It is great to be back home after a productive legislative session. On Saturday I was privileged to attend the 65th annual Screven County Livestock Festival and Parade in Sylvania. This parade is part of a tradition of agricultural-related events celebrated annually. It was particularly special for me to be home and see so many family and friends. I am grateful that Georgia’s citizen legislature allows members to return home after session and be a part of the communities we serve.
For the next few weeks, my article will review legislation passed by the Georgia House and Senate that awaits the governor’s signature. This week, I want to highlight legislation we passed that protects some of our most vulnerable citizens — those with special needs and disabilities.
Protecting disabled Georgians
ABLE Act — HB 768
I am proud to support House Bill 768, which creates the Georgia ABLE Program (“Achieving a Better Life Experience”). This program allows Georgians with disabilities to create and fund tax-free savings accounts for critical living expenses such as health care and housing without losing eligibility for Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.
This legislation allows our disabled citizens to remain independent throughout their lives and to take personal responsibility for their future. As such, it will provide additional support and much-needed flexibility for those Georgians with disabilities and for those Georgia families who support family members with disabilities.
Increased penalties for human trafficking
Unfortunately, individuals with developmental disabilities are being targeted by human traffickers, because traffickers believe these particular victims will be unable to testify against them. To protect these victims, the legislature passed House Bill 770. This bill expands the victim class for human trafficking to include those with developmental disabilities and ensures that offenses perpetrated against victims with developmental disabilities will be sentenced consistent with offenses against minors — punishable by a felony and 25 to 50 years or life in prison and a fine not exceeding $100,000. This bill also provides assistance to those law enforcement officials investigating these crimes involving trafficking individuals with developmental disabilities.
HB 916 — Oversight of the Department of Community Health
House Bill 916 was introduced in response to findings of Study Committee on Community Based Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services that met prior to the 2016 legislative session. That study committee discovered instances in which medical providers were forced to make full repayments to the Department of Community Health (DCH) simply for clerical errors — just as they would have to for something as egregious as a failure to provide a service related to a patient’s care.
Consequently, House Bill 916 was passed to prevent DCH from recouping full payment for medical assistance if the provider only makes a clerical or record-keeping error in their reimbursement documentation. Further, under the provisions of this bill, no state agency that provides recoupment or reimbursement to another entity can establish rules that require full recoupment for any clerical or record-keeping error. This bill was intended to ensure health care providers can preserve their resources necessary to provide quality care for Georgians with disabilities.
Thank you so much for your strong and steadfast support during the 2016 Legislative Session. It’s good to be home.
Jon Burns represents District 159 in the Georgia General Assembly where he serves as the House Majority Leader.