Just past midnight on Thursday, April 1, the 2021 legislative session came to close as the Speaker and Lt. Governor declared, “Sine Die!” Sine die is a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting.”  The final two days of session were action packed as we gave final passage to several important bills. While days 39 and 40 are always long, the hours are well worth it to ensure we bring forth sound policy for the betterment of our great state. 

PUBLIC SAFETY

Those committing crimes, especially against our Georgia children, will be held accountable through the passage of Senate Bill 117. This bill works to close a loophole in Georgia law by creating a new crime for “persons of trust” who engage in sexually explicit conduct with minors. Person of trust includes any person whom a parent or guardian has trusted to educate or supervise their child. Penalties under the bill are as follows:

•First degree- imprisonment between one to 25 years; maximum fine of $100,000; punishment increase dependent on victim age/severity of the conduct.

•Establishes increased punishments for a second degree of the crime.

•Create a felony for subsequent offenses.

We are confident that this addition to Georgia will bring much deserved justice to those entrusted by our children and their families.

PROBATION REFORM

Our probation system will see reform under the passage of Senate Bill 105. This bill works to streamline the process for those seeking to end their probation sentences early for good behavior. Offenders may petition to end their probation early if they have fulfilled certain behavioral incentives such as:

•Payment of all restitution owed.

•Not having probation revoked in the past two years.

•Not being arrested for anything other than a non-serious traffic offense.

By streamlining this early termination process through this bipartisan bill, our state could incentivize and allow more offenders to move forward in their lives. This bill has also been sent to the governor’s office. 

EDUCATION EXPANSION

Educational opportunities to our homeless or foster students will be expanded through Senate Bill 107. This legislation will allow homeless or foster students to qualify for in-state tuition at University System of Georgia (USG) institutions as well as at Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) institutions for 10 years or until the student achieves a diploma, certificate or bachelor’s degree. Stipulations of the measure are as follows:

•State-funded foster care assistance would not be considered as income to determine financial aid.

•Waives tuition and fees, such as mandatory rooming and board fees, for qualifying foster and adopted students who attend TCSG schools.

•Requires students to first apply for FAFSA and use any federal aid available before remaining fees or tuition are waived.

SB 107 is enacted into law, it could provide a pathway for homeless or foster students to earn a college degree and, eventually, a career.

STUDENT PROTECTION

In further protection of our Georgia students, we also passed Senate Bill 85, also known as the “Max Gruver Act.”  This bill will expand how schools and state law addresses hazing among Georgia students. Currently, it is illegal for anyone to haze a student in connection with gaining acceptance to a membership, office or other status in a school organization, and the penalty for this crime is a high and aggravated misdemeanor. This measure expands this to include coercing a student using social or physical pressure to consume any food, liquid, alcohol, drug or other substance that would cause the student to vomit, become intoxicated or unconscious. Further requirements under SB 85 are as follows:

•Requires certain colleges to establish policies to report and disclose hazing incidents among students and student organizations.

•Adjudications regarding hazing within a school organization must be made public within 15 days of the settlement.

•Schools required to post certain details about these incidents on their website, excluding students’ personal information.

We are hopeful that strengthening Georgia’s hazing laws will help prevent hazing incidents in our state that are extremely harmful, and even deadly, for students.

2022 Full Fiscal Year Budget

We successfully fulfilled our only constitutional obligation by adopting House Bill 81, the state’s Fiscal Year 2022 (FY 2022) budget. This budget for the next fiscal year begins July 1, 2021, and is set by a revenue estimate $27.2 billion, which is an increase of $1.34 billion, or 5.2 percent, over the original Fiscal Year 2021 budget which was passed last June. Despite the pandemic, we were still able to allocate approximately 90 percent of the new revenue for the FY 2022 budget to Georgia’s education and health and human services agencies. The upcoming fiscal year not only restores 60 percent of the reductions made to K-12 education, but also keeps and increases funding for our other top priorities, such as mental health care, crisis intervention services, access to health care and salary increases for critical state workforce positions.

BILLS OF INTEREST

We also gave final approval to important bills including House Bill 146, which would extend paid parental leave to many of our valuable state employees;  Senate Bill 6, or the “Tax Credit Return on Investment Act of 2021,” which would establish opportunities to examine our state’s tax revenue structure, as well as expand tax incentives for several industries to restore our economy; Senate Bill 195 to increase the responsibilities of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission and allow licensed low THC oil producers to partner with universities and colleges for joint medical research.; House Bill 154which will reform several of Georgia’s adoption and foster care laws, including lowering the age at which a person is allowed to petition for adoption from 25 to 21 years old. 

The following also passed our House Chamber during Week 12:

House Resolution 11, which would create the House Study Committee on Innovative Ways to Maximize Global Talent in Georgia;

House Resolution 52, which would create the Joint Study Committee on Childhood Lead Exposure to examine early intervention and prevention strategies for childhood lead exposure;

House Resolution 222, which would create the House Study Committee on Annexation and Cityhood;

Senate Bill 20, which would add three new appointed members to the Child Advocate Advisory Committee, including a current or former foster parent, a former foster child who became an adult or graduated from high school while in Georgia and an individual who has served for at least three years as a court-appointed special advocate;

Senate Bill 27, which would extend the deadline for current or former members of the military to apply for immediate issuance of a state license or certification from the applicable regulatory board from 180 days after his or her discharge to two years, as well as allow licensing boards to extend the two-year period if the applicant meets certain circumstances, such as health, hospitalization or other related emergencies;

Senate Bill 42, the “Dexter Mosely Act,” which would allow and outline the requirements for a home study student to participate in extracurricular and interscholastic activities within the student’s resident public school system, as well as require schools systems to report and provide information regarding student discipline to the public;

Senate Bill 46, which would allow emergency medical technicians and cardiac technicians to administer vaccines during a declared public health emergency; define “Georgia Registry of Immunization Transactions and Services” and expand the definition of “vaccine;” require firefighters to submit to random drug testing during their first two years of service; allow certain individuals who have committed a felony five to 10 years prior to remain eligible for certifications as emergency medical services personnel, paramedics and cardiac technicians; and authorize the Georgia Department of Public Health to release de-identified data regarding the Low Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Oil Patient Registry to government other authorized entities for research purposes;

Senate Bill 49, which would allow a building inspection applicant to utilize the services of a private building inspector at the onset of the application process by removing a requirement to wait 30 days for a local government to provide the services;

Senate Bill 59, which would allow additional funding for local charter schools for each full-time equivalent student within the local charter school, and this bill would address other matters, su  such as determining health benefits;

Senate Bill 60, which would require indemnification payments to be made to a public safety officer who suffers a heart attack, stroke or vascular rupture while the officer was on duty or recently on duty performing work-related activity; on duty after performing work-related activity or no more than 24 hours after performing work-related activity; and directly or proximately resulted in the death or partial or permanent disability;

Senate Bill 78, which would create a felony crime for posting a sexually explicit photograph or video to a website, file sharing site or message board that advertises or promotes its services as showing or distributing sexually explicit conduct when the posting was made to cause harassment or financial loss and serves no legitimate purpose to the depicted person;

Senate Bill 81, which would change the name of Office of College and Career Transitions to the Office of College and Career Academies, require the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) to collaborate with other state agencies to recruit new industries and expand existing industries, as well as require the Board of Regents and TCSG to submit revenue reports to the House and Senate Appropriations committees;

Senate Bill 92, which would expand the eligibility as to who can issue an affidavit to authorize a motor vehicle disability parking permit by including advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants, allow advanced practice nurses to authorize limited Scheduled II prescriptions if they meet certain requirements; as well as allow physicians to delegate the authority to issue prescription drug orders in emergency situations under specific requirements;

Senate Bill 95, which would establish that when agencies hold meetings, anyone who participates virtually must be treated as fully participating as if they are participating in-person, as well as make several changes to how the Coin-operated Amusement Machine (COAM) industry is regulated by the state, including allowing winnings to be distributed via gift certificates or cards;

Senate Bill 100, which would provide that Georgia would observe daylight savings time year-round as the standard time only if the U.S. Congress authorizes states to keep daylight savings time year-round;

Senate Bill 115, which would require the Georgia Dep

partment of Public Safety to collaborate with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center to offer an instructional course to educate drivers on best practices for interacting with law enforcement officers, as well as allow local authorities to apply for school zone speed enforcement camera permits rather than have each school apply;

Senate Bill 120, the “Ethics in Government Act of 2021,” which would revise Georgia’s campaign finance laws, such as requiring the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission’s authority to report additional information regarding campaign disclosure reports and personal financial statements;

Senate Bill 144, which would amend the definition of “area of operation” regarding city housing authorities to no longer include the area within 10 miles of the boundaries of the city;

Senate Bill 156, which would create the office of the chief labor officer within the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) to provide timely reports and responses to financial audits of the department, as well as assist with inquiries from members of the Georgia legislature, and the position would be repealed on December 31, 2022; this bill would also require the GDOL commissioner to submit weekly reports to House and Senate leadership regarding unemployment claims;

Senate Bill 164, which would modernize Georgia’s human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) laws to align with science and ensure that policies support current understanding of best public health practices for preventing and treating HIV; this bill would also provide that persons charged with exposing someone to HIV through sexual acts must express the intent to transmit HIV and remove criminal penalties for people living with HIV who share hypodermic needles or syringes; this bill would also exempt any prescription drugs that are approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration from a Schedule I classification;

Senate Bill 174, which would revise the ability of judges to issue unsecured judicial releases by requiring that the release be noted on the release order and that the person not be charged with a “bail restricted offense;” appointed judges filling the vacancy of an elected judge would also be required to follow these rules for unsecured judicial releases; an “unsecured judicial release” would be defined as a release that does not have a dollar amount required to be secured and that is either on a person’s own recognizance or for purposes of entering a specified pretrial program; this bill would also add certain crimes as a bail restricted offense;

Senate Bill 198, which would allow the Georgia Department of Public Safety to provide subsistence and per diem pay for employees, pay sworn employees additional compensation upon retirement in the form of the badge and duty weapon and grant a salary increase to sworn employees who have obtained higher education degrees related to law enforcement;

Senate Bill 201, which would allow the Georgia Department of Revenue to request information regarding delinquent taxpayers from financial institutions, as well as create requirements for how the department should handle these requests; this bill would also make changes related to contracts with county tax commissioners;

Senate Bill 204, which would allow the State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia to award high school diplomas to students 16 years old or older through a pilot program known as the “Dual Achievement Program;”

Senate Bill 213, which would allow public schools to have the option to enter into multiyear energy-saving leases, purchase or lease-purchase contracts to reduce energy consumption, wastewater consumption, wastewater production or operating costs and costs could be paid for by local option sales taxes for education purposes;

Senate Bill 215, which would allow for nursing homes to use certified medication aides to administer certain physician-ordered medications, require these nursing homes that use certified nursing aides to have a licensed pharmacist perform quarterly reviews of each nursing home resident's drug regimen and other medication policies and procedures and authorize the Georgia Department of Community Health to approve employer-based certified nurse aid training and competency examination programs;

Senate Bill 220, “The Georgia Civics Renewal Act,” which would create the Georgia Commission on Civics Education to promote civic engagement and public service among Georgia residents;

Senate Bill 222, which would designate the pecan as the official state nut;

Senate Bill 225, which would create a specialty license plate for allied veterans, including those who fought as a U.S. ally in the Vietnam War;

Senate Bill 235, which would add an exception to the misdemeanor crime of wearing a mask in public for those who wear such masks to follow public health guidance to prevent the spread of infectious diseases;

Senate Bill 236, which would allow any food service establishment with a license to sell distilled spirits to sell two mixed drinks per entrée ordered for off-premises consumption; this bill would limit the mixed drinks to less than three ounces of distilled spirits, require these drinks to be completely sealed, only ordered with food and picked up by those who ordered it; customers would only be authorized to transport these drinks in a locked glove compartment, trunk or behind their back row of seats;

Senate Bill 237, which would create a specialty license plate to support members of the U.S. Army Rangers;

Senate Bill 246, “The Learning Pod Protection Act,” which would exempt “learning pods” from being regulated by the state or local school systems when the student’s primary educational program is offered through remote virtual learning;

Senate Bill 255, which would task the OneGeorgia Authority with administering the Border Region Retail Tourism Development Program, and this program would award grants to applicants to assist with retail and tourism development within 25 miles of the state border to compete with neighboring states;

Senate Bill 260, which would exclude from rules and regulations for soil amendments any soil amendments derived from industrial by-products solely generated from forest products, and local governments would be prohibited from implementing any zoning ordinance that would create a buffer or setback for soil amendments that exceeds 100 feet, and farms would only be able to use authorized use soil amendment plans;

Senate Resolution 39, which would act as the General Assembly’s annual road, bridge and intersection dedication legislation to honor distinct Georgians;

Senate Resolution 84, which would create the Joint Study Committee on Airport Infrastructure and Improvements;

Senate Resolution 102, which would create the Georgia Commission on E-Commerce and Freight Infrastructure Funding.

Now that we have met the conclusion of the 2021 legislative session, we turn towards continued efforts within our district. While I enjoy my time in Atlanta, I am excited to catch up with all of you in the coming months. Thank you for allowing me to serve you on the state level as it is an honor to be your voice under the Gold Dome. If you need anything at all, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time. In the meantime, I hope to see you in the district very soon. May God bless you and may He continue to bless the great state of Georgia.

Chris Erwin represents District 28 in the Georgia House of Representatives.

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