The 40-day annual session of the Georgia General Assembly typically is the culmination of months of work by committees that study important issues and present their findings and recommendations for legislative action each January.

The House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality spent last year studying Georgia’s high maternal death rate. This is an extremely serious issue that disproportionately affects rural areas where access to health care services is limited. 

The Maternal Mortality committee has made several recommendations that I hope will become law very soon.

First, it has recommended that Medicaid coverage for new mothers be extended beyond the current two months after babies are born. Second, it is recommending that telehealth services to new mothers be expanded in order to improve access to care. And third, it is recommending that we mandate postmortem examinations in order to verify the exact cause of each maternal death.

The House Rural Development Council that I co-chaired for two years continued its work last year to find ways to improve economic opportunities in rural areas of the state. The panel met 10 times during 2019 and recommended some steps to improve access to health care in rural areas. Among the proposals are the creation of tax incentives for rural physicians and the development of a state-funded residency program to attract health care workers to the communities in such need of them. 

Finally, the Georgia Commission on Freight & Logistics submitted its findings on the needs of the state’s freight and logistics industries, which include workforce development, truck parking, freight rail investment, and funding gaps. Last week, the Joint House and Senate Transportation Committee approved the commission’s report and legislative recommendations, and it also recommended House Resolution 935 to reauthorize the commission’s work for another year. 

In a related matter, the House Transportation Committee recommended approval of House Bill 820 to establish the Georgia Freight Railroad Program within the Department of Transportation. Our freight railroad system handles about 27 percent of Georgia’s freight movement. The new program will be responsible for developing a Rail Enhancement Plan, a Rail Preservation Plan, and the Rail Industrial Plan. 

Most new programs or initiatives growing out of study committees come with funding requirements. In light of the recent slowdown in revenue growth, I am hoping that legislation signed into law last Thursday, Jan. 30, by Gov. Brian Kemp will help us collect additional funds. Under House Bill 276, the state will collect sales tax revenue from large online sellers and “marketplace facilitators” whose online platforms or apps are used by others to sell goods or services. This will be the platform for collecting a tax that has been due for years but had no mechanism in place to collect it. 

While some major online sellers and marketplace facilitators like Amazon have been collecting and submitting sales taxes since we began requiring them in 2018, others have not. This bill also will level the playing field for our brick-and-mortar retailers that are the backbones of our local economies and have always paid taxes, employed our neighbors, sponsored ball teams and donated time and money to local charities. Importantly, local governments and public schools will get their portions of the sales tax revenue that is collected.

In the meantime, the House Appropriations Committee is moving forward with work on the amended budget for the current fiscal year. Appropriations’ numerous subcommittees have begun holding hearings to better understand the cuts in the Governor’s proposed budget. Once we finish work on the amended budget, we will tackle the full-year budget for FY2021.

I am encouraged by the economic development announcements last month that will create more than 1,000 new jobs. This demonstrates that Georgia’s economy is continuing to grow!

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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