First, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy  Valentine’s Day.

Thursday, Feb. 12, was the 15th legislative day of the 2015 session of the Georgia General Assembly. After the President’s Day holiday Monday, we will reconvene Tuesday, Feb. 17.

Throughout the legislative session, I hope you will contact me with your views on the issues being addressed at the Capitol, or whenever I can be of service to you.

Steve Henson
State Senator, District 41


Sen. Henson addresses his colleagues from the well of the Senate.
Sen. Henson addresses his colleagues from the well of the Senate.

Senate strikes back against exploitation of children

On Feb. 12, the Senate votedoverwhelmingly to approve legislation aimed at curbing the sexual exploitation of children in Georgia.

SR 7 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would create a “Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund” to provide funding to assist children who are caught up in sex trafficking. Monetary fines paid by individuals convicted of sex trafficking offenses would be used to pay for rehabilitative and social services to underage victims of sexual exploitation.

The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration, where it must be approved by a two-thirds vote and ratified by a majority of voters in the 2016 general election in order to change the state Constitution.

The Senate also approved and sent to the House SB 8, which would take effect only if SR 7 is ultimately approved. That legislation would establish a state commission to administer the funds generated by the criminal penalties, plus an annual operated fee of at least $5,000 to be collected from the owners of adult entertainment establishments.

Sen. Henson and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle thank Liam Patrick Regan for his service as a Senate page.
Sen. Henson and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle thank Liam Patrick Regan for his service as a Senate page.

Amended budget for FY 2015 approved by Senate

On Feb. 11, the Senate voted almost unanimously to approve the amended $21.1 billion version of the state budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year. HB 75 now goes back to the House of Representatives, which will have only two Senate changes to consider before a final version of the budget can be sent to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

The most notable changes to the budget for fiscal year 2015, which ends June 30, include $126 million to cover enrollment growth in Georgia’s public schools, $20 million for economic development grants used to recruit businesses to the state, $4.9 million for 103 new child welfare caseworkers, $4.8 million for clinical trials of medical cannabis at Georgia Regents University and $515,000 to create a Georgia Film Academy.

If the House does not accept the Senate changes, the minor differences between the House and Senate versions would have to be worked out by a conference committee. Still ahead is consideration of the $21.8 billion annual budget for fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1.

Amended budget for FY 2015 approved by Senate

On Feb. 11, the Senate voted almost unanimously to approve the amended $21.1 billion version of the state budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year. HB 75 now goes back to the House of Representatives, which will have only two Senate changes to consider before a final version of the budget can be sent to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

Sen. Henson, Senate colleagues and Lt. Gov. Cagle salute Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, team CEO Steven Koonin and others on Atlanta Hawks Day at the State Capitol.
Sen. Henson, Senate colleagues and Lt. Gov. Cagle salute Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, team CEO Steven Koonin and others on Atlanta Hawks Day at the State Capitol.

The most notable changes to the budget for fiscal year 2015, which ends June 30, include $126 million to cover enrollment growth in Georgia’s public schools, $20 million for economic development grants used to recruit businesses to the state, $4.9 million for 103 new child welfare caseworkers, $4.8 million for clinical trials of medical cannabis at Georgia Regents University and $515,000 to create a Georgia Film Academy.

If the House does not accept the Senate changes, the minor differences between the House and Senate versions would have to be worked out by a conference committee. Still ahead is consideration of the $21.8 billion annual budget for fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1.

Senate clears federal funding of Savannah Harbor project

On Feb. 10, the Senate voted unanimously in favor of SB 5, which would remove a potential legal barrier to Georgia’s ability to receive federal funds for the deepening of the Savannah Harbor, which is seen as a vital project for the state’s economic future.

The legislation would authorize the Georgia Ports Authority to legally indemnify the federal government when it distributes its $430 million share of the $700 million project, aimed at increasing the number of products shipped to and from Georgia businesses via the Savannah port.

SB 5 now goes to the House for its consideration.

Sen. Henson, Lt. Gov. Cagle and Sen. Gloria Butler thank Tichaya Hughley for her service as a Senate page.
Sen. Henson, Lt. Gov. Cagle and Sen. Gloria Butler thank Tichaya Hughley for her service as a Senate page.

Child custody transfer proposal wins Senate approval

The Senate also voted Feb. 10 to approve legislation intended to make it easier for parents to temporarily transfer custody of their children to an adult who is not a blood relative.

SB 3 would extend the state law that allows parents to assign a power of attorney for a child’s custody to grandparents without the need to go do court. Under the new proposal, such a transfer could also be made to non-relatives.

An amendment to the bill would prohibit parents from transferring the power of attorney in an effort to subvert an investigation of child abuse by the Division of Family and Children Services. SB 3 now goes to the House for its consideration.

Autism coverage proposal wins Senate approval

The Senate voted unanimously Jan. 29 to approve legislation I co-sponsored that would require insurance coverage of autism treatments for young children.

Sen. Henson and Lt. Gov. Cagle welcome members of the Stone Mountain Women's Club to the Senate chamber.
Sen. Henson and Lt. Gov. Cagle welcome members of the Stone Mountain Women’s Club to the Senate chamber.

SB 1 represents a wise investment of insurance coverage to provide treatment to autism patients at an early age in order to avoid the need for more expensive treatments later in life. The proposal also addresses a genuine public health crisis in Georgia.

Specifically, the bill would require healthcare insurers to cover the cost of autism treatments for children ages 6 and under, with an annual payment limit of $35,000 per patient. An exemption is provided if the cost of treatments exceeds 1 percent of the premiums paid on all policies.

The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration. A similar bill passed the Senate last year but failed to pass the House before the end of the session.

Senate approves ‘move on when ready’ legislation 

On Feb. 3, the Senate voted unanimously to approve legislation that would enable high school students in dual enrollment programs to earn credits for taking college and technical college classes.

Under SB 2, students who take college or technical college level courses would be able to leave high school as early graduates and begin their college careers.

Sen. Henson and Lt. Gov. Cagle thank Cameron Ware, Taylar Ware and Dorrian Josephine Regan for their service as Senate pages.
Sen. Henson and Lt. Gov. Cagle thank Cameron Ware, Taylar Ware and Dorrian Josephine Regan for their service as Senate pages.

By approving the measure, the Senate voted to expand education options and opportunities available to Georgia students to help them succeed in a 21st century job market.

SB 2 now moves to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Sen. Henson and Lt. Gov. Cagle thank Tyler Trocchi for his service as a Senate page.
Sen. Henson and Lt. Gov. Cagle thank Tyler Trocchi for his service as a Senate page.
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