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Legislature starting to pick up the pace
Hitchens Bill
Rep. Bill Hitchens

The first 19 days of the General Assembly’s 2015 session are over, and we are running at full speed after the slower-paced start due to the inauguration of the governor and the welcoming of freshman legislators to the House of Representatives. Every two years, the House reorganizes itself as new members come in and others retire. And due to that reorganization, every bill has to be introduced initially, and then begin the committee process.

As I have mentioned before, the only action that is absolutely required of the General Assembly as directed by the constitution of Georgia is to pass a budget. We actually pass two budgets, the smaller one being the supplemental budget that allows us to re-examine the current year’s budget and make any corrections in funding. Consequently, we passed House Bill 75 and sent it to the Senate. After the House and Senate agreed on some changes, the supplemental budget was sent to the governor for his final approval.

Regarding other matters, the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project or “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, Senate Bill 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 Georgia’s economy. We passed this bill unanimously and it is now heading to the governor for his signature.

In education legislation, HB 100 proved to be one of the more debated bills this year. HB 100 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. HB 100 passed 110-53.

In this fast-paced world, the pressures that children face are many and we are always devastated when adolescent suicide affects our community. In an effort to support struggling youth as best we can, we unanimously passed HB 198, the Jason Flatt Act, which would require the Department of Education to adopt rules to require that certified public school personnel receive 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 required professional development offered by the local school system. Teachers spend a great deal of time with our children and often are the first to notice when a child is struggling emotionally. If this additional training saves just one child, this law will accomplish our goal.

We unanimously passed HB 104, a bill that would clarify the process of public bidding for certain conveyances for the sale and lease of public property. This revises the code to allow the state’s property commission to be authorized to negotiate, prepare, and enter into in its own name rental agreements where part of the property is rented without public competitive bidding. The length of time for this agreement will be limited to one year.

I am so grateful that you allow me to represent you in the state House and it is a responsibility that I take seriously. Please know that I am here to listen to your thoughts and concerns. I can be reached at (404) 656-0178 or at