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May 10--  From State Representative Greg Morris (R-Vidalia)

Distracted Driving/Cell Phones. What little suspense about whether Gov. Deal would sign H.B. 673 ended last Wednesday. The Governor signed the bill that would prohibit drivers from handling cell phones while driving. The law will take effect July 1st of this year. Supporters of the bill hope that H.B. 673 will make our roads safer, something that banning texting in 2010 failed to do. Last year, 1549 people died on Georgia highways which is an increase of more than one third than in 2014. Again, I didn’t vote for the bill because I don’t believe talking with a phone in your hand while driving is an imminent danger if your eyes are on the road. I believe the law as written could be an undue burden on small business people. Think of a real estate agent driving around town to show properties. Or a sales rep for home security systems. Professions like these spend at least half their time in vehicles and are reliant on mobile phones to conduct business. Small businesses may want to discuss with their attorneys or insurance agents about what new liability H.B. 673 may pose in regards to employee use of cell phones while driving during working hours. The Governors Office of Public Safety has a new website called headsupgeorgia.com you can refer to for more detail. Overall the prohibitions are holding or supporting with any part of the body a wireless telecommunications device while driving unless you are law enforcement, a first responder, or a utility worker on duty.

Rural Economy/Healthcare. Gov. Deal signed two more bills last week that stemmed from the work of House Rural Development Council formed to improve the economy in rural Georgia. H.B. 769 calls for the creation of “micro hospitals” in small rural counties that would have at least two beds but a maximum of seven and would provide emergency services 24 hours a day , seven days a week. The bill also includes a provision that increases the state income tax credit for contributions to rural hospitals from 90%, to a full dollar-for-dollar credit. The other bill is H.B. 951 that creates the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation. This will be a state funded department that will focus solely on rural economic development. It will be a resource for local governments and development authorities in working to bring new jobs to rural communities. The Center will be located at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton.

2019 Budget. On the subject of rural economic development, the upcoming budget has many good features but none probably more important than the education component. For the first time since 2002, QBE, the formula used to pay for public schools is fully funded. That means public schools will receive 166.7 million more than we expected in the upcoming budget year. Economic development cannot happen without a trained workforce, and a trained workforce is impossible without a thriving public education system. I really enjoy seeing the growth of dual enrollment and what it means for increasing the chance of all our students having a college or technical education degree.

For staff use only.