Printed with Permission By: Dar’shun N. Kendrick, State Representative House District 93 (unincorporated Lithonia, Snellville, Stone Mountain and Loganville)
House District 93 Representative Kendrick returned to the Gold Dome on Tuesday, February 7th to begin another eventful week of the legislative session which included a full schedule of House committee activity and hearings on many important topics. With a month of session behind the legislators, many bills are beginning to make their way out of their respective committees and onto the House floor for a vote, and this week, Representative Kendrick and her colleagues saw the passage of several significant bills that would better the lives of the citizens in our state.
One such measure that the House passed this week with overwhelming, bipartisan support was House Bill 146, legislation that would greatly benefit the men and women who risk their lives for the safety of our communities and state – Georgia’s brave firefighters. HB 146 would require fire departments to provide and maintain adequate insurance coverage for Georgia’s firefighters who have served on-duty at their department for 12 consecutive months, have been diagnosed with cancer, and are disabled and unable to continue to work as a result of that cancer.
The insurance benefits would include a lump-sum benefit of $25,000 or $6,250 based on the severity of the cancer. Additionally, if the firefighter is not able to perform his or her duties because of their diagnosis, a monthly benefit equal to 60 percent of the firefighter’s monthly salary at the time of diagnosis, or a monthly benefit of $5,000, whichever is less, would begin six months after the firefighter has submitted proof of their diagnosis and would continue for three years.
HB 146 would also provide coverage for volunteer firefighters who are unable to work due to a cancer diagnosis. Under HB 146, volunteer firefighters would receive a monthly benefit of $1,500 for the same three year period. Additionally, HB 146 would allow firefighters to maintain their insurance coverage upon retirement or a career change, but he or she would be responsible for paying insurance premiums in those scenarios.
The bill would authorize counties and cities to use tax revenue to purchase insurance for firefighters covered under this bill. Eligible cancers covered under HB 146 would include bladder, blood, brain, breast, cervical, esophageal, intestinal, kidney, lymphatic, lung, prostate, rectal, respiratory tract, skin, testicular, thyroid, leukemia, multiple myeloma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Due to the nature of this line of work, firefighters are increasingly exposed to cancer-causing carcinogens, and studies show that firefighters have higher rates of certain types of cancers than the rest of the population. Georgia’s firefighters run into burning buildings while everyone else runs out, selflessly, without thinking about the long-term risks associated with their heroic actions. Representative Kendrick was proud to vote in favor of legislation that provides Georgia’s firefighters with the benefits they deserve for their fearless actions that protect us all.
In addition to passing HB 146, her colleagues and Representative Kendrick continued to show their support for Georgia’s courageous firefighters this week with the unanimous passage of House Bills 83 and 84, two bills that would support the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund. The Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund was established in 1955 to provide a supplemental pension benefit to Georgia’s firefighters and their beneficiaries through assets held in trust, and HB 83 would allow the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund to invest up to 10 percent of its total assets in real estate, which is currently prohibited. If the fund’s assets decrease in value, the fund may retain the real estate investments if they were owned prior to the decrease in the fund’s assets.
Allowing real estate investments would not only provide the Firefighters’ Pension Fund with additional income from rent received, but this is also a fiscally sound opportunity and would help secure the fund’s assets for future beneficiaries. Similarly, HB 84 would give the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund the ability to invest up to 10 percent of its total assets in alternative investments, or nonconventional assets, like privately placed invest pools, private investment funds and venture capital funds, amongst others. Under current law, the Firefighters’ Pension Fund can invest up to 5 percent of its total assets in these alternative investments, but this legislation would raise the investment percentage on alternative investments to 10 percent. HB 83 and HB 84 would offer greater flexibility and investment options for the Firefighters’ Pension Fund, helping this agency provide even greater benefits for Georgia’s heroic firefighters.
Another bill that was voted out of their body with tremendous support was House Bill 176, legislation that works to improve the overall functionality of the Georgia Department of Agriculture. This legislation would allow the Georgia Department of Agriculture to enter into agreements with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which requires that certain farms and packing houses be inspected. HB 176 would give the Georgia Department of Agriculture the ability to conduct inspections of certain farms and packing houses and take other regulatory actions as necessary to assist the FDA in enforcing and carrying out the provisions of the FSMA.
As it currently stands, the federal government is responsible for directing these operations, but under HB 176, the Georgia Department of Agriculture would have the ability to enforce federal law independently of the federal government. This bill would allow the Department of Agriculture to streamline its processes while safely and efficiently serving Georgia’s farms and ultimately their consumers.
As legislators, it is her colleagues’ and Representative Kendrick’s inherent responsibility to protect the lives of Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens, and this week, they unanimously passed legislation that would change open records laws involving children in order to safeguard our youngest Georgians. House Bill 75 would protect Georgia’s children by allowing law enforcement or prosecution agencies to confidentially share vital information regarding ongoing child abuse, neglect or dependency investigations with the Department of Human Services, including the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), and other governmental child protective agencies. Currently, any information law enforcement officials share with child protective agencies in any pending investigation or prosecution of criminal activity is recorded in case files and subject to open records requests. This bill was introduced after a law enforcement agency in North Georgia shared information with DFCS regarding a pending investigation into the death of a child in an effort to protect the lives of other children who were in potential danger of the perpetrator.
While sharing this information was necessary to protect the lives of other children, it also opened the possibility that those confidential law enforcement records could be made publicly available through DFCS and no longer considered confidential. Law enforcement officials need to be able to privately share certain information with DFCS and other governmental child protective agencies when deemed necessary to protect children in cases of abuses, neglect or dependency. Therefore, HB 75 seeks to close this loophole by ensuring such information is redacted and kept confidential until such an investigation is completed in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our precious children.
Now that session is underway, Representative Kendrick wants you to know that she will be working diligently on behalf of her entire district while at the Capitol. She hopes you will take the opportunity to review updates like this to stay informed on legislative matters that affect our district and state. The House website, www.house.ga.gov, has a number of tools to help you stay up-to-date on what’s going on at the Capitol: you can watch a live stream of the House proceedings, view live and archived committee meetings and review legislation being considered.
Representative Kendrick hopes that you will continue to contact her with any questions or concerns that you might have regarding your state government. As your state representative, she wants to know what issues are most important to you, and she welcomes the opportunity to discuss them with you. She serves on the Judiciary Non-Civil committee, Small Business Development and Job Creation Committee (ranking Democrat), Interstate Cooperation and Juvenile Justice. If you would like to contact her, please contact her at (404) 656-0116 or [email protected] Thank you for allowing her to serve the great state house district 93!