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Session almost halfway home
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The General Assembly is quickly approaching the halfway point under the Gold Dome. As the session progresses, the quantity of bills debated on the House floor increases. Last week, the House passed 26 bills and many of those bills involved local legislation for specific counties and cities (not in our district). Some of the legislation the House voted on this week is discussed below.


I sponsored two bills last week, and these pieces of legislation will begin the legislative process, starting with the first readings of each of them, followed by each bill being immediately assigned to a House committee for thorough discussion. House Bill 365 relates to seat belts in passenger vehicles and would simply amend the requirement for safety belts to include vehicles carrying 15 or less people. The purpose for the change is that occupants in 15-passenger vans are not required to utilize seat belts even though one of their primary purposes is to transport school-age children by churches, schools and community organizations (YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, etc.).


In addition, these vans have a higher likelihood of turning over than other vehicles and an unrestrained 15-passenger van occupant involved in a single-vehicle crash is approximately three times as likely to be killed as a restrained occupant. The Georgia Department of Public Safety, the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta are all supporting this proposed legislation.


House Bill 366 relates to the employment and training requirements for peace officers and makes some changes to current code, such as: allowing more flexibility for re-taking the basic training examination and disciplinary actions for officers failing to report their annual training requirements to the Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training Council (POST). Currently the executive director of POST has the authority to suspend the certification of peace officers indicted on felony charges. HB 366 will expand that authority to add communications officers and jail officers.


Legislation involving gun laws in Georgia continues to move through the legislative process and one relating to our Second Amendment right passed last week, applying to retired judges. The House passed HB 60 (167 to 3), which amends the Georgia code to allow the carrying and possession of firearms by all retired federal, state and local judges. This legislation would simply extend the rights to all judges in Georgia, current and retired, including those that are not on state retirement.


HB 154 passed unanimously and relates to the recommendations by the Worker’s Compensation Board regarding changes, including: a 400-week cap on non-catastrophic injuries beginning July 1, 2013, caps mileage charges and changes it from 30 days to 15 days, requires a good faith effort to return to work if based on the doctor’s recommendations, increases the maximum rate per week for Temporary Total and Partial Disability, and changes the lump-sum settlements by reducing the interest rate.


The General Assembly returned to the Gold Dome on Tuesday for the 19th day of the 2013 legislative session, but I was back Monday for a Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee meeting to hear several bills related to firearms.


I will keep you apprised of important legislation that affects your families, your freedoms and your pocketbooks. Working with and alongside the other members of both the House and Senate, your best interests will always remain my first priority.


Please let me know if I can ever be of assistance to you or your family. Please feel welcome to write to me at 501 Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg., Atlanta, GA 30334, email me at bill.hitchens@house.ga.gov, or call my office at (404) 656-0178.