Week Five Highlights

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Week Five Highlights

By: Sen. Blake Tillery (R – Vidalia)

In last week’s column, I alluded to the fact this week would be structurally different and somewhat unprecedented. Although the General Assembly did not convene for any official legislative days, most of us were still here dedicated to finding solutions to some of Georgia’s most intricate budget challenges we’ve seen in almost a decade. Our state is economically strong, as demonstrated through our prominence of local and national businesses, as well as our ability to draw and sustain large tourism numbers. However, our ability to maintain that is largely reliant on our ability to pass a balanced budget that efficiently offers financial support to our state’s organizations. Throughout the week, my colleagues and I engaged our state commissioners, department heads, and liaisons to understand how you, employees and consumers, would be directly affected by proposed changes in the FY 2020 and FY 2021 state budgets.

As I’ve mentioned before, our budgets for the 2020 and 2021 fiscal year cycles are heavily influenced by the slightly lowered trend of our state revenue stream. Our goal, in both the Senate and the House, is to make sure our state’s belt is tightened to match the 4% and 6% cuts the Governor has called for, while minimally affecting families. We want to cut the fat without cutting the bone. Budget cuts often make for icy relationships between the legislature, executive branch agencies and citizens, but this week was extremely beneficial to understanding the thoughts behind those numbers and making progress toward our constitutional responsibility of passing a balanced budget before this year’s session ends. I will keep your updated on any future developments.

While the budget consumed the majority of our conversations this week, we also saw significant movement on some of the bills I co-sponsored. Senate Bill 359, the Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act, received its first hearing in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and received positive reception; I am confident it will begin to advance more in the coming weeks. The other bill, Senate Bill 313, received its first hearing in the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee and a subcommittee held a second hearing to discuss the issue in greater detail and hear public testimony. This bill will attempt to negate the rise in prescription drug prices by revising the regulatory process of Pharmacy Benefit Managers. As a result, circumstances like prior authorization, the process of having to jump through hoops to get the medication best for you, and steering, when a pharmacy benefit manager tries to drive you towards using a pharmacy that financially benefits them the most, will be regulated in a way that puts you first. Our local pharmacists, especially those in rural areas, are some of the sole health providers in our communities and they deserve to be protected. Likewise, every Georgian should be able to go to a pharmacist they know and trust. Health is an invaluable asset and medication should be easily accessible and fair.

Additionally, this week Governor Kemp rolled out three bills on an issue you know is dear to my and my wife’s heart — foster care reform. House Bill 912 would allow foster parents to leave children in their care with a babysitter for up to three days without having to get approval through the state Division of Family and Children Services. Current law limits that time to two days. House Bill 913 would drop the age requirement for potential adoptive parents from 25 to 21, helping us fill a huge shortage in foster parents. Note, all other background and feasibility checks would remain. A third bill, House Bill 911, criminalizes sexual activity between a foster parent and a foster child within their care, closing a loophole the legislation’s sponsor said exists once a child in foster care turns 16 — Georgia’s legal age of consent

The Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, but all of our conversations, including those concerning the budget, will not cease. Georgia has proven to be a great place to raise a family and we want to make sure it stays this way. I intend to serve you in whatever way I can, advocating for Senate District 19 and the issues and industries that are key to our great state’s successes. If you have any questions about the budget process or legislation that impacts you, please contact my office by phone or email. I am always here to help.

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Sen. Blake Tillery serves as a Governor’s Administration Floor Leader. He represents the 19th Senate District, which includes Appling, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Telfair, Toombs, Treutlen, Wayne, and Wheeler counties and a portion of Liberty and Tattnall counties. He can be reached by email at blake.tillery@senate.ga.gov.

2020-02-17T12:48:15-05:00