INDIANAPOLIS (June 12-13, 2014) –
Georgia State Representative Andy Welch along with Representatives Bruce Williamson, Buzz Brockway, Tim Barr, and Paulette Braddock as well as Senator Bill Cowsert from Georgia joined a bi-partisan group of over 100 state legislators representing 33 states at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis this past June 12 and 13. The Assembly of State Legislatures (a.k.a the “Mount Vernon Assembly”) gathered to continue work toward a recommendatory set rules and procedures for a future state-led convention for proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution as authorized by Article V of the Constitution. This Indianapolis meeting is a continuation of our efforts that began in on December 7, 2013 at George Washington’s historic Mount Vernon estate in Virginia.
The Assembly did not consider any specific constitutional amendments. Rather, its focus is on building the framework needed to hold a potential amendment convention in the future, should one be called by the states under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. The meeting was open to the public and was streamed live.
The Executive Committee assigned Representatives Welch and Braddock to serve on the Judiciary Committee. After a long afternoon of discussion and debate regarding the process for a state-initiated application for a convention and the manner of the Congressional call for such a convention, the committee recommended the formation of two subcommittees. The Applications Subcommittee will review and determine the validity and effect of all existing applications filed by the States with Congress calling for an Article V convention. The Call Subcommittee will analysis the process, form and manner of Congress’s duty to call a convention of the states for the purpose proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to recommend Rep. Andy Welch for chair of the Applications Subcommittee. Welch accepted the nomination but only after requesting and receiving the blessing of the Committee to add Senator Marv Hagedorn from Idaho as a co-Chair. Welch mused that “Peaches and Potatoes can make a good combination.” The Application Subcommittee anticipates completing its work in about 3 months, which will help inform the Assembly at its next meeting in December of this year.
Representatives Williamson and Brockway, assigned to the Planning, Communications and Finance Committee, worked with the committee to outline the structure of the Assembly and initiated discussions regarding the next meeting location in December and funding. Rep. Williamson proposed holding the next meeting in Atlanta. Serving on the Rules and Procedures Committee, Rep. Barr and Sen. Cowsert participated in debate regarding the particular rules and procedures to be recommended to govern a future convention of the states.
In the closing session, Welch and Williamson engaged in amendments and debate regarding the language of a resolution approved unanimously by the body. In short, the resolution requests that each state send a bi-partisan delegation of at least 3 currently elected legislators to the next gathering of the Assembly in December.
When asked about the import of the Assembly, Welch stated: “The fact that such a large and diversified group of state delegates has now met twice, with more meetings to come, regarding a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution is indicative that Congress has failed to address the legitimate redresses of citizens and states across this nation. When Congress falls deaf to the people, the drafters of our Constitution authorized the States to act by proposing amendments at a convention of the states. The Assembly of State Legislatures is one of many groups calling on the States to listen to the American people and lead. I am honored and excited to be a part of this movement.”Read More
NOTE: Andy Welch drafted and ensured passages of the law that allows cities to prosecute these “Businesses”
The city of McDonough no longer allows the sale of drug paraphernalia. Effective 9/7/2012, convenience store, gas stations and similar establishments are prohibited from selling items considered drug paraphernalia. Items such as pipes, screens, clips, rolling papers, testing kits and small spoons must be removed from the stores.
IF stores continue to sell these items penalties ranging from $1,000 fine to $5,000 and six months to five years in jail will be implemented. It is hoped that other counties will adopt similar resolutions.
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In 2011 Representative Andy Welch, R-McDonough, attempted to get a bill passed requiring pulse oximetry screening for newborns in Georgia hospitals. This screening will help expectant parents know if their child has a heart defect before it’s born. The screening only takes a minute and there is no pain involved for the infant.
Welch was contacted by Jessica Hatcher who’s son, Wyatt, was born with a heart defect in 2008. After a transplant in 2010 Wyatt is doing well. The March of Dimes reports that heart defects are the most common form of birth defects in newborns as well as birth defect deaths.
Despite the fact that Welch was unsuccessful in getting the bill passed he was able to introduce a bill requiring the Department of Public Heath to study pulse oximetry screening as a way to determine if a newborn will be affected with this birth defect.
The House and Senate passed the bill and the Department of Public Health agreed to move forward with the study without the legislation. The screening is scheduled to start by July 1, 2014 with all hospitals implementing the screening by 2015.
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The second week of November has been named ‘Kindness Week, Pass It On’ in Georgia. State Representative Andy Welch (R-McDonough) and the Georgia house of Representatives passed House Resolution 1302 to honor the memory of Welch’s brother, Hunter, who died in 2004 at the age of 12.
Hunter was affected by a rare genetic disorder, Prader-Willie Syndrome, which effects childhood development. His mother, Kit Welch said the despite his condition Hunter exhibited kindness to all he met. After his death, family and friends were inspired to keep Hunter’s memory alive by spreading kindness and showing others the benefits of paying it forward.
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April 12, 2014 Governor Deal signed HB 794, the Compact for a Balanced Budget Paulette Rakestraw Braddock and I sponsored in the State House and Hunter Hill carried for us in the State Senate. As the first State to enact the Compact, Georgia will serve as the Chair at the Constitutional Convention under the Compact. This a tightly drawn law. It limits all delegates appointed by each state to the Compact to adopting only the amendment language contained in the Compact. You can read exactly what is being proposed as the balanced budget amendment on page 3 of the Compact. The amendment is exceptionally well-drafted: forcing Congress to adopted balanced budgets, establishing a debt limit, forcing the President to prioritize spending if spending comes within 98% of the debt ceiling, requiring a 2/3 majority for Congress to raise any existing taxes so that cutting spending, eliminating tax exemptions, or shifting to a consumption-based tax like the Fair Tax are the preferred approaches over raising taxes in order to achieve a debt-free future for generations of Americans to come. This was a historic moment in Georgia’s and hopefully our Nation’s history. I would be remiss if I did not extend a special thank you to Julianne Thompson for her testimony during hearings and grassroots leadership, to Nick Dranias of Goldwater Institute for his legal advice and brilliance in constructing the Compact, and Chip Napolitano of the Compact for America for his passion and drive for fiscal liberty.Read More
On Thursday, March 20th, the 2014 legislative session came to an end when the House and Senate completed the 40th and final legislative day. This last day of session is known as “Sine Die,” a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting.” Being the final day of the legislative session, we worked late in the night to ensure the passage of important legislation related to issues like education, criminal justice and public safety. There are several key legislative accomplishments that I want to bring to your attention.
One of the most important bills we passed this session was House Bill 744, which establishes the state budget for Fiscal Year 2015. As the only piece of legislation that we are constitutionally required to pass, the Fiscal Year 2015 budget will guide all state spending from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. Totaling $20.8 billion in state funds, the final version of this budget includes many of Governor Deal’s original budget recommendations like increased funding for education. In fact, one of the most noteworthy features of the budget is a $314.3 million increase to Quality Basic Education (QBE), which will provide local school systems with the flexibility to eliminate teacher furlough days, increase instructional days and increase teacher salaries. Increased funding was also designated for higher education, including $7.2 million for the creation of a new Zell Miller Grant for technical college students. In addition to carrying through Governor Deal’s recommendations, my colleagues and I in the House also added additional priorities for the state budget, including $460,816 to increase the clothing allowance for foster care children by $100 per child. Other additions to the budget began in conference committee between the Senate and House, including $1.5 million in funding for Meals on Wheels and senior center nutrition programs. Lastly, funding was added to launch enhanced services through our network of public health offices for training providers to recognize and correctly diagnose autism for early intervention. The nearly half a million that is appropriated in the budget shows a strategic, grassroots beginning to address what has become one of the most chronic health condition in children, affecting an estimated one out of every 88 children in the nation.
Also passed during our last week of session was Senate Bill 365, which is a continuation of a multi-year criminal justice reform effort in Georgia. Similar to past years’ legislation, SB 365 includes several measures to help non-violent, first time offenders get back on their feet and become law abiding, working citizens. One measure of this bill provides judges with the flexibility to issue limited driving permits to certain offenders for the purpose of attending court-ordered required programs, seeking employment, or going to work. Another measure in SB 365 calls for non-violent offenders to complete a Treatment Completion Certificate program, and would also require review hearings for juvenile offenders who are placed into foster care. The bill also provides improved liability protection to employers who hire former offenders who have successfully completed Department of Corrections pre-release programs. These programs will make offenders more marketable to employers, so that they are better prepared to make the transition to a productive life outside of prison.
Senate Bill 386 was also passed by the House last week in an effort to safeguard the citizens of Georgia. SB 386 protects the identity and privacy of those who enter Georgia’s court system by prohibiting social security numbers, taxpayer identification numbers, and financial account numbers from being disclosed in court documents. Senate Bill 386 clarifies that where Social Security numbers, taxpayer identification numbers, and/or financial account numbers are included, only the last four digits of any such number may be included in the filing. If birthdates are included, only the year of an individual’s birth may be included, and if a minor is identified, only the initials of the minor may be included. Identity theft is an ever-growing problem so it is important that Georgians’ personal information is kept secure; SB 386 ensures that this information is kept private.
While safeguarding our citizens is important, we always strive to enact policies to protect our children as well and last week was no exception. SB 358 received final passage by the House during the last week of session and will go to Governor Deal’s desk for his signature. SB 358 would expand who can file a missing child report with the Missing Children Information Center to include individuals and institutions that are responsible for the care of foster children. The Missing Children Information Center is responsible for filing all missing children reports submitted by local law enforcement agencies. However, the current code does not specify that a report can be filed by a foster parent or foster care agency. Senate Bill 358 would allow a caretaker, governmental unit responsible for the child, or other person with legal custody of the child to file a missing child report. SB 358 ensures that the necessary steps are taken and the appropriate individuals are notified in the event that a foster child is missing.
Last week the House also gave final passage to Senate Resolution 415. SR 415 calls for a state constitutional amendment that would cap the maximum rate for income tax that can be imposed in our state. SR 415 would prohibit any increase in the state’s 6 percent income tax. Before being adopted into the state’s constitution, a referendum will be called so that citizens can vote on the measure. The citizens of Georgia will now have the chance to decide and weigh in at the polls in November on this issue that will affect our entire state.
Now that each of these bills has passed the Georgia General Assembly, they have gone to Governor Deal for consideration. As stipulated in our state constitution, the governor has 40 days to sign or veto the legislation. This means that any bill or resolution that the governor has not vetoed by Tuesday, April 29, 2014, will become state law.
With the future of these bills in the hands of the governor, the General Assembly’s 2014 legislative session has adjourned sine die. Although session is over, I hope that you will continue to contact me with any questions or concerns that you might have regarding your state government. You can reach me at my capitol office at 404-656-0109. Additionally, I will be spending a lot more time in the district now, so feel free to contact me locally at.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.
On Monday, March 10, 2014, we returned to the Gold Dome for the ninth week of the 2014 legislative session. In that week, we focused on reviewing, debating, and voting upon legislation that has already been passed by our counterparts in the Senate. Many pieces of the Senate’s legislation were reviewed by committees throughout the week. Other pieces of Senate legislation made it through the committee process and on to the House floor for a vote.
Two bills passed on the House floor this week will help ensure that the state of Georgia is prepared to deal with an ever-growing health concern among our aging population: Alzheimer’s disease. Currently more than 120,000 Georgians live with Alzheimer’s disease, but that number is expected to rise to 160,000 by 2025. Senate Resolution 746 addresses the growing illness by supporting the State Plan for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias. Developed by a multidisciplinary group of state leaders, the plan aims to improve dementia prevention and treatment. It also increases community services, family support, and public awareness for the disease. Alzheimer’s disease not only takes a toll on those who suffer from the illness, but also those around them; I hope that through SR 746, the state will embrace this plan to improve life for all those who have been affected by this horrible disease.
We passed another measure this week to improve the state’s elder care planning and future public policy for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. SB 292 would primarily serve to establish the Alzheimer’s Disease Registry, which will serve as a central database of all individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The confidential database is expected to provide researchers, doctors, and caregivers with a better understanding of the disease, its risk factors and its victims. The database will also provide us with a more accurate estimate of the number of individuals living with Alzheimer’s and the areas of the state with the most patients. This will allow us to pool our medical resources to better serve these areas with the most patients. Gaining a better understanding of the disease is the first step towards finding treatment, prevention and ultimately a cure.
In addition to approving legislation that would help to protect the health of our citizens, we also passed legislation to preserve our State’s natural resources and wildlife. Under the version of SB 213 that was passed by the House, the Director of the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) would be able to restrict farmers from drawing water from the Flint River basin during times of droughts. This bill will protect the aquatic wildlife that inhabits the river whose lives may be affected when individuals siphon water from the streams. This measure applies to only four streams in southwest Georgia and will only be used during a drought. Ultimately, SB 213 will ensure that efforts to protect wildlife are not thwarted by water siphoning.
Two other pieces of environmentally-conscious legislation, House Resolutions 689 and HR1185, were also passed last week. These resolutions encourage and enable schools to adopt environmentally responsible policies. HR 689 urges local school boards and schools to implement renewable energy systems; not only could renewable energy systems save taxpayers’ dollars, they could also provide valuable educational opportunities for our students. Furthermore, HR 1185 promotes energy conservation by encouraging state-wide participation in the Green Apple Day of Service, which will be held Saturday, September 27, 2014. This day of service provides parents, teachers, students, companies and local organizations the opportunity to transform all schools into healthy, safe and productive learning environments through local service projects. Projects focus on efforts to protect clean air and conserve energy and resources. If you are interested in volunteering at your local schools for the Green Apple Day of Service, please visit www.mygreenapple.org to learn more.
Finally, this week the House also passed Senate Bill 288, which will improve transparency in the Georgia High School Association (GHSA). Senate Bill 288 prohibits those schools who accept funding through the “Quality Basic Education Act” from participating in interscholastic sports events if those schools have not released annual financial reports. This measure will prevent most Georgia public school students from participating in extra-curricular events in a non-transparent environment.
In addition to passing legislation last week, we also took some time to recognize an amazing student athlete, Aaron Murray. Murray was the quarterback for the University of Georgia from 2010 to 2013. In his time as UGA’s quarterback, he set 27 Georgia records and became the first player in Southeastern Conference history to have at least 3,000 passing yards in four consecutive seasons. He was also named the 2013 Southeastern Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year, selected as a recipient of the National Scholar-Athlete Award, and voted the Vince Dooley Most Valuable Player by his teammates. In addition to being an outstanding football player, Murray has a deep commitment for serving the state of Georgia. He is highly involved with groups like Extra Special People (ESP), Camp Sunshine, Special Olympics, American Association of Adapted Sports Programs, Read Across America, Healing Place of Athens, and Bulldogs Battling Breast Cancer. It was an honor to take a few moments to recognize such an accomplished young individual.
Our last legislative day of the 2014 session, scheduled for Thursday, March 20, is quickly approaching. Also known as Sine Die, this 40th legislative day will be our last opportunity to pass state legislation this year. As we move through this last legislative week, I encourage you to contact me with any concerns you might have regarding our state and its agencies. You can reach me at my state capitol office at 404-656-0109. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.Read More
Monday, March 3rd marked the 30th legislative day of the 2014 session. Known as “Crossover Day,” this critical point in the session is the last chance for bills to pass the legislative chamber from which they originated. After Crossover Day, all legislation passed by the House must “cross over” to the Senate, and vice versa. Any bill that has not been passed by either the House or Senate by the end of this day will have little chance of becoming law this year. Due to this deadline, my colleagues and I in the House worked long hours on Monday to ensure that many important pieces of legislation were considered by the Georgia House.
One of the bills passed by the House on Crossover Day was House Bill 885, which would increase treatment options for children suffering from seizure disorders. HB 885 would tightly restrict and regulate the distribution of cannabidiol, an oil-based derivative of the cannabis plant. The derivative would only be available through medical trial at one of five Georgia academic research centers and prescribed by medical doctors. The treatment has been used to successfully control seizure disorders for children in Colorado, and I hope that it can now give hope to families in Georgia.
Also passed on Crossover Day were bills designed to promote economic development in Georgia. One such bill was House Bill 960, which aims to speed up the development of the Atlanta BeltLine project by enabling the private sector to help finance and build the transit project. The BeltLine is a proposed 22 mile bike path and light rail system that will circle Atlanta. It has been recognized by businesses all over the world for improving transportation and promoting a healthy lifestyle for Atlantans. It is the most comprehensive transportation and economic development effort ever undertaken in the City of Atlanta and among the largest urban redevelopment programs currently underway in the United States. I am proud that the Georgia House was able to adopt measures that will speed up this project. I look forward to the Atlanta BeltLine bringing jobs and increased transportation options to the City of Atlanta.
Another economic development bill that was passed was House Bill 958. One measure in this legislation establishes August 1-2, 2014 as a tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers. Not only does this tax break provide financial relief for parents, it also encourages shoppers to do business in the state of Georgia. Other measures in the bill give job-creating tax incentives to video game developers and developers of big, regionally important projects.
Finally on Crossover Day, we voted on legislation that would create new monuments at the State Capitol. House Bill 702 would place a monument of the 10 Commandments, U.S. Constitution, and Georgia Constitution at the State Capitol to celebrate the ideals and values that these documents represent. Similarly, House Bill 1080 would place a monument of Martin Luther King Jr. at the State Capitol in honor of his significant role in the history of Georgia and America. Many Georgians come to the State Capitol to tour and learn about the history of our state, and these two monuments will be great additions to our Capitol grounds.
After Crossover Day, we began reviewing and voting on Senate Bills. One of those bills, Senate Bill 23, aims to speed up action in reported missing person cases. The bill prohibits Georgia law enforcement agencies from establishing a “minimum waiting period” before they act on a missing person report. The legislation defines a “medically endangered person” and adds these individuals to the provisions of the Mattie’s Call Act. Mattie’s Call is a law enforcement initiated alert system that is used to locate missing elderly or disabled persons.
Meanwhile, our colleagues in the Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2015 budget this week. The full fiscal year budget uses a projected state revenue estimate to guide state spending from July 1 to June 30 of the following fiscal year. The Senate passed a slightly different version of House Bill 744 than we previously passed in the House, and it will now move to a House and Senate Conference Committee to work out a final spending plan to submit for a final vote of the full legislature.
In addition to passing bills last week, we also received some news related to the deepening of the Port of Savannah. The Obama Administration’s 2015 fiscal year budget request was released, and it only appropriated $1.62 million for pre-construction, not the construction funds the state was expecting. This news was disappointing, as we have been expecting $400 million from the federal government to be designated to the project over the next few years. So far, Georgia alone has reserved $231 million to go towards the port, and we are planning for another $35 million this year. Even through tough budgetary years, Georgia has remained committed to appropriating funds to the deepening of the Port of Savannah. I’m disappointed that the federal government is not doing the same. Not only will the port bring business and prosperity to Georgia, it will also improve import and export opportunities for the entire nation. Understanding the importance of this project, Governor Deal announced plans to move forward with the project despite this setback. The governor is exploring several options, including bonds and public-private partnerships. I support Governor Deal’s decision to move forward; deepening the port will allow our state to accommodate bigger ships and help boost our economy tremendously.
As we think through tough issues in the last days of session, I hope that you will contact me to express your ideas and opinions. Please also let me know if you have any comments or questions regarding issues facing our great state. Your comments are always welcome and are important to me. You can reach me at my capitol office at 404-656-0109.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.Read More
The seventh week of the 2014 legislative session began on Monday, February 24, 2014. This was a busy and important few days, as it was the last week for bills to pass out of committees, since “Crossover Day” is scheduled for Monday, March 3. Crossover Day is the deadline in which a piece of legislation must pass at least one of the General Assembly’s two chambers. With this date looming, we spent long hours at the State Capitol to ensure important pieces of legislation were either passed on the House floor or ready for a vote on Crossover Day.
Many of the bills passed during this crucial week were related to education and the welfare of our children. One such bill was House Bill 826, which provides local school systems with more flexibility in handling violations of school safety zones. Under HB 823, schools would no longer be forced to expel students who are caught with items like a fishing knife or a baseball bat in their cars on school campuses. Currently, if a student is found on a school campus with these items in their vehicle, they are automatically suspended and charged with a felony. In these cases under this bill, local school systems will now be able to issue lesser penalties if they have no reason to believe that the student intended to use the object as a weapon. Granting local school systems the authority to deal with these situations on a case-by-case basis will help prevent a student’s record and reputation from being tarnished with an offense that was actually an innocent mistake.
In addition to HB 826, which protects our children from unjust punishment, we also passed House Bill 804 to protect children from the psychological trauma that can result from testifying in court about cases of abuse. Testifying before a court is an intimidating task, especially for a young child, and having to face an abuser can be even scarier. HB 804 provides young victims with another option. The bill allows them to testify remotely via live broadcast if the court agrees that testifying before the accused would cause serious physical or emotional distress for the victim. Not only will this measure ease discomfort for victims, but it might also eliminate one of the barriers that prevents them from coming forward about their abuse.
We also passed a child welfare measure last week that would that would help prevent child abuse, but also track cases in the event of abuse. Last week, we passed House Bill 923 to help ensure that cases of child abuse are treated with the seriousness that they warrant. HB 923 increases public access to government records that relate to deceased children who had at some point come into contact with the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS). The bill also updates the Child Fatality Review Board, which is responsible for examining DFCS cases that involve death. It is our hope that this increased transparency and review, combined with an increase in DFCS employees, will ensure Georgia is doing everything possible to protect children from abuse.
In addition to passing these pieces of legislation aimed at protecting Georgia’s children, we also passed House Bill 549 to protect our state’s natural resources, such as our waterways and wildlife. This bill will help our state better prepare for a water pollution emergency, like the one recently experienced by West Virginia and the Ogeechee River Fish Kill in Georgia a few years ago. HB 549 establishes a state water pollution emergency response plan. The bill requires that the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) maintain an emergency response program to handle critical threats and pollution to our state’s water resources. The bill also requires appropriate and timely responses to emergencies that threaten the state’s waterways. Additionally, HB 549 requires that the EPD use proper public notification and coordination between the state and local communities to protect the health of Georgia’s citizens during emergencies and keep them informed. I am proud that our state has taken these steps to protect our state’s citizens as well as the aquatic wildlife that live along our waterways.
Another important bill passed last week was House Bill 459. This bill will help decrease our motorists’ stress on Georgia’s highways. HB 459 aims to encourage drivers to avoid driving in the passing lane for long periods of time. Under HB 459, any driver on a divided highway who does not move to the right when a car going faster approaches them from behind could face a misdemeanor. We hope that this legislation will remind everyone that the left lane on a highway is intended to be used for passing and cut down on cases of road rage in our state.
In addition to passing legislation last week, we also took some time to recognize a great Georgian and Olympian, Elana Meyers. Elana, who hails from Douglasville, recently returned from Sochi, Russia, where she won a silver medal in the women’s bobsledding competition at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. This was Elana’s second time at the Winter Olympic Games, after she won bronze in Vancouver in 2010. I am proud that Georgia had such talented representation at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, and it was an honor to meet such a distinguished Georgian.
As we begin voting on more bills and resolutions every day, I encourage you to contact me at the Georgia State Capitol with your thoughts and opinions. I am always happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have regarding legislation. My capitol office phone number is 404-656-0109. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your state representative.