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Rep. Katie Dempsey (left), R-Rome, explains her bill to create a centralized state database as DFCS Director Tom Rawlings prepares to offer support Wednesday during a hearing of the House Budget & Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee. / Georgia General Assembly Livestream

Tom Rawlings said DFCS could make use of a centralized database that could, for example, identify which of the kids are frequent visitors to emergency rooms or who have a parent on probation for a violent crime.

Currently, state agencies — such as DFCS, public health, corrections, the courts and the department of behavioral health and developmental disabilities — all keep separate records. The practice is called "silo-ing" in the information-technology arena.

"If we had access to that data ... we could respond in a much more sophisticated way to the needs of these families and prioritize these cases," Rawlings told the House Budget & Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee.

His comments came in support of Rep. Katie Dempsey's House Bill 197, which would create a central system. The Rome Republican's measure passed out of committee unanimously Wednesday, clearing the way for a vote by the full chamber.

"I think it makes sense," said Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Rome, the committee member who moved for passage. "It breaks down the silos and makes information readily available that helps us deliver services."

Dempsey has been working on the bill with the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, which would have control of the database. She said the ability to analyze how different programs work together is the key to setting a cohesive policy across agencies.

"A goal for our state will be the mark set by Michigan, which has saved approximately $1 million a day over the last seven years," Dempsey said. "That's real dollars ... But the reality is, we will be able to save lives by directing best practices and best services in a very effective way."

Improving foster care and tackling the state's opioid crisis are two immediate targets, but Dempsey said the attorney general's office is among the other agencies expressing interest in the possibilities. The data would be available to state agencies, universities and other researchers looking for solutions to various social problems.

"If it helps DFCS in any way, that's a good enough reason to vote on this, much less all the other departments," said Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, who chairs the committee.

HB 197 was amended before it was presented to the committee. Dempsey said the former name "was not a good acronym," so SIDS was changed to GDAC, the Georgia Data Analytic Center. An oversight board also was eliminated. Dempsey said it was unnecessary and the OPB should be able to move quickly to review requests for information.

"Once this happens, we're all going to start thinking of projects," she said. "It's going to be a matter of what we feed in and integrate, and what we ask."

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