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Final hours of session featured key legislation
Hitchens Bill
State Rep. Bill Hitchens

The 2019 legislative session adjourned April 2 and many significant bills are currently on the governor’s desk for his signature.

For this article, I’ll focus on legislation that passed in the final hours of the session. Next week, I’ll provide an overall session report, highlighting bills that could affect our community. 

Please know that your support, encouragement and engagement in the legislative process was invaluable to me as I represented you in the State House. Our community was on the forefront of my mind with every decision I made and with each piece of legislation I considered. 

Many news outlets have reported on House Bill 481, known as the “Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act,” and I was pleased with its passage as I greatly value the life of the unborn. This bill recognizes an unborn child as a person, included in state population-based determinations and state income tax deductions. In addition, abortion is not authorized if an unborn child has been determined to have a heartbeat, except in the case of rape, incest or medical emergency. The wording of this bill affirms the sanctity and significance of life, including those still in their mother’s womb.  

Several bills passed relating to healthcare institutions. House Bill 186 revises Certificate of Need (CON) provisions, extends the Rural Hospital Tax Credit and creates the Office of Health Strategy and Coordination.  For CON, HB 186 increases the capital threshold to $10 million for new, expanded or relocated clinical facilities and removes the requirement for CON approval for non-clinical space upgrades and renovations. HB 186 also states that non-profit hospitals may not renew or hold any property for medical use rights. 

House Bill 514 creates the Georgia Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission. The purpose of this commission is to conduct a comprehensive review of the behavioral health system in Georgia. The commission will review the behavioral health services and facilities available in our state, the identification of behavioral health issues in children, adolescents, and adults, as well as the role the education system has in the identification and treatment of behavioral health issues. 

Additionally, the commission will review the impact behavioral health issues have on the criminal justice system, the state's homeless population, delivery of care, access to care, the role of payers in such access, and the impact untreated behavioral illness has on children transitioning into adulthood. The commission will conclude on June 30, 2023. It’s my hope that this legislation helps to improve lives, allow people in need to get necessary treatment, and be a catalyst for healthier communities. 

HB 321 includes provisions relating to hospital transparency, requiring a non-profit hospital, hospital-owned or operated authority, or the authority's non-profit corporation to increase transparency by prominently posting online the most recent versions of certain federal and state documents, including audited financial statements for the hospital and its affiliates. It’s my hope these bills will help our healthcare system to be more transparent and accessible.

Although the session has ended, I continue to welcome your comments and questions about legislation that could affect your family, job, and future. It’s a privilege to represent you and I thank you for your support!