The Georgia House of Representatives reconvened for Legislative Day 28, otherwise known as Crossover Day, on Tuesday, March 15, 2022. Crossover Day is always one of the longest days of the entire session as it is the last day for legislation to pass out of its chamber of origin and still be eligible to become law this year. In preparation, we dedicated the day before as a committee work day to ensure that legislation had ample opportunity to be considered ahead of this deadline. During Crossover Day, we spent the entire day in the House Chamber debating and voting on legislation, and we passed almost 60 bills and resolutions by the time we adjourned around 11 p.m.
My colleagues and I passed House Bill 1354, the Wrongful Conviction Compensation Act, this week to help streamline and standardize the compensation process for wrongful convictions in our state. This bipartisan legislation would create the Wrongful Conviction Compensation Review Panel under the authority of the state’s Claims Advisory Board, and this panel would review claims and provide recommendations to the Claims Advisory Board for those who have been wrongfully convicted. While we can’t give people back the time that they served for their wrongful conviction, however, this measure would provide a pathway for a standardized process and reparations for these individuals, which is long overdue in our state.
The House also passed legislation on Crossover Day to help low-income Georgia students access financial aid to complete their undergraduate degrees. House Bill 1435 would allow part-time and full-time college students to apply for a needs-based financial aid program to fill an outstanding financial aid gap, which is the amount of money remaining after qualified institutions account for the cost of attendance and other funds. After their other funding has been applied to their schooling, these students could apply for up to $2,500 in grant funding to cover this gap. This grant program would be offered for students at all University System of Georgia and Technical College System of Georgia schools, as well as non-proprietary institutions that are eligible for Tuition Equalization Grants. Students who are close to earning their college degrees should not miss out on this opportunity to cross the finish line due to a lack of financial assistance, and I believe that this legislation could help thousands of Georgia college students reach their graduation day.
Late in the evening on Crossover Day, we also passed legislation to expand grant funding opportunities to low-wealth K-12 school systems that need help building and maintaining their schools. House Bill 1482 would revise the eligibility criteria for project-specific capital outlay grants for low-wealth school systems, which is a grant program that allows K-12 school systems access to funding for school construction. Currently, 44 school systems, mostly in rural areas with low populations, desperately need access to this funding. With low SPLOST revenues, these schools cannot afford to build new facilities in today’s expensive construction market, but these grants would help these systems replace their aging buildings to offer better learning environments for our students.
As many of us know, the state has experienced challenges in hiring and retaining workers, especially nurses and doctors, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exasperated this issue. Therefore, we passed two bills on Crossover Day to support health care systems and workers alike. House Bill 1520 would create the Georgia Council on Addressing Health Care Workforce Challenges, and this council would actively meet until July 2025 to provide strategic thought, leadership and recommendations on the future of the health care workforce in Georgia. We also passed House Bill 1533 to provide protections for health care professionals who seek to address their career fatigue and wellness confidentially through a professional mental health program.
Additionally, we passed House Bill 918, which would create the Georgia Rare Disease Advisory Council within the Department of Public Health to advise the General Assembly and state agencies on the needs of those with rare diseases in Georgia. This council would meet at least every quarter, offer opportunities for public comment and convene public hearings. The council would also consult with experts, evaluate recommendations, publish resources and identify best practices. Starting in June 2023, the council would publish an annual report about its work and its recommendations, which would be provided to the governor and General Assembly and be made available for public comment. Approximately one in 10 Georgians currently live with a rare disease, and this legislation would provide hope and greater resources for those Georgians.
House Bill 1484 was also passed on the House floor, and this bill would create a pilot program to help diagnose, treat, and expand coverage for pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infection (PANDAS) and pediatric acute onset neuropsychiatric syndrome (PANS). Advocates estimate that approximately 13,000 Georgia children are suffering from these illnesses that cause a sudden onset of a variety of neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as tics and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Administered by the State Health Benefit Plan, this three-year pilot program would begin in 2024 and help treat up to 100 individuals annually using intravenous immune globulin therapy and other treatment methods. The Georgia Department of Community Health would work with a patient advocacy organization to create outreach and educational resources for the eligible population and pediatric providers. At the end of the program’s first year, the department would submit an annual report to the House and Senate Health and Human Services committees with extensive details to include covered treatments, cost, as well as the total number of participants, providers and claims. In 2019, the Georgia House established a study committee to delve into PANS and PANDAS, and this study committee found that patients and families face barriers for treatment due to medical providers being unfamiliar with these diseases and unreliable medical coverage by insurers. This new program would help spread awareness and educate the medical community and insurance providers about the evidence-based legitimacy of these diagnoses, and in turn, help more families access treatment for these debilitating diseases.
After Crossover Day, the House convened for three more legislative days this week, and our committees began considering legislation that passed in the State Senate before the Crossover deadline, and the Senate began reviewing House bills before the week ended. We will spend the remainder of the session meeting in our respective committees and on the House floor to consider these Senate bills, as well as give final approval to House legislation that could undergo changes by the Senate. I encourage you to contact me regarding bills that may be up for consideration during these final weeks of the session. You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-0325, or via email at Stan.Gunter@House.GA.Gov@house.ga.gov.
As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.