By Rep. Tom Rice, Georgia State Rep. (Dist. 95)
This past week was very eventful as I was able to pass both my DUI (HB 671) and Title Ad Valorem Tax Reform (HB 729) out of committee and on to the Rules Committee Calendar. The Rules Committee is the last step before a bill comes to the floor for a vote. I am hopeful of presenting both to the House on Monday.
My biggest thrill occurred on Wednesday when I presented a resolution honoring the life accomplishments of Dr. Allen Ecker to Allen and his family. Last year I had an idea that we should honor graduates of the four research universities (UGA, GT, G ST and MCG) who best demonstrated the fruits of the amazing business development environment available in Georgia. Dr. Ecker was both an All-American football player under Coach Dodd at Georgia Tech and an Academic All-American. He went on to get his PhD in Electronic Engineering and returned to Tech to head the Applied Engineering Develop Lab – the forerunner of the business development incubator program. His success there led him to accept an offer to be Scientific Atlanta’s Exec VP for Research. There Dr. Ecker took a $30m business to a $3b business with the development of digital TV. Dr. Ecker and his wife Sandra have enjoyed fifty five years of marriage. It has been my blessing to get to know them. This success is exactly the type of opportunity we want to continue to invest state resources in to launch us to a new level of good jobs through economic development.
This was the last week for bills to pass out of committees, since “Crossover Day” is scheduled for Monday, March 3. Crossover Day is the deadline in which a piece of legislation must pass at least one of the General Assembly’s two chambers. With this date looming, we spent long hours at the State Capitol to ensure important pieces of legislation were either passed on the House floor or ready for a vote on Crossover Day.
Many of the bills passed during this crucial week were related to education and the welfare of our children. One such bill was House Bill 826, which provides local school systems with more flexibility in handling violations of school safety zones. Under HB 823, schools would no longer be forced to expel students who are caught with items like a fishing knife or a baseball bat in their cars on school campuses. Currently, if a student is found on a school campus with these items in their vehicle, they are automatically suspended and charged with a felony. In these cases under this bill, local school systems will now be able to issue lesser penalties if they have no reason to believe that the student intended to use the object as a weapon. Granting local school systems the authority to deal with these situations on a case-by-case basis will help prevent a student’s record and reputation from being tarnished with an offense that was actually an innocent mistake.
In addition to HB 826, which protects our children from unjust punishment, we also passed House Bill 804 to protect children from the psychological trauma that can result from testifying in court about cases of abuse. Testifying before a court is an intimidating task, especially for a young child, and having to face an abuser can be even scarier. HB 804 provides young victims with another option. The bill allows them to testify remotely via live broadcast if the court agrees that testifying before the accused would cause serious physical or emotional distress for the victim. Not only will this measure ease discomfort for victims, but it might also eliminate one of the barriers that prevents them from coming forward about their abuse.
We also passed a child welfare measure last week that would that would help prevent child abuse, but also track cases in the event of abuse. Last week, we passed House Bill 923 to help ensure that cases of child abuse are treated with the seriousness that they warrant. HB 923 increases public access to government records that relate to deceased children who had at some point come into contact with the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS). The bill also updates the Child Fatality Review Board, which is responsible for examining DFCS cases that involve death. It is our hope that this increased transparency and review, combined with an increase in DFCS employees, will ensure Georgia is doing everything possible to protect children from abuse.
In addition to passing these pieces of legislation aimed at protecting Georgia’s children, we also passed House Bill 549 to protect our state’s natural resources, such as our waterways and wildlife. This bill will help our state better prepare for a water pollution emergency, like the one recently experienced by West Virginia and the Ogeechee River Fish Kill in Georgia a few years ago. HB 549 establishes a state water pollution emergency response plan. The bill requires that the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) maintain an emergency response program to handle critical threats and pollution to our state’s water resources. The bill also requires appropriate and timely responses to emergencies that threaten the state’s waterways. Additionally, HB 549 requires that the EPD use proper public notification and coordination between the state and local communities to protect the health of Georgia’s citizens during emergencies and keep them informed. I am proud that our state has taken these steps to protect our state’s citizens as well as the aquatic wildlife that live along our waterways.
Another important bill passed last week was House Bill 459. This bill will help decrease our motorists’ stress on Georgia’s highways. HB 459 aims to encourage drivers to avoid driving in the passing lane for long periods of time. Under HB 459, any driver on a divided highway who does not move to the right when a car going faster approaches them from behind could face a misdemeanor. We hope that this legislation will remind everyone that the left lane on a highway is intended to be used for passing and cut down on cases of road rage in our state.
In addition to passing legislation last week, we also took some time to recognize a great Georgian and Olympian, Elana Meyers. Elana, who hails from Douglasville, recently returned from Sochi, Russia, where she won a silver medal in the women’s bobsledding competition at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. This was Elana’s second time at the Winter Olympic Games, after she won bronze in Vancouver in 2010. I am proud that Georgia had such talented representation at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, and it was an honor to meet such a distinguished Georgian.
As we begin voting on more bills and resolutions every day, I encourage you to contact me at the Georgia State Capitol with your thoughts and opinions. I am always happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have regarding legislation. My capitol office phone number is 404-656-5912, and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative.
Rep. Tom Rice House District 95 serves, Peachtree Corners, Berkeley Lake and Portions of Johns Creek, Duluth and Norcross.