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State begins push to eliminate graduation test
Hitchens Bill
Rep. Bill Hitchens

It has been a very busy week in the Georgia House of Representatives. Most importantly, we have decided on a timeline for the remaining 24 days of the session, which by law cannot go over 40 days. We have set March 13 as “crossover” day. This is the day when any legislation that will eventually become law must be passed by the House or Senate, thus allowing the other body 10 legislative days to pass the bill.

We also have set April 2 as the 40th and final day of the 2015 General Assembly. Of course, these days are all tentative as sometimes events, like last year’s winter snow storms in Atlanta, force us to change our schedule.

One bill that was quite contentious last year but was quickly dealt with this year was House Bill 57, or the solar power bill. After a study committee was formed, several improvements to the original 2014 legislation were made. The new legislation allows for solar development in a responsible, cost-effective way that preserves the integrity and reliability of the grid and does not burden the non-solar customer.

The new bill clearly defines that a solar financing agent is not an electric utility and is not in violation of the Territorial Electric Service Act. It allows solar rooftop leases to be based on the performance or output of the system. The bill also limits the sizing of each premise to a percentage of the annual peak demand of the premise or 10 kilowatts for residential areas.

HB 57 requires all energy produced by the solar array to be used on the premises where it is installed or sold back to the host utility. In addition, it does not allow for retail sales.

The bill also spells out specific interconnection requirements consistent with standard policies and the co-gen act. This is important for safety reasons and the integrity and reliability of the grid. The bill states that the utility is not a party to the financial agreement between the solar financing agent and the consumer. HB 57 passed unanimously and now heads to the Senate for its review.

Another bill that passed unanimously and will help military families is HB 62. This bill is a scholarship program for special-needs students of military families. Presently, students qualify for a scholarship under current law if the student’s parent currently resides within Georgia and has been a Georgia resident for at least one year. We have amended the law saying now that the one-year requirement will not apply if the student’s parent is an active duty military service member stationed in Georgia within the previous year.

Regarding our senior population, HB 86 was passed. This bill addresses the organization of the Division of Adult and Aging Services. This is important because Georgia has the 11th-fastest-growing population in the U.S. of people 60 years of age and older, and this statistic is expected to increase by 65 percent from 2010-30. Additionally, Georgia has the 10th-fastest-growing population in the U.S. of individuals 85 and older. This legislation outlines the organizational structure for the division. The bill passed 160-3.

The House also considered a bill regarding contentious family matters. HB 52 was unanimously passed, and is a bill requiring both parties to submit a parenting plan when child custody is at dispute. A parenting plan also will be required for permanent custody and modification actions and in the judge’s court’s discretion may be required for temporary hearings. Separation and divorce is a difficult time for anyone, particularly those with young children. This legislation will give the two parties involved a more defined, legally-binding agreement for dividing time with their child or children.

Likewise, we unanimously passed HB 91, which would eliminate the Georgia High School Graduation Test as a requirement for graduation. The bill would provide procedures for former students who did not pass one or more portions of the Georgia High School Graduation Test by petitioning to obtain a high school diploma. This will allow many former hard-working students the ability to have a high school diploma and to move forward in a job that requires this important qualification for employment. We want to see our youth succeed and this is a positive step in that direction.

Every morning before we begin to conduct the business of the state, we have a morning devotional led by a pastor of the day, and then we recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Thursday morning I had the opportunity to host Rev. John Fender, the senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Pooler. Rev. Fender brought a message concerning speaking through a Christian heart, whether one happens to be a pastor or a politician. Many of my House colleagues commented that it was an inspirational message that reaffirmed their responsibilities as Christian lawmakers. Thank you, Rev. Fender, you represented our area well.

As we continue with the legislative session, please know that I am here to listen to your thoughts and concerns and can be reached at (404) 656-0178 or at Thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative.