Georgia General Assembly

The Georgia Senate signed off on legislation creating the Rome Building Authority, clearing the way to sell bonds for early construction of the College and Career Academy.

A final vote also came Friday on a pay raise for Floyd County Board of Education members, to $600 a month from $400 a month, equal to $7,200 a year. Both bills started in the House and now await the signature of Gov. Brian Kemp. The increase in pay will become effective the following month.

Rome City Schools officials are already working with architects on the CCA and hope to break ground in April. The Building Authority — made up of the mayor, city manager and superintendent — will be able to issue bonds backed by the education local option sales tax voters approved to fund it. ELOST collections for the project start April 1.

The Senate also unanimously approved legislation by Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, creating the Georgia Data Analytics Center, a central warehouse of information about people receiving services from state agencies ranging from the Division of Family and Children's Services to health care, the courts, education and beyond. Currently, the agencies house their data separately.

Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, presented the bill in the Senate, saying it will allow researchers and policy makers to see the big picture when determining what services will most benefit the citizens of Georgia.

"Also, an emerging issue is that the state will be applying for Medicaid waivers," she noted. "It's paramount that we have the analytics as we go along; as we apply, that we have this data."

Unterman said the idea for a merged database has been in the works for three years and referenced the work of Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, in bringing experts from the University of Pennsylvania to advise lawmakers on the project. Dempsey and Hufstetler co-chaired a committee last year that produced competing bills but neither made it through the opposing chamber.

Hufstetler fielded several questions from the Senate floor before the vote, although he was not involved in the legislation this year. He estimated the statewide system would cost just "a few million dollars" because it will be using data that's already been collected. The GDAC will be housed under the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget and is slated to be set up by Sept. 1.

"There will be bids," Hufstetler said. "We aren't spending any money yet ... we will, but we will save multiples of that in the future."

The data will not be connected to specific people, he explained, to follow federal HIPAA privacy requirements. South Carolina, Virginia and other states already have systems that show it can be done and administrators explained the process to the committee last year. Reports using the information will be available for studies but the only personal information released will be items already subject to open records laws.

"It will be de-identified data, so you don't have that particular person. It's data regarding that person," he said.

If the system flags a concerning trend, such as a child in the foster care system who is no longer receiving PeachCare services or showing up for school, analysts can trace the data back to a person and check up. The GDAC, Hufstetler said, will give lawmakers and agencies better tools to carry out their functions.

"It will bring much better decision-making and eliminate duplication among agencies ... It will not just save money but have better outcomes for our citizens,” he said.