Editors Notebook: Assembly Needs Priorities

Editors Notebook: Assembly Needs Priorities

By Michael Jacobs / mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

Michael Jacobs Atlanta Jewish Times
Michael Jacobs

The Georgia General Assembly tends to operate like a high school student working on a research paper or science project (or newspaper editor working on the next edition): days and weeks wasted before a deadline-driven rush to get everything done.

Our legislature, particularly the House, transformed into a Tasmanian devil of crashing, thrashing action with the approach of March 13, the deadline for most legislation to make it through one chamber to avoid being tabled for the year.

That rush swept along some legislation of interest to the Jewish community, such as H.B. 520, which would create the city of LaVista Hills, including Toco Hills. It’s breathtaking to see how quickly some bills move from introduction to passage; H.B. 520 made the trip through the House in nine days.

On the flip side, it’s frustrating to see common-sense legislation grind to a halt.

Two examples are Senate bills that have strong Jewish support and should have little opposition from legislators.

S.B. 1, Ava’s Law, would require health insurance policies to cover necessary autism services and treatments for children ages 6 and younger. It passed the Senate 54-0 Jan. 29. But just as the legislation stalled out in 2013 and 2014, it is going nowhere fast in the House Insurance Committee.

There’s no rational reason to oppose Ava’s Law. It would cost each insured Georgian less than $5 a year, save families with children on the autism spectrum $60,000 a year, give many children a strong chance at normal lives, and save us all money in the future by moving those children off the path of a lifelong need for services.

Similarly, S.B. 8, Sen. Renee Unterman’s legislation to toughen Georgia’s laws against child sex traffickers while treating the exploited children as victims instead of criminals, passed the Senate 52-3 Feb. 12 and has since languished in the House Juvenile Justice Committee. The accompanying Senate Resolution 7, which would create a referendum on a state constitutional amendment to fund services for those children, passed 53-3 the same day and also awaits House committee action.

It’s worth noting, as The Temple’s Rabbi Peter Berg did during his sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church three days after those measures passed the Senate, that metro Atlanta has the biggest child sex trafficking problem in the world.

“We must do everything that we can to combat these criminal enterprises and offer rehabilitative services to assist the impacted children,” Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, said at news conference Feb. 4. That news conference announced cooperation between Senate and House members on the legislation, including compromises Unterman made to match the House proposals.

“While no legislation can fully eradicate the criminal networks profiting from the exploitation of children, we must continue the fight to protect our most precious citizens,” Unterman, R-Buford, said after S.B. 8 passed on the same day 1,000 advocates visited the Capitol to lobby for the legislation. “With the approval of this bill and resolution, the Georgia Senate is sending a clear message to sex trafficking victims that we are doing everything we can to provide the assistance needed to rebuild their lives.”

So what message is the House sending with its inaction?

I’m befuddled to see how quickly the House can act on bills that affect at most tens of thousands of people, such as the cityhood legislation, while it is paralyzed on measures that would benefit all Georgians.

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