House bills include 911 Medical Amnesty Law

by Sarah Fay Campbell

Monday will be the second-busiest day of the Georgia General Assembly session, with a large number of bills being considered.

But the past week has also been active. Several notable bills were recently approved by the Georgia House of Representatives, and are now on their way to the Georgia State Senate.

State Rep. David Stover, R-Palmetto, and Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, talked Friday about some of the bills.

• House Bill 965 is the “Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty Law.”

It deals with drug overdoses. Under the bill, anyone who calls 911 or otherwise seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug overdose will be immune from prosecution of drug-related crimes, if the evidence of those drug crimes “resulted solely from seeking such medical assistance.”

“We’ve had problems in Georgia, and in other states, where someone overdoses and the people that they are with are scared to dial 911,” Stover said. Two particular cases of heroin overdoses are cited in the bill itself. Language in the bill also states that similar amnesty laws have been passed in 14 states.

Stover thinks the amnesty is a good thing. “We’ve got to make it so that there is an incentive for them to call 911 — we’ve had people dying in front yards” because the people they are with are scared to call 911.

“People may end up in a situation. I don't agree with what they did, but to let them die because the people they are doing the drugs with are afraid to call 911 because they don’t want to be arrested — I think that is the wrong approach,” Stover said.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 144 to 20.

• House Bill 803 requires law enforcement agencies to have policies regulating how officers interact with pets.

Stover said there was one instance where a woman’s cell phone dialed 911 in her pocket. It was registered as a hang-up call and an officer investigated. When he got to the home, the woman’s dog came to the door, barking. The officer shot the dog. “Of course, the lady is really upset,” Stover said.

The bill simply requires that agencies have a written policy. “We’re not requiring that they shoot or not shoot,” he said.

• House Bill 490. “This is going to save our local library systems a lot of money,” Stover said. Under current law, if a library system employee works more than 17 hours, they must be provided health insurance. The bill changes it to 30 hours.

• House Bill 459. This bill makes it unlawful to continue traveling in the passing lane of a multi-lane highway once the driver “knows or should reasonably know that he or she is being overtaken from the rear by a motor vehicle traveling at a higher rate of speed.” Passing lane is defined as the far left lane but does not include the HOV lane.

The bill passed overwhelmingly with a vote of 162 to 9, but it will be reconsidered on Monday.

“I had mixed emotions about this,” Stover said. “How are we going to enforce it?” Stover said he has a problem with "people who kind of hang out in the left-hand lane.”

"It is a problem on our highways,” he said. However, “I’m not sure it should be a ticketable offense."

• House Bill 549. Inspired by the huge chemical spill in the Ogeechee River several years ago, this bill “develops a template for emergency response that will bring in local and state response” in a quicker and “more organized and orderly way” than it has been in the past, said Smith.

“I think that is a key bill,” added Smith, who chairs the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee. “It took a lot of time to get the language right."

• House Bill 886. Stover is one of several co-sponsors of this bill, which requires local school boards and charter schools to hold two public hearings on their budgets, and requires them to either post, or provide in a digital format, budgets with line item breakdowns.

Currently, school systems aren’t required to post the detailed budgets. “Some do it and some don’t,” Stover said. The budgets are, of course, public documents and can be obtained through open records requests, but they would be more easily obtainable under HB 886.

“Most of the time, what you will see is just a summary page,” Stover said. “What we are trying to do is make it more in line with what the counties have to do."

• House Bill 891 shortens the required early voting time for municipal elections. Currently, there is a 21-day early voting period for all Georgia elections.

The bill gives municipalities the ability to shorten that to seven days. It doesn’t affect the early voting for county, state, and federal elections.

Stover said that smaller municipalities asked for the change. “It is costing them thousands of dollars” to keep offices open during early voting periods “and nobody is showing up to vote.”

The bill would have originally set a seven-day limit, but was amended on the floor by House Minority Leader Stacy Abrams, D-Atlanta, to give cities the choice to go with seven days or keep the full 21 days.

Stover is in favor of moving municipal elections to even-numbered years, on the same cycle as county and state elections.

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