Between investment in the Division of Family and Children Services and new legislation protecting children, the 2015 General Assembly demonstrated its commitment to children, their protection and promotion of their welfare. This column brings together the funding initiatives and the legislation that will protect children and insure their chances of success.
Sen. Renee Unterman deserves accolades for her dedication over the years to ending sexual exploitation of children and fighting child abuse. She has authored legislation and led the fight for funding to combat these crimes against children.
Funding for protection of chlldren
In the Department of Human Services, a number of recommendations of the Child Welfare Council were funded, totaling some $12.7 million including recruitment and training of foster parents, a caseworker career ladder, and caseworkers/supervisors performance-based increases as well as safety training and support for mobile technologies.
• $15.6 million to fund 103 DFCS caseworkers already hired earlier in FY15 as well as an additional 175 Child Protective caseworkers in FY16
• Transferred funding from Child Welfare Services to the new Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Program in DHS
Legislation passed in 2015 benefitting children
HB 429 — Contained the provisions in SB 1 requiring health insurance coverage of children with autism, age 6 and younger, for intensive therapy where there has been remarkable improvement shown. Policy coverage is capped at $30,000 and does not apply to employers with 10 or less employees covered.
HB 1 — The “Medical Marijuana” bill started out as an effort to help children with seizures but wound up as something a good bit wider than that. SB 1 legalizes under Georgia law (still illegal under federal law) the possession of up to 20 ounces of cannabidol containing no more than 5 percent by weight of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.
The bill allows the use with a doctor’s prescription for the following conditions: epileptic seizures, end stage cancer, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s and sickle cell disease.
The Department of Public Health will adopt procedures, rules and regulations and establish and operate a registration process for individuals or caregivers who are authorized to possess low THC oil. The bill also authorizes a research program through the Board of Regents University System. No employer is required to accommodate an employee’s use and nothing in the bill prevents an employer-sponsored zero tolerance policy.
SR 7 — Constitutional Amendment to be voted on in 2016. Allows for directed funding for the Safe Harbor for Sexually Abused Children Fund from fees generated from a tax on adult establishments.
SB 8 — Creates Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund Commission funded by a $5,000 fee on adult entertainment businesses that is dependent on SR 7 passing in 2016. Toughens the penalties of those convicted of sexual exploitation and extends the statute of limitations for these crimes till age 23. Also allows for state regulation of some adult entertainment. The fund will provide for rehabilitative, health and social services for sexually exploited children or to establish safe houses or residential services.
HB 131 — Enlarges the definition of bullying to include cyber bullying whether on school property or off property if it is directed at students or school personnel and is maliciously intended.
HB 177 — Child abuse reporting by school employees —Ensures reporting school personnel are to receive follow-up information notification and a report after filing a report of suspected abuse.
HB 198 — Requires certificated school personnel receive annual in-service training of suicide awareness and prevention.
HB 17 — Extends the statute of limitations to age 23 for adults reporting of sexual abuse suffered in childhood. Provides some protection for churches and groups using volunteers.
HB 268 — Expands the mandatory reporting of child abuse by observers to include reporting abuse by a person who teaches or has some association or responsibility for the child at school or an agency.
Legislation and final action may be accessed online at: www.legis.ga.gov and the State Budget can be accessed online at the Senate Budget and Evaluation Web site: www.senate.ga.gov/sbeo/en-US/Home.aspx
I may be reached at
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E-mail at Jack.Hill@senate.ga.gov
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