Tuesday, Feb. 16, brought the sixth week of the 2021 legislative session. The last few days have been productive as we passed numerous bills out the House and out of our respective committees. By the end of week six, we finished Legislative day 19, which means the halfway point of our 40-day session is right around the corner. Last week we largely focused on legislation surrounding our most vulnerable population, Georgia’s children.
Although our Georgia children who are enrolled in state assistance programs are also eligible for enrollment with our state health insurance program, many are not. House Bill 163 seeks to improve this issue by automatically enrolling those eligible into our state’s health insurance program by cutting burdensome requirements and regulations. If approved, the bill would allow the implementation of “express lane” eligibility in Medicaid and the PeachCare for Kids Program by automatically enrolling and renewing children who have already qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Sadly, many eligible children miss out on state insurance coverage because they must submit a separate application through Department of Human Services. We are hopeful that the elimination of this additional form will streamline insurance coverage, ensuring those eligible are able to receive the quality coverage already made available.
New parents will be thrilled as our House body overwhelmingly passed House Bill 146, which would extend paid parental leave to many state employees. Stipulations of the bill are as follows:
• Provides up to 120 hours, or three weeks, of paid parental leave annually.
• Eligible state employees are those who have had a recent birth or those who have had the placement of an adoptive/foster child within their home.
• State workers employed for at least six months would be able to use this parental leave regardless of whether they have paid leave benefits.
As the economy and job market continue to recover following the impacts of COVID-19, we felt providing this crucial benefit to state employees would help our state retain and further recruit the best and strongest workforce.
Last week also brought the unanimous passage of House Bill 128, also known as “Gracie’s Law.” If passed, this bill would safeguard against organ transplant discrimination for children and adults living with disabilities. Under the legislation, individuals who are candidates for an organ transplant would not be deemed ineligible or denied insurance coverage solely based on the individual’s physical or mental disability. Additionally, if an individual cannot independently meet medical requirements after a transplant but has an adequate support system to assist with recovery needs, the individual would not be deemed ineligible for the transplant. Children’s Health Care of Atlanta, which performs most of the pediatric organ transplants in the state, has expressed support for this legislation, stating that there is no medical reason to warrant such discrimination.
In recent years, we have worked tirelessly to reform our outdated adoption and foster care laws. Our efforts continued last week with the passage of House Bill 154. This bill would lower the age at which a person can petition for adoption from 25 to 21 years old. This change would allow an older sibling or close relative to petition for adoption as an avenue for the child to remain with family members if deemed the best option. Additionally, if passed, this legislation would do the following:
• Recognizes other state’s adoption processes, clarifying alternatives for out-of-state adoption proceedings.
• Specifies paperwork requirements for those who seek to adopt a child whose parents do not first need to surrender their rights.
• Allows a non-resident petitioner to appear for the final hearing via electronic means if the petition for adoption is uncontested.
• Permits the state to begin the search of the putative father after an adoption petition has been filed.
• Requires the petitioner to request an investigator to verify the adoption petition if the court fails to appoint one.
• Confirms that juvenile courts would keep children’s names confidential during proceedings.
• Creates a civil cause of action to address adoption scams where individuals misrepresent a pregnancy or intention to place a child for adoption.
We have made much progress within our adoption and foster care systems, since beginning our system overhaul efforts in 2018. Since then, the number of adoptions in our state has grown while the number of children in foster care continues to decrease. This is great news for our Georgia children who seek permanency and stability in their newly found “forever home.”
This week we are back at the Capitol for the seventh week of the 2021 legislative session. The countdown to day 40 continues as we work for the betterment of our state. If you need anything at all, please feel free to contact me directly. As always, thank you for allowing me the honor of serving our home and the great state of Georgia under the Gold Dome.
Jason Ridley, R-Chatsworth, represents District 6 in the state House of Representatives.