Update from Under the Gold Dome: Week Six

This Wednesday, the Public Safety Committee passed Senate Bill 15, the “Keeping Georgia’s Schools Safe Act.” This bill is a result of the hard work of last summer’s Senate Study Committee on School Safety. I chaired this committee whose purpose was to ensure that Georgia’s most precious assets, our children, are safe when they are at school. I would like to thank all of the public safety representatives, Department of Education members, students, parents and teachers who spoke to this committee throughout our research process. We visited schools in urban, rural and suburban parts of Georgia to ensure that we had a holistic view of school safety and what can be done to improve emergency response.

Among other things, the Study Committee found that communication between schools, law enforcement and state safety departments was crucial in other states who have experienced security breaches in schools and that Georgia could significantly improve upon. SB 15 responds directly to this issue by outlining the ways in which communication can be improved, pushing our schools towards over-communication to ensure that all agencies involved in emergency response are in the loop. To do this, SB 15:

  • Creates provisions for a site threat assessment to be completed every four years by a third party agency that is either Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) or a company trained by GEMA. Schools must work with law enforcement and GEMA to ensure that they have an effective emergency plan and that can be updated annually.
  • Adds school safety plans to the Official Code of Georgia and ensures that “school safety zones” are defined so that schools are protected at all hours, not just from morning bell to afternoon bell.
  • Requires training and designating of a “School Safety Coordinator” at every school, which will be either a principal or person designated by them. This person will be responsible for ensuring that all parties (GEMA, local law enforcement, etc.) are constantly talking and emergency drills are conducted at least once a year.
  • Assigns the responsibility of sharing potential threat information and best practices to the Department of Education and state/local law enforcement agencies.
  • Creates a role called a “School Safety Coach” which is an optional position for schools who choose to augment their security presence on campus. This School Safety Coach would be a person who has been trained in emergency management, such as a veteran or ex-law enforcement. This is not required under the Act, but just provides one more tool in schools’ safety toolboxes.
  • Requires that schools utilize a smartphone digital application for reporting emergencies. The current app is called “See Something, Send Something,” but the law does not specify which app so that this law remains applicable as technology progresses. The purpose of this clause is so that all schools have an overarching digital method of reporting incidents that will be monitored 24/7.
  • Allows the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to be the agency which monitors information going to the Georgia Sharing Analysis Center and to be the agency with the ability to discover sources of danger in a potential emergency system.
  • Designates the Attorney General and district attorneys as the courts which will investigate emergency incidents and allows them to subpoena records. This will help investigators “connect the dots.”

This bill will be heard on the Senate floor in the coming weeks, where I am hopeful it will be voted through. Progress of SB 15 can be followed at: http://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/en-US/Display/20192020/SB/15.

Additionally, I want to bring to your attention two bills that didn’t quite make it all the way through the legislative process last year. This year, they’re Senate Bills 119 and SB 120 but last year they were known as SB 378 or the “Georgia Measuring Success Act” and SB 432 or the “Georgia Tax Credit Business Case Act”. Both these bills include the same language as last year’s legislation and quickly received unanimous “do pass” recommendations from the Senate Committee on Finance this week.

SB 119 requires any new legislation, or existing legislation being modified, that relates to tax exemptions to go through a rigorous financial analysis. The analysis is required to be completed by the bill’s author, in conjunction with the state auditor, to measure the effectiveness and impact of a piece of legislation before its passage. It is critical to ensure that any legislation dealing with tax incentives has the potential for a return on investment and is utilized to its full potential.

Also known as the Tax Credit Business Case Act, SB 120, would require an economic analysis to be performed by the state auditor on existing income tax exemptions on a five year rotating basis. Performing this analysis further emphasizes themes that I have pushed through my legislation this year: transparency in government and fiscal responsibility.

As these bills make their way through the last 20 days left of the 2019 session, I encourage you to reach out if you have any questions, comments or concerns. It is an honor to represent the 56th Senate District.