Session! Check out all we did:
- Voices Legislative Session Preview GA-CALL panel forum
- Voices Legislative Reception
- GSAN Afterschool Day at the Capitol
- Release of 3 GSAN Videos: Top Ten Tips for Talking to Lawmakers, Government 101: Levels of Government, and Advocacy Made Easy (Capitol Tour)
- Pre-K Week Launch
- Children’s Day at the Capitol
- Presentation of the Whole Child Primer to 3 House Committees plus the Senate Democratic Caucus
- Release and distribution of the Voices/GSAN 2019 Child Fact Book
- Release of 4 new factsheets on Immunization, Childhood Diseases, Recess and Physical Education
- Weekly 2 Minute Takes video session updates
- Weekly written Legislative Updates
- Weekly Closed Door Call Meetings at the Capitol
- Weekly When I Was a Kid videos about lawmakers’ childhoods
- Georgia Grantmakers Alliance Legislative Session Updates