- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - A bill that would levy an annual $5,000 on strip clubs and fine pimps $2,500 to set up a fund for sexually exploited children is scheduled to be signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Nathan Deal, topping off what some legislators are calling the “year of the child” in the 2015 General Assembly.

Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, has been trying for six years to get the Legislature to set up a Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund to pay for housing, health care and other services for children forced into prostitution. She says Atlanta has become one of the biggest magnets in the country for such activity.

She says money called for in Senate Bill 8 will pay for “therapy, including residential treatment with psychological, behavioral remediation and reintegration back into the education system” and possibly job placement. She also authored Senate Resolution 7, a proposed constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot in November 2016, authorizing SB 8. Many of the child victims, mostly girls, are between the ages of 12 and 14, Unterman said.

In an interview, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle praised Unterman’s legislation as well as other bills aimed at protecting children, such as the “Hidden Predator Act.” That bill, HB 17, gives young victims 35 years instead of five to report child abuse. Its sponsor, Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, told the AP that “Atlanta is a hub for child sex trafficking.”

Other bills that help children include:

-Georgia’s new medical marijuana law. Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, led the fight to decriminalize the use of medical marijuana and his bill made Georgia the 36th state to have some sort of law allowing the use of extracts from the plant. “While last year we left Georgia’s kids behind, this year we found solutions for our most fragile population, those special needs children who deserve our attention,” he said. House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, told the AP that legal ways to obtain cannabis oil remain an “impediment we have to go a workaround on” because possession is still against federal law.

-Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, and Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, hashed out a deal in the waning days of the session on a bill requiring insurance companies to offer $30,000 of coverage to children six and under with autism. Bethel said “an unusually large number of reasonably high profile bills dealing with children passed this session.”

-Rep. Pam Dickerson, D-Conyers, sponsored HB 131, which strengthens the state’s anti-bullying law to include acts committed on electronic devices or via social media. “By expanding the scope of Georgia’s anti-bullying legislation and modernizing the existing laws,” she says the Legislature has protected children from online bullies whether the acts are committed on or off school property.

-Jason Flatt Act. Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, sponsored a bill requiring annual suicide prevention education training for certified school system personnel. The bill was named after a Nashville 16-year-old who took his own life in 1997, leading to the creation of the Jason Foundation dedicated to prevention of youth suicide. Georgia was the 14th state to pass the Jason Flatt Act, which requires no state funds.

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