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State works toward earlier notices for violent criminals' release
Hitchens Bill
Bill Hitchens

The fifth week of the legislative session was extremely productive and again we deliberated about a vast range of topics. A few weeks ago I wrote about HB 724, a bill that I co-sponsored, that would require earlier notices of the release of violent criminals put on parole.

I’m pleased to report that the Board of Pardons and Paroles has agreed to a 60-day comment period six months before the Board considers early release for a violent criminal or someone convicted of a sex crime or dealing drugs. This will allow time for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges to object to the criminal’s release.

Additionally, this agreement has been reached without having to draw up any new legislation and without costing taxpayers. The Parole Board has shown insightfulness in this matter and this is a great example of how effective communication and cooperation can better our state without the need for egregious legislation.

The fiscal year 2017 budget, also known as HB 751, was passed by the House. The budget is set by a revenue estimate of $23.7 billion, an increase of 2.9 percent over the amended FY16 budget. Many priorities were funded in this budget including a one-time 3 percent cost of living adjustment for retired state employees, salary adjustments for teachers, bus drivers, nutrition workers, and school nurses, and rate increases for health and human services providers.

As you can see in the state budget, the General Assembly is committed to being a fiscally responsible state, and our resources must be used wisely. With this in mind, the House passed HB 847, a bill that imposes penalties for any person who falsely receives public assistance or Medicaid through deceptive statements or impersonation. Georgians are generous people who want to see those in need receive help with basic needs such as food and medicine. But we must not allow our financial resources be taken advantage of by fraudulent behavior. This bill passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 140-26.

A couple of bills were passed regarding health care. HB 902 states that assisted living communities must provide their residents with educational information about the flu no later than Sept. 1 of each year. The flu can be life threatening for the frail and elderly and this is good, common sense legislation.

HB 34 was passed unanimously, which states that patients suffering from a terminal illness have the right to access investigational drugs in consultation with their health care provider and with full awareness of potential risks. Investigational drugs often go through many years of trials before they are approved but terminally ill people often don’t have the luxury of waiting this long. I voted for this bill and believe that people have a right try every option available to them when facing a critical illness.

The Georgia Seal of Bi-literacy was created through HB 879. The purpose of this bill is to encourage foreign language studies in public schools and to recognize high school graduates who have achieved a high level of proficiency in one or more languages in addition to English.

School participation in the bi-literacy program is voluntary and participating schools can recognize bi-literal students with an appropriate insignia on their diploma or transcript. In a global economy it is always beneficial for our students to be prepared for the workforce by speaking in a language other than English. This can only expand their options for employment in the future.

The legislative session continues to move forward and as always, your input is invaluable to me. It is a great privilege to serve you in the State House. Please contact me with your thoughts at (404) 657-1803 or bill.hitchens@house.ga.gov.