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VanNess: Update from the Capitol
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The 2016 legislative session was filled with many changes that will impact lives in our District and across the State of Georgia. I look forward to discussing the issues with you over the next several months, to help you be better informed and aware. I am working to find more interactive ways to better reflect your interests when key legislation is voted on. I serve on the Education, Economic Development, Health and Human Services and State Institutions and Properties Committees and look forward to serving you and making a difference in District 43. For quick and daily updates, please like my Facebook page at

Here are some of the important bills that were passed during the 2016 session that have not already been covered in my previous newsletters:

Georgia Food Stamp Program makes changes

Craig Schneider of the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote a great article about changes in the food stamp programs in Cobb, Gwinnett and Hall counties. I have received a lot of interest in reforming all government programs in Georgia. When we reduce the amount of fraud, then we can more efficiently use tax dollars for services that are needed across the State of Georgia. Read the details here:

Pilot program merging federal, state and local funds

I carried House Bill 659. The bill would allow the Department of Education to begin a pilot program to allow local school systems the ability to merge federal, state and local funds to support school-wide programs. The bill would also permit the Department of Education to allow local participating school systems waive current financial reporting requirements. Under this bill though, Georgia schools and school systems would be required to publish financial information to the public. The bill passed 50 to 4.

Expanding education loan availability to National Guardsmen

House Bill 1072, carried by Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), would allow active-duty members of the Georgia National Guard who currently receive HOPE scholarship funding the ability to also receive service cancelable educational loans. Current law prohibits members of the National Guard from receiving service cancelable loans. The bill passed 52 to 0.
Income tax credit for job creation

House Bill 922, carried by Bruce Thompson (R-White), would create an income tax credit for any taxpayer who creates 50 “new quality jobs.” Qualifying jobs would need to allow for a 30-hour work week and pay at least 110 percent of the county’s average wage. The bill also permits a taxpayer to receive an income tax credit for a working a job at a disregarded entity, such as an LLC or a partnership, which the taxpayer owns or in which they act as a partner. The bill passed 53 to 0.

Insurance discount for work-based learning

Carried by Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson), House Bill 402 would give an employer, who is actively providing work-based learning opportunities for students under 16, a 5 percent discount on their workers’ compensation policy. Employers must re-certify as providers every year and comply with State Board of Education regulations for work based learning. The bill passed 49 to 0.

Increased penalties for criminal gang activity

Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) carried House Bill 874 in the Senate. HB 874 updates Georgia Law to increase penalties for gang-related terroristic threats, terroristic acts or criminal behavior. The legislation also clarifies evidence protocols and penalties for criminal gang activity, including acts committed with the intention of retaliation or intimidation. The bill passed by a vote of 38 to 15.

Police video retention practices

House Bill 976, carried by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), and passed 48 to 7. The bill would establish how long police video from a body or vehicle cameras will be retained and how the public can gain access to video files. Videos showing an arrest, vehicle accident, use of force or are part of a criminal investigation will be retained for 30 months. All other media must be kept on file for 180 days. The bill also creates a $12 fee for the copying of law enforcement video.
Workers Compensation benefits for firefighters diagnosed with cancer

Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) carried House Bill 216, which would allow firefighters diagnosed with cancer caused by their work as a firefighter, to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The firefighter must prove their case with a preponderance of evidence that their disease was work related. The bill also explains that occupational diseases cannot only be caused by exposure to a disease, but associated risk factors as well. The bill passed 49 to 0. This bill is something that had a tremendous amount of support from our District 43 firefighters.