By: Sen. Burt Jones (R – Jackson)

During the 11th week of the 2018 Legislative Session, the Senate passed 54 pieces of legislation. As we head toward this year’s Sine Die, we are as busy as ever under the Gold Dome. In addition to passing the General Budget for the 2019 Fiscal Year, the Senate passed many other pieces of legislation to encourage rural economic development and protect consumers.

House Bill 684, better known as the FY19 General Budget, contains around $26 billion in total spending for next year. Increased spending can only happen when there is increased growth, and Georgia’s economy continues to grow year after year. Included in next year’s budget are increases in several areas including higher education, rural development and health care. Specific to the 25th District, both Georgia College and State University and Georgia Military College in Milledgeville will receive additional funding increases for the renovation and construction of new facilities. In addition, the W.H. Stanton Memorial Library in Social Circle will receive more than $1.5 million for construction and renovation. HB 684 is currently in a conference committee where both chambers are represented to sort out differences.

While the budget is important, there were several other meaningful pieces of legislation that I would like to share with you. While I cannot share every detail of every bill, here are summaries of those that I think will be most important to the members of our community:

House Bill 792, which is very similar to a Senate Bill I sponsored earlier this year, would allow local governments with solid waste disposal sites to impose a $3 per ton surcharge on solid waste that is disposed and a $1 per ton surcharge for the construction or demolition of solid waste. This bill will allow local governments and the surrounding communities to benefit from solid waste being brought in from out of state and hopefully limit it.

House Bill 700 would increase the list of eligible class credits for Georgia National Guardsmen to include graduate courses. This will simply give the men and women serving our state and country more access to higher education and skills they can apply to future opportunities.

House Bill 314 would help combat surprise medical billing by requiring hospitals and physicians to clearly post standard charges and notices on their websites. In addition, the bill would require insurers to provide information on in-network and out-of-network coverage to enrollees and provide mediation for elective procedures costing $1,000 or more. All of this is being done in an effort to benefit patients and ease any undue burden on the care they deserve.

House Bill 271 would remove a prohibition on baiting feral hogs and allows hunting on wildlife management areas without a specific permit. The bill also prohibits baiting wildlife from adjoining lands, allows airbows and airguns of at least .30 caliber for big game and extends bow use for deer hunting to January 31.

House Bill 696 would create a sales and use tax exemption for high-technology data center equipment in an effort to attract such companies to do business in Georgia. The bill requires facilities to meet a ‘minimum investment threshold’ to receive the exemption, which includes providing 20 high-quality jobs and meeting a series of requirements falling into a three-tiered system.

House Bill 904 clarifies liability in the event of injury on private property used for recreational purposes. If even one person is charged a fee for admission, then the property owner is liable for every individual using the property.

House Bill 843 would extend tax credits for ‘less developed’ areas to include census tracts that contain both a government-operated industrial park and a military base with more than 5,000 personnel.

House Bill 760 would provide insurance policyholders the option to renew their policy with a reduction in coverage. The bill aims to bring transparency to policyholders and give them an opportunity to request insurance reductions without losing their whole plan.

House Bill 732 redefines the crime of sex trafficking to include patronizing an individual into sexual servitude. The bill also clarifies that a conviction for such a crime will result in a felony and jailtime and that a conviction carries increased consequences if a minor or developmentally disabled individual is the one being patronized.

Senate Resolution 989 encourages the Federal Motor Carrier Administration to fully honor the “Hours of Service” provisions for the agriculture industry and to remove Electronic Logging Device regulations.

These are just a few of the many pieces of legislation passed during week 11 and with our final week of session on the horizon, there will be many more to come. I look forward to fighting for bills that mirror the values of our community in this final week under the Gold Dome in 2018. Thank you for the opportunity to serve the 25th District, if you ever have any comments, questions or concerns relating to legislation facing the Senate, please do not hesitate to contact me or my office. We are here to represent you and assist in any way we can.

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