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Under the Gold Dome: March 2024 Legislative Update

My House colleagues and I returned to the Gold Dome on Monday, March 18 for three legislative days, continuing to give pass to a number of Senate bills. There are now only two legislative days remaining in the session until we reach Sine Die on Thursday, March 28. These finals legislative days are among the busiest days of the entire session as we finalize our legislative business for the year before the Sine Die deadline.

These legislative highlights reflect the diverse range of legislative actions taken by the Georgia House to address various issues affecting the state, including public health, education, safety, and victim support. They include:

Combatting the Fentanyl Crisis with “Austin’s Law”

This week, the House unanimously passed Senate Bill 465, or “Austin’s Law,” an important, life saving measure. The bill would create the crime of aggravated involuntary manslaughter when someone intentionally manufactures or sells a controlled substance that contains fentanyl and fentanyl is determined as the sole cause or a contributing factor in a victim’s death. Violators guilty of a felony and subject to imprisonment between 10 and 30 years.

SB 465 is known as “Austin’s Law,” named after a young man who died tragically after unknowingly taking a substance laced with fentanyl. Under current law, a person who unknowingly sells drugs laced with fentanyl which results in an overdoes is not a felony crime. This legislation updates the law so that those who sell drugs and counterfeit drugs containing fentanyl are held accountable for overdoses. Austin’s parents joined us in the House Chamber as we honored Austin’s life with passage of his bill.

Mental Health Workforce

There is a pressing need for increased mental health and substance use providers and services in Georgia, particularly in rural and underserved areas where access to such services are limited. The House has focused its efforts on improving and expanding mental health services across our state in recent years, and this week, we continued those efforts by passing Senate Bill 480. Senate Bill 480 provides student loan repayment assistance to mental health and substance use providers working with underserved youth or in rural areas lacking adequate services. It awaits signature into law by Governor Kemp.

Education and Workforce Development

The House unanimously passed Senate Bill 440, bipartisan legislation that would make revisions to Georgia’s Accelerated Career Diploma program, which is part of the state’s dual enrollment program for qualified high school students. SB 440 is a result of the work of the Joint Study Committee on Dual Enrollment for Highly Skilled Talent at Younger Ages, which was established in 2023 in response to requests from Georgia students, families, communities and employers.

Throughout last summer and fall, this joint study committee conducted numerous meetings across the state to explore and identify potential solutions for increasing dual enrollment opportunities for highly skilled talent at younger ages. Senate Bill 440 streamlines and simplifies the dual enrollment program and provides financial assistance to eligible students. It seeks to encourage greater student participation so that more students are workforce-ready upon their high school graduation.

We also passed Senate Bill 464, which aims to improve literacy rates among our youngest students and provide financial relief to educators for when purchasing learning materials and classroom supplies. SB 464 would make changes to the Georgia Early Literacy Act to require the Department of Education (DOE) and Georgia Council on Literacy to identify up to five universal reading screeners to help identify students who are experiencing literacy problems.

In addition, the bill would make one of these screeners available for free for public schools and local school systems. SB 464 also outlines the School Supplies for Educators Act, which would establish a program to provide financial and technical assistance to educators to purchase school supplies. The State Board of Education would be tasked with establishing this program for the DOE to allocate funds for eligible educators, to be used at their discretion, for the online purchase of school supplies.

Public Safety and Protecting the Vulnerable

We also turned our attention to strengthening public safety in our state with the passage of Senate Bill 493, which would introduce several provisions related to the protection of minors and certain regulations concerning individuals on Georgia’s sex offender registry. SB 493 is crucial in protecting Georgia’s minors from registered sexual offenders and would play a significant role in building safer and more secure communities for all Georgians.

The bill makes it a crime for a person to use an unmanned aircraft, such as a drone, to intentionally photograph an individual, particularly a minor, without parental consent. Individuals who are found guilty of this crime would be subject to a minimum fine of $1,500, and subsequent violations would lead to felony charges and imprisonment between one and 30 years, accompanied by fines ranging from $5,000 to $100,000.

It would also prohibit a person who is on the sex offender registry from knowingly owning or operating a drone used to photograph or observe any person in any way that violates that person's reasonable expectation of privacy. SB 493 would also allow certain individuals on Georgia’s sex offender registry to petition the superior court to be removed from the registry after reaching the age of 80 years old and completing all prison, parole, supervised release and probation for the offense.

The House also passed Senate Bill 324, a bipartisan measure aimed at providing more protection and support to these victims in our state, allowing them the opportunity to safely rebuild their lives without fear. Senate Bill 324 establishes a victim-centered address confidentiality program and introduces measures to protect victims of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, human trafficking, or sexual assault.

This program would allow certified participants to utilize an address confidentiality card instead of disclosing their personal address to governmental entities to prevent their confidential address from being published. By making victims’ addresses confidential from public record, we can ensure that victims and survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, human trafficking or sexual assault could remain protected from their perpetrators as disclosure could increase the risk that the victim would be threatened or physically harmed by another person. It would also prohibit courts from issuing or approving mutual protective orders in certain instances and would provide for the issuance of dating violence protective orders.

In closing, with Sine Die now days away, the pace under the Gold Dome continues to intensify as we near the finish line of the 2024 Legislative Session. The House will return to session on Tuesday, March 26 for Legislative Day 39. My colleagues and I will continue working tirelessly to implement simple, smart and effective policies for Georgia families and our communities. Please stay tuned for Sine Die updates.


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