Legislative column by State Senator William T. Ligon, Jr. (R – Brunswick). Senator Ligon represents Brantley, Camden, Charlton, Glynn, and McIntosh Counties in the Georgia State Senate.
Over the past few weeks, we have recapped some of the bills that passed through both chambers and made it to the governor’s desk, and we have discussed some of the bills that did not pass this year. This week, we will look at some of the plans the Senate has for the off-session through the various study committees that have been created to ensure we are prepared to introduce thoroughly researched and vetted legislation in the 2019 session.
Of the 18 Senate study committees created this year, I am most interested in the Senate Study Committee on Prescribing Patterns for Antidepressants and Other Psychotropic Medications created by Senate Resolution 489, which I sponsored. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the use of antidepressants has increased over 400 percent from 1988-2008, and these drugs have the highest FDA black box warning rate for our young people, yet are still being prescribed at an increasing rate to those under the age of 24. These drugs are medically known to have a negative side effect on adolescents by doubling suicidality and aggression, and it’s important that we study the effects of these drugs to better understand ways we can help ensure they are used more safely and that they are prescribed less often.
The committee will be made up of three Senate members, one Georgia board licensed practicing psychiatrist, one Georgia board licensed practicing psychologist, one representative from a mental health advocacy group and one registered pharmacist. Together, we will look at the testimony from several interested groups, hear from patients, hear from family members, and look into the practices of other states to determine what should be done in Georgia.
There are two other study committees that will be of interest to our community, the first being the Senate Study Committee on School Safety. Due to the Parkland, Florida school shooting, Georgia needs to revisit its own laws and policies to ensure that we have the best safeguards in place to prevent this type of incident from happening here. Concerned parents, teachers and students have voiced their concerns about such potential threatening situations, and the members of the study committee hope that such continued input will result in improved safety measures. Together, we need to find the best possible solutions to protect our most vulnerable population while they are at school, a place where they should be completely safe.
The other study committee I want to mention will examine how our school calendars are determined. This is especially pertinent to our district because so many students in our area have summer jobs in the tourism industry. According to Georgia Trend Magazine, tourism brings in over $1 billion to our district. In the last year, the Georgia Department of Economic Development announced that the tourism and hospitality industry is the 5th largest employer in Georgia’s overall economy, bringing in a total of over $60 billion per year statewide.
The summer months are an important time for relaxation and vacation for many who visit here, and much of Georgia’s economic growth takes place during these months. Summer jobs for our youth provide an important foundation for them to build job skills for the future and are also important to the businesses that hire these students. However, there is a trend of starting school earlier and at varied times across the state. This is limiting the time these students have to work and the amount of vacation time families have available together. This study committee is tasked with looking into the school calendar and determining if there should be a uniform start date and, if so, when that should be. This is a topic that has the potential to dominate more than one legislative session, as people feel strongly about their local school calendars. I expect these meetings to be full of useful testimony from students, teachers, staff, parents and employers on what the best course of action will be.
The creation of these study committees does not mean that all legislation resulting from these studies will pass. However, such efforts often do result in excellent legislation, and, at the very least, these studies help legislators to better understand the needs and concerns of stakeholders in each of the respective categories. It’s important that we take into consideration the thoughts and opinions of everyone involved, something we often cannot do during the limitations of a 40-day legislative session. In almost every committee meeting during session, someone brings up something they learned during a study committee, proving how valuable these meetings are as a resource for legislators and advocates alike. I look forward to seeing the work these committees accomplish.
As a reminder, the governor still has a lot of time left to review and sign or veto legislation. As he signs legislation into law, I will continue to update you on the effects this legislation will have on you and hope you will reach out to me with any specific questions you have.
Finally, high school students in the Third Senate District have until May 16th, 5:00 p.m., to return their essays for the National Day of Prayer Essay Contest. For more information about the rules or to find resources, visitwww.CoastalGeorgiaItsTime.com. As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve you!