By: Sen. Burt Jones (R – Jackson)

The fourth week under the Gold Dome was a busy and productive one. Of the many exciting things that happened, first and foremost was the famous Groundhog Day prediction by General Beauregard Lee, Butts County’s own groundhog, that there will be six more weeks of winter. In the Senate on Thursday, we adopted a resolution declaring February 2, 2018, as Groundhog Day in honor of this occasion and to welcome General Lee to his new home at the Dauset Trails Nature Center.

This week, we also passed six bills on the Senate floor. On Monday, both SB 101 and 129 passed unanimously. SB 101 would allow Georgians who participate in the Georgia Defined Contribution Plan to now buy into the Employee Retirement System (ERS), if they meet certain criteria. SB 129 also deals with retirement, but allows veterans to receive retirement credit through the ERS.

On Tuesday, we passed SB 321 which will bring some revisions to the current Medicaid fraud reimbursement process. Currently in Georgia, only 35 percent of Medicaid fraud reimbursements stay in Georgia. This means that the other 65 percent goes back to the Federal government. By passing SB 321, 45 percent of those reimbursements will stay here. As a result, the minimum penalty fee will increase from $5,500 to $11,181. We’re hoping this money can be used to fund healthcare in rural areas.

Thursday, the 14th legislative day, Senate Resolution 502 was presented to the chamber. SR 502 encourages the United States Congress to develop and fund policies to work towards extending high-speed broadband coverage into rural areas across America. Access to reliable and fast internet is necessary to new industries that could be beneficial to rural Georgia, such as telehealth and online classes for high school and college students. Measures like these are ways to ensure influential people in Washington are aware of our problem.

In addition to six bills being voted on by the Senate, several measures to help children in Georgia were discussed in committee meetings and in the Senate Chamber. The first was SB 118 by Sen. Renee Unterman of Buford. This bill would require insurers to cover certain costs for children under the age of 12 who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). On average, children are diagnosed with ASD at age two. Right now, insurers are required to cover children up to six years of age, which is not enough time for these kids to get the therapy and attention they need to address Autism early on. This bill ensures that instead of only receiving maybe four years of therapy, children will be able to get longer-term treatment in their formative years that can help lessen the effects of ASD. This is a bill that has been a long time in the making, and I am hopeful that this is the year it will be passed in the Senate and House and signed by the Governor.

This week, I also introduced Senate Bill 379, also known as the ‘Georgia Major Airport Operations and Management Act.’ This legislation would create the Georgia Major Airport Operations and Management Board as the governing body for certain county and city airports across the state. I look forward to working with my colleagues and all interested stakeholders on this important issue. It is my goal to keep the lines of communication open and to have discussions as this legislation moves through the process.

Thank you again for allowing me to serve you in the General Assembly. I might not be looking forward to six more weeks of winter, but I am looking forward to another six weeks working for the citizens of Georgia under the Gold Dome. If you have any questions, comments or concerns about legislation, please let me know. My door is always open and I am more than happy to answer your questions.

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