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Under the Gold Dome: February 2024 Update

The Georgia House of Representatives convened this week for four days and made significant progress as we passed 34 bills and resolutions by the end of the week to send to our Senate counterparts. By Tuesday, we reached Legislative Day 20, which means we are now more than halfway through our 40-day session. With “Crossover Day” looming on Legislative Day 28, we are focused on perfecting legislation for consideration and advancing notable measures on the House floor.

Maternal and Infant Health

The House voted on an important measure this week, House Bill 1037, which would create the Georgia Commission on Maternal and Infant Health. The commission would be assigned to the Georgia Department of Public Health and consist of 14 members, and the appointees would include an obstetrician, either a pediatrician or neonatologist, a midwife and a representative of a perinatal facility. The commission would be charged with soliciting views from perinatal facilities, healthcare providers and related professional associations on the state of Georgia’s perinatal care and consider the current recommendations of medical and scientific organizations working on perinatal care.

The commission would also be tasked with making policy recommendations regarding perinatal care programs and establishing a way to measure the quality and effectiveness of perinatal care in Georgia. Under HB 1037, the commission would submit state-wide policy recommendations based on its findings no later than June 30, 2026. Through this commission, this legislation aims to examine the causes of maternal and infant deaths in our state and provide policymakers with a more holistic view of these issues so that we can continue our work to improve maternal and infant health in Georgia.

Paid Parental Leave

Continuing our commitment to Georgia’s families, the House also took up legislation this week to expand parental leave for our state employees and teachers. The House first led the way on this issue in 2020, and, subsequently, House Bill 146 was signed into law in 2021 to provide state employees and teachers with up to 120 hours, or three weeks, of paid parental leave after the birth of their child or after an adoptive or foster child is first placed in their home.

House Bill 1010, which passed in the House on Thursday, would modify the current law by extending paid
parental leave for state employees to six weeks, doubling the amount of time state employees currently receive. If both parents are state employees, they would each be entitled to six weeks of paid leave, with the flexibility to split these weeks over a twelve-month period.
Recognizing that the current three-week period following the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a child often falls short for many parents,

HB 1010 would address this by granting parents additional time at home with their families. Also, by expanding this crucial benefit to our state employees and teachers, our state could also retain and recruit the best and brightest workforce.

Protecting Our Most Vulnerable

My colleagues and I also gave unanimous passage to House Bill 1022, the Colton-McNeill Act, which would fortify protections for disabled minors by elevating penalties for acts

of cruelty against them. The legislation would address a critical gap in existing laws, seeking to
impose harsher consequences for perpetrators who target vulnerable children. Under this bill, the
severity of the offense would determine the length of imprisonment, with the first degree of
cruelty to a disabled minor carrying a sentence ranging from 15 to 30 years, and the second
degree of the crime would result in imprisonment between 10 and 30 years. By increasing
penalties, the bill would send a clear message that our state will not tolerate the mistreatment of
disabled children, striving to safeguard their well-being and ensure justice for those who suffer
from such reprehensible acts.

Education and Workforce

The House also turned its attention toward our state’s education system and its workforce
with the passage of House Bill 282. This legislation would provide a significant step to enhance
career preparedness among middle and high school students in Georgia. By clarifying that the
career course mandated by the State Board of Education must prioritize career readiness, HB 282
would underscore the importance of practical instruction and training experiences. With a focus
on equipping students with essential skills for the workforce, the Department of Education would
be tasked with assembling comprehensive resources and materials on career readiness and
employability, ensuring that state public schools have access to vital tools for student success.
With the minimum course of study slated for implementation by July 1, 2024, this legislation
would pave the way for a more robust and effective approach in preparing our youth for future
career paths.

This week, we also passed House Bill 874, a bill that would require every public school
in Georgia to have a functional automated external defibrillator (AED) machine on the premises
of school grounds at all times and during school-related functions. This crucial legislation
highlights the importance of safeguarding the well-being of Georgia’s students by ensuring
teachers and school staff have access to this vital, lifesaving equipment. Additionally, HB 847
would require schools in Georgia to create a written emergency action plan, conduct at least two
emergency action practice drills annually and designate an internal response team to provide
necessary training to team members and potential users of an AED. By guaranteeing the
presence of AEDs and establishing protocols for their use, HB 874 would empower teachers and
school staff to respond effectively in emergency situations. This bipartisan measure would align
with Georgia’s commitment to prioritizing Georgia’s students and creating environments where
timely medical intervention can significantly increase the chances of saving young lives.

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