Last week saw the House closing in on the end of this year's legislative session -- we only have one week to go. The committees were working through Senate bills, so we had more to consider on the House floor. We voted on 38 bills and resolutions during the week.
SB 76 seeks to address the challenges faced by many returning veterans. A variety of the issues confronting these veterans, from employment through mental health concerns, are addressed by sometimes very separate arms of the state government. Unfortunately (and to no surprise), those agencies often don't coordinate very well, to the detriment of the veterans being served. SB 76 would create a Returning Veterans Task Force, composed of members of those agencies, and directed to examine how the state can better synchronize its efforts on behalf of veterans. Being a former Army officer, I consider this a very worthwhile effort, and supported the bill, which passed 150-1.
SB 136 is an initiative from Gov. Nathan Deal, in part intended as a response to the rash of tragic boating accidents in recent years. Inquiry into these incidents has revealed common themes of young children and drunken individuals piloting watercraft, all compounded by increased crowding of our lakes and rivers due to the growth of our population and of the popularity of water sports. In fact, alcohol has turned out to be a contributing factor in over 50 percent of boating fatalities. The bill proposes a number of changes to deal with these concerns. First, it clarifies and tightens rules on operation of watercraft by children under 16. It then creates a phased-in requirement that anyone born after 1997 complete a boater safety education course before operating any vessel. A free online course will be available from the Department of Natural Resources. Also, in order to reach casual operators, anyone who rents a vessel of 10 or more horsepower will be required to complete a boater safety briefing, available as a 12-minute video.
To deal with the alcohol-related problems I referred to, the bill would bring the blood alcohol concentration limit for boating under the influence down from the current .10 to the same level as for driving, namely .08. Penalties for boating under the influence will also be strengthened to match the more severe punishments that come with driving under the influence. And because the law on hunting under the influence is in the same code section, the bill also lowers that BAC threshold, in order to keep all of them in synch. Finally, the bill raises the age for mandatory life jacket wear (while a vessel is moving) from 9 to 12, and updates our regulations for navigation lights to meet current industry standards for boat manufacturers. All in all, it's a fairly comprehensive package. While there was a moderately lengthy presentation, no one spoke against the bill. Yet based on some of the question asked, there clearly were members with misgivings about the measure. I shared some of them, but still felt the circumstances required a strong response, thus I voted in favor of the bill. It passed 146-17.
SB 170 marks the latest unfortunate phase in the ongoing battle against identity fraud. Medical identity theft is the fastest-growing area of identity fraud in Georgia. To a fair extent, this problem is driven by the fact that more and more types of medical records are being converted to electronic format, with everything from physician and other health care provider records to prescriptions and actual test results being kept in data storage. Related information such as health insurance records and flexible spending accounts is also online. Since anything stored in this fashion can be subject to hacking attacks, this has apparently become a ripe field for criminals. We now must move to protect such information under our identity fraud statutes, which is what SB 170 does. I voted "yes," and the bill passed 167-1.
State Rep. Doug Holt may be reached at 404-656-0152, or by email at Doug@DougHolt.org.