John Douglas - Education and healthcare measures pass the Senate last week

This is an exciting time to be a part of the state Senate and the legislative process as a whole. Today is the last day bills can cross between the House and Senate this year, and committees worked quickly last week to pass important pieces of legislation as it approached. As of Thursday, there were 70 bills still in the Rules Committee, the final stop before being considered by the full Senate. It is likely that about half of those bills will not make it to the full Senate.

A highlight of this week was the passage of SB 458, which seeks to provide students with vouchers to pay for the cost of transportation to another public or private school if their school loses accreditation. The bill provides that if a school system or local school loses or fails to attain accreditation, students will have the option of attending another public school or receiving scholarships to attend an approved private school. Also, schools designated as a "Needs Improvement" school for seven consecutive years will fall under the same conditions. If a school is placed on probation, there are notice requirements for parents that must include options available to the student if the school loses its accreditation. Students may opt to attend another public school, in or out of their district that has available space, or request from the Department of Education a scholarship for attendance at an approved private school.

I am pleased that the lieutenant governor's Georgia Health Marketplace Act passed the Senate on Thursday. I believe it will provide cost-effective options for Georgia citizens seeking more choices for their health insurance. Senate Bill 404 seeks to make it easier for individuals and businesses to purchase individual/single health insurance policies by creating an Internet portal, known as the Georgia Health Marketplace (GHM), that will provide consumers with access to healthcare products and programs. These include PeachCare for children, health insurance coverage to employees of small businesses, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and prepaid healthcare services provided directly by a physician. Georgia consumers need more access to healthcare products, and this legislation will provide everyone with more options and choices.

In other news this week, I enjoyed visiting with groups from around our Senate district. Notably, senior citizens from the Social Circle area and Newton County who are members of AARP were in the capitol. They visit each year and it is always good to be with them. We are also in the planning stages for bringing Newton County's AAAA state champion Eastside High School wrestling team to the capitol to be honored by the Senate, House and governor. This will be my first chance to honor a state champion team from the district, and I am looking forward to the visit.

As always, please remember to contact me in my office on the issues that are affecting you and your area. I am here to represent you and it is an honor for me to work on your behalf.

State Sen. John Douglas represents Georgia's 17th Senate District, which includes Newton County and portions of Henry, Rockdale, Spalding and Walton counties. He serves as chairman of the Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee. He may be reached by phone at 404-656-0503 or by e-mail at john.douglas@senate.ga.gov.