Bill would clarify how Georgia gets outside emergency aid

But help might be on the way.

On Wednesday, the Georgia Senate approved the Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act (SB 315), which would allow aid workers to temporarily come into Georgia and work during an emergency. It also would make it easier for Georgia volunteers to enter another state. The bill will next go to the House.

At least 10 other states -- including Louisiana -- have passed versions of the bill.

“In the wake of Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina, we realized that we didn’t have the infrastructure,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Preston Smith (R-Rome). “A doctor would have to be licensed in a state, and if you practice without a license, it is a crime.”

Smith said under the act, doctors, nurses, mental health counselors and veterinarians would be granted a temporary license to work in Georgia during a state of emergency.

Volunteers would have signed up through an interstate database. In the aftermath of Katrina -- the hurricane that leveled New Orleans in 2005 -- the city witnessed a tragic lack of medical professionals because needed volunteers weren’t licensed.

“We think the bill will enhance our ability to respond to major disasters and emergencies,” said Buzz Weiss, a spokesman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, “but there are still some things to be worked on.”

Weiss said one of the major points is making sure the language in the bill aligns itself with the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a congressionally ratified mutual aid agreement and partnership among all 50 states

“But this certainly does clarify any confusion that there might be,” Weiss said. “Any state is going to need any help they can get. This will continue our ability to help out other states and their ability to help out us.”

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