The Georgia House of Representatives, during the seventh week of the 2020 legislative session, passed three health care bills.

If it becomes law, House Bill 987 would strengthen the staffing, training and licensure requirements of personal care homes and assisted living facilities. Georgia has a rapidly-growing aging population, and the purpose of the bill is to better protect the elderly and frail residents of these homes.

The provisions would become effective on July 1, 2021 and would affect personal care homes with at least 25 beds and assisted living communities. The homes would have to be licensed by the state, and licensure applicants would have to submit to the Georgia Department of Community Health a financial stability affidavit from a certified public accountant.

The legislation sets a mandatory ratio of direct-care staff to residents, lays out initial and annual training requirements of personnel and establishes the number and hours of on-site nurses. 

Personal care homes with a memory care center for residents with dementia would have the smallest ratio of staff to residents and would have to conduct a comprehensive clinical skills competency review of each medication aide. These homes also could hire state-certified medication aides and obtain the services of licensed pharmacists to perform quarterly reviews of residents’ drug regimens. 

In addition, the bill would require the facilities to notify the department and residents if patient care would be impacted by bankruptcies, property evictions or changes in ownership. And it would establish per-day fines for violations of the new provisions, as well as a $5,000 fine for any violation that caused the death or serious physical injury of a resident. 

House Bill 521, which passed unanimously last week, could increase access for low-income Georgians to dental care. If this bill becomes law, it would allow dentists and dental hygienists licensed in other states to temporarily volunteer their services to low-income Georgians at free or charitable dental events, or at approved dental clinic sites, or in any Georgia dentist’s private office. The out-of-state dentists and hygienists would get a temporary license authorizing them to provide services for five days every six months under the supervision of a licensed Georgia dentist. 

The third health care bill to pass was House Bill 842, or Gracie’s Law. It would prohibit discrimination against mentally or physically disabled children and adults in need of organ transplants.

In unrelated business, the House passed HB 820 to improve the quality of Georgia’s freight rail infrastructure across the state. It would establish the Georgia Freight Railroad Program within the Georgia Department of Transportation and enable the state to move goods in a safer and more efficient way. 

The House also passed HB 819 to honor Georgia veterans. State residents who are veterans of the armed forces during times of war or conflict would qualify for a Georgia veteran’s license, and unmarried surviving spouses of deceased veterans would qualify for an honorary veteran’s license.

Finally, during his second annual State of the Judiciary address, Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harold D. Melton talked about initiatives at law libraries. More than 1 million citizens have represented themselves in courts around the state, and he said many are turning to law libraries that offer new services, such as self-help videos on specific legal matters. 

Justice Melton expressed support for the establishment of the Behavioral Health and Reform Commission and noted the success of the state’s mental health courts that reduce recidivism rates, save taxpayers the cost of incarceration and provide solutions for the mentally ill who too often wind up in jails. 

Thank you for the opportunity to represent District 116. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me at 404-463-2245 or at May God bless you and your family, this wonderful county, and our great state.

Rep. Terry England has served in the Georgia House since 2005. District 116 includes most of Barrow County. In addition to chairing the House Appropriations Committee, he is an ex-officio member of the Ways & Means Committee and a member of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, the Education Committee, the Industry and Labor Committee, and the Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

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