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Important bill for port sails through House
burns jon 2015
Rep. Jon Burns

We had a very active week with several important pieces of legislation passing the House. The first was the supplemental budget and the second was the Georgia Ports harbor expansion indemnifying bill. Both have been sent to the governor for his signature.

The supplemental appropriations bill allows the General Assembly to make up shortfalls in areas that we may have not allocated enough monies for, typically in education and health care. We receive federal funding for these mandated programs, and are required to match at a certain level. This truing up is usually necessary because of population growth in Georgia.

The other highly important piece of legislation we unanimously passed was the indemnification of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project or “SHEP.” SHEP is a huge economic project for the state that will deepen the Savannah Harbor, allowing sizeable ships sailing through the Panama Canal the ability to navigate the Savannah Harbor.

The SHEP Protection Clause, SB 5, clarifies to the federal government that the Georgia Ports Authority will be responsible in any instance of injury, loss, or damage occurring during the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. This clarification relieves the federal government of liability, thus allowing quicker movement on this huge expansion project.

The Georgia Port is the second-largest container port on the East Coast and its growth and success has had a significant positive effect on our local economy, as well as Georgia and the Southeastern U.S.

We passed HB 198 or the Jason Flatt Act. This bill provides training to school personnel that will help prevent child suicide. I am dismayed by the fact that some of our children choose to take their life because they see no other option.

I believe there is always a better option than suicide, especially with children who have so much to live for. In an effort to help these struggling children, we unanimously passed HB 198 that would require the Department of Education to adopt rules to provide certified public school personnel with annual training in suicide awareness and prevention. This training will be provided within the framework of existing in-service training programs offered by the Department of Education or as part of professional development in the local school systems. Several low- or no-cost options currently in place could be used for this training.

Teachers spend a great deal of time with our children and often are the first to notice when a child is struggling emotionally. As many of us on the House floor discussed this legislation, we were all ready to agree that if this additional training saves just one child, this law will be worth the time and effort.

Also on the education front, we passed HB 100, which would amend elementary and secondary education laws regarding the age requirement for when a child begins school. The bill essentially states that children going into kindergarten must be 5 years old and first graders must be 6 years old on or by Aug. 1 for the 2017-18 school year.

At the start of the 2018-19 school year, children must be these required ages by July 1 which will then be the statute going forward. I supported language to allow for local appeal on an individual child basis, but the language was not adopted in the bill. I will continue to follow HB 100 as it progresses through the process.

We passed legislation to help protect our law enforcement officers this week. House Bill 119 allows probate judges to alert law enforcement if a patient who is being held in their custody and is legally determined to be mentally ill has AIDS. This will now enable probate judges to pass along this important information so law enforcement can take appropriate health safety precautions when faced with these situations.

You can reach me at my office at the State Capitol at (404) 656-5099 or email me at