Currently, Georgia lags behind several of its Southern neighbors, including South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and Alabama, regarding fulfilling the Department of Defense’s 10 key metrics for creating the best environment for military families. Far too many military families and veterans go without adequate access to health care, struggle to find employment in our state or worry about the impact of transient military life on their children’s education. Georgia can and must do more to ensure that these families have access to the opportunities they work so hard to protect — a good education, quality health care, a well-paying job and a secure place in our middle class.
Over the past few months, members of the Georgia House Democratic Caucus have traveled across the state as part of our “A Promise Kept” initiative, to seek out testimony from military families and veterans and learn more about the issues that affect them. From consumer protection, health care, employment, housing, childhood education and workforce development, House Democrats have introduced six pieces of legislation — House Bills 852, 825, 814, 821, 831 and 812 — to address these critical issues and improve the quality of life for our transitioning service members and their families.
Starting with HB 852, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, the Bridging the Military Health Care Gap Act helps service members in Georgia who are transitioning out of the military and their families bridge a lapse in Medicaid coverage upon transfer or retirement. Secondly, to ensure that allegations and issues surrounding child abuse or neglect are promptly investigated and resolved for the benefit of children of military families, my colleague Rep. Earnest Smith, D-Augusta, drafted HB 825. Titled the Protecting Military Children Act, the bill would provide for the free exchange of information between the Division of Family and Children Services and the Department of Defense, ensuring that the needs of military children are promptly taken care of.
HB 814, the Educating Children of Military Families Act, would make data available to schools and districts as they review academic programs and school policies that specifically address and support military-dependent students. Rep. Mike Glanton, D-Jonesboro, believes this bill is necessary to avoid the education challenges many military children face because of their parents’ military service and moving from one school district to another. By identifying trends in educational achievement among this unique group of students, state, local and federal educators may better understand and address the needs of this particular student population.
From athletic trainers to veterinarians, my bill, HB 821, the Military Spouses and Veterans Licensure Act, would provide veterans as well as spouses of current active-duty service members immediate relief from burdensome requirements in obtaining professional licenses they already hold in a different state. I am proud to say that HB 821 unanimously passed out of the House, and I am hopeful that the Senate will do the same. Likewise, the Protecting Guardsmen’s Employment Act, HB 831, would allow Georgia to join 17 other states that provide employment protection for National Guard members who work outside of the state where they mobilize.
Finally, state Rep. Brian Prince, D-Augusta, sponsored HB 812, the Military Consumer Protection Act, to protect the financial interests of Georgia’s military men and women who are more likely than other segments of the population to experience emergencies that often leave them vulnerable to predatory lending practices such as excessive fees and abusive prepayment penalties. The legislation would allow the state of Georgia to punish predatory lenders who take advantage our hard-working military personnel.
It is time to fulfill our obligations to our military families and veterans and make Georgia the best place to live and work for them. I am confident these six pieces of legislation under the “A Promise Kept” initiative will prove Georgia continues to be the greatest state in the nation for the quality of life of veterans and military families.
Williams, D-Midway, represents House District 168, which covers most of Liberty County.