The Georgia General Assembly resumed our work at the State Capitol on Tuesday, February 1, 2022. This was our fourth week of session, putting us at more than a quarter of the way through the legislative session. The House convened Tuesday through Thursday this week to cast our votes on certain legislation, including education and health care legislation that may impact our communities and citizens in House District 8.
To start the week, my colleagues and I took up House Bill 385 to help address the recent teacher shortage in Georgia. This legislation would allow retired certified pre-K and K-12 teachers who have obtained 30 years of creditable service to return to the classroom full-time while receiving their full retirement benefits. After one-year of retirement, eligible members of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia would be able to return to work in an “area of highest need.” These subject areas would be designated by the Georgia Department of Education in tandem with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission and would vary based on determinations from each school system’s Regional Education Service Agency. HB 385 would go into effect ahead of the next school year and would sunset after a few school years. Not only would this legislation offer an immediate solution to the state’s overall growing need for teachers, but it would also ensure that our students are able to continue to receive quality classroom instruction from experienced educators.
We also unanimously passed House Bill 752, or the Psychiatric Advance Directive Act, would allow competent adults to legally establish their expectations and preferences for future mental health treatment and medication. These individuals would also have the ability to appoint someone as a “mental health care agent” to act on their behalf if they are incapable of making mental health decisions. Under this bill, our state laws would help bring greater parity to mental health so that individuals who struggle with mental illness will be treated as equally as someone with a physical illness. This legislation is the result of over a decade’s worth of work, and I am proud of the bipartisan efforts that led to the passage of the Psychiatric Advance Directive Act in the House Chamber this week.
To lower prescription drug prices for Georgians, we passed House Bill 867, or the Truth in Prescription Pricing for Patients Act. This bill would specifically address how pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), which are third-party administrators of prescription drug programs for health insurance plans, calculate the price for prescriptions that individuals and their health coverage plans pay in a way that is more transparent to consumers. PBMs would be required to calculate a prescription’s “true cost” based on what the drug cost to purchase at a pharmacy, minus any eligible rebates. House Bill 867 would ensure that PBMs conduct their business fairly and transparently in our state, and ultimately, lower the out-of-pocket costs Georgians pay for prescription drugs.
My colleagues and I passed bipartisan legislation this week to help prevent wrongful convictions in criminal trials. House Bill 478 would change the standard for admissible court evidence and testimony in criminal cases to match the standard used in civil cases. This new standard would provide a list of factors that a judge may consider to help determine the admissibility of scientific evidence or witness testimony. Without this standard, wrongful convictions have occurred in criminal cases due to unreliable scientific evidence. In the last 30 years, faulty scientific evidence admitted under the current standard has contributed to at least 25 out of nearly 40 documented wrongful convictions in Georgia.
Members of the House Rural Development Council provided an update about their work while we were in the House Chamber this week. More than five years ago, Speaker David Ralston launched an initiative that specifically focused on the needs of our rural communities, and since then, this council has consistently produced effective, sound policies that have already benefited our rural regions. Last December, the council released its legislative recommendations for the 2022 legislative session, which include supporting agriculture, economic development, education, health care and mental health needs across rural Georgia. This week, the council announced that 11 House bills that are based on its recommendations have been introduced and assigned to seven different House committees. The council members also mentioned that eight other House bills are in the pipeline and will be introduced later this session. I look forward to providing further updates about these rural development initiatives as they make their way through the legislative process. You can learn more about the House Rural Development Council and its 2022 legislative recommendations here.
The bills that were passed in the House this week have all been sent to our counterparts in the State Senate for consideration, and my colleagues and I will vote on more legislation when we resume our business on Monday, Feb. 7. As we continue to make our way through the legislative session, I encourage you to contact me with your questions about the bills that have passed so far or any other policies that interest you. To discuss your thoughts, you can reach my Capitol office at 404-656-0325, or email me directly at Stan.Gunter@house.ga.gov.
As always, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve as your state representative.