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2014 Legislative Update

EDUCATION

HR 550: Creates a House Study Committee on the Role of Federal Government in Education. The purpose of the committee would be to determine whether the House should recommend abolishing the Department of Education. Status: Passed.

  • My Vote: I voted against the bill. House Resolution 550 as an attack on the Common Core initiative, as well as an attempt to decry the role of the federal government in state and local education. In 2012, the Department of Education provided approximately $2 billion in funding to the state of Georgia. This legislation serves to popularize a position that could jeopardize substantial and necessary funding for Georgia’s students.

HB 405: Requires that the members of the governing board of charter schools shall participate in training on best practices on school governance, the constitutional and statutory requirements relating to public records and meetings, and the requirements of applicable statutes and rules and regulations. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill.

HB 697: Increases technical college tuition assistance to Zell Miller Scholars. Funds the gap between what the HOPE grant pays ($730 per semester) and the full cost of tuition for technical college students earning at least a 3.5 grade-point average. The bill will fund an average difference of about $600 per semester for students that have the required GPA. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill.

HB 788: Allows the University System of Georgia to privatize the construction of student dormitories and parking decks on the campuses of the state’s colleges and universities and to treat the projects as tax-exempt. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill. As co-sponsor of the legislation, I support the ability of state colleges and universities to expand their on-campus housing without relying exclusively on bond indebtedness or substantial increases in fees to students.

TAXES

SR 415: Prohibits the state from raising the state income tax above 6.0%. Status: Passed.

  • My Vote: I voted against the bill. The constitutional amendment will effectively bar the legislature from any future change to the income tax structure, including during times of economic emergency. In isolation, this prohibition will likely have no impact; however, when viewed in context with federal restrictions on funding, recent financial upheaval and explosive growth in Georgia’s population, such a restriction is imprudent and could be fiscally damaging. Georgia currently has among the lowest taxes in the nation, and it collects the second-lowest amount of revenue per capita of any state. This amendment would hinder the ability of future lawmakers to address a variety of issues, including the already dire situation of Georgia’s public school system.

HB 933: Creates permanent a tax exemption on parts and equipment used to repair and maintain aircraft registered outside of Georgia. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill.

HB 958: Creates and extends several tax exemptions and abatements, including tax exemptions for video game developers and sales tax holidays for back-to-school shoppers Aug. 1-2 and for energy- and water-efficient appliances Oct. 3-5. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill.

HB 1009: Extends the period for Clayton County government and citizens to decide if they want to be exempt from the sales tax cap to join MARTA. This bill will allow local governments to be exempt for public transportation purposes and extend the period of a metropolitan area system of public transportation to 2016. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill.

BUDGET/FINANCE

HB 744: Allocates $20.8 billion for 2015 fiscal year. Provides increases to education, merit pay raises to teachers and certain state workers. Does not fully restore severe cuts in several departments. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill. I supported the budget due to the increased funding for education and human services.

HB 750: Adds an exemption to the licensing requirement for mortgage loan originators if the employee to be licensed is an employee of a bona fide nonprofit corporation that meets certain requirements. The employee is only exempt for work done for the nonprofit corporation and only for loans with favorable terms for the borrower. The requirements for the nonprofit bill are, for example, that it promotes affordable housing, has charitable motives, and does not incentivize its employees to act in anyway other than in the best interest of the client. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill.

HR 1332: Creates a House Study Committee to study procedures used in other jurisdictions in the United States for the compensation of wrongfully convicted incarcerated persons. Status: Passed.

  • My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill.

SB 336: States that the Board of Cosmetology has the power to impose a maximum fine of $500.00 for each violation of subsection (a) of Code Section 43-10-15 which relates to the unlicensed training or practice of cosmetology. The Board may not impose a fine of more than $25.00 for the first violation, more than $75.00 for a second violation, and more than $300.00 for each subsequent violation. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill.

SB 337: States that the Board of Barbers has the power to impose a maximum fine of $500.00 for each violation of subsection (a) of Code Section 43-7-23 which refers to the unlicensed training or practice of barbering. The Board may not impose a fine of more than $25.00 for the first violation, more than $75.00 for a second violation, and more than $300.00 for each subsequent violation. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill.

JUDICIARY/LAW ENFORCEMENT

HB 60: Allows for churches to “opt-in” to guns in church. Misdemeanor offense if not, charge up to $100. Allows for guns in bars and non-secured (peace officer on duty) government buildings. Expands “Stand Your Ground” to allow felons may assert the defense even with carrying an illegal weapon. Allows for authorized carrying by public school employees. Allows authorized carry in airports in portions not controlled by the TSA. Repeals state law requiring firearms dealers to obtain state licenses and maintain records of firearm sales and purchases. Revokes the governor’s authority to suspend or limit the carrying or sale of guns even in case of emergencies. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted against this bill. This bill dangerously expands the locations where vulnerable persons will be exposed to concealed weapons, unduly restricts law enforcement, creates new weapons rights for felons and imposes upon private property rights.

HB 828: Prohibits the solicitation, release, or sale of car wreck information, including the personal information of individuals involved in the accident. A first time violation of this provision is a misdemeanor, whereas subsequent violations are felonies. Status: Signed by Governor.

My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill.

HB 923/HB 704/SB 365: Removes the duty of coordinating and supervising the work of the Georgia Child Fatality Review Panel from the Child Advocate for the Protection of Children and assigns that responsibility and authority to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. HB 923 was added to the Governor's package and was ultimately attached to SB 365. Status: Signed by Governor. (as SB 365)

  • My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill.

HB 837: Allows for a probation officer, public or private, to toll a probation sentence by filing an affidavit. Also restricts access to certain records related to private probation. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted against the bill. HB 837 unfortunately permits a probation officer to state that he or she cannot locate a probationer—regardless of if the officer has made an effort to do so—and toll his or her probation immediately. A sentence should only be tolled when due process is given the probationer. Although several amendments were made to the legislation, the final version continues to grant unwarranted authority to private companies and infringes upon the due process rights of probationers.

HB 845: Bans the release of police mug shots to non-law enforcement personnel unless the person requesting them signs a sworn statement the photos will not be published on a website that charges for their removal. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill.

HEALTHCARE

HB 707: Prohibits any state or local government or agency from operating a health care exchange or navigator program allowed under the Affordable Care Act. It would make it illegal for any public employee or agency to use state resources or time to advocate for the expansion of Medicaid. Would have banned state participation, assistance, or any material support for the Affordable Care Act. Status: Did Not Pass Senate; however, a version did pass as HB 943.

  • My Vote: I voted against the bill. I opposed the bill. The legislation placed Georgians at risk of being denied access to federally qualified health centers, preventative care, and other provisions funded by the state through the Affordable Care Act, and would have exposed the state to costly litigation. The 943 version has nominal force and effect.

HB 990: Bars the Department of Community Health, the governor, or any other representative of the state from expanding Medicaid eligibility through an increase in the income threshold without prior legislative approval. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted against the bill. HB 990 removes executive authority to expand Medicaid eligibility for Georgia citizens in need; and, as a result, places more than 400,000 Georgians at risk of not obtaining health insurance. Cuts to DSH payments will also result in potential hospital closures in rural Georgia.

SB 98: Prohibits abortion coverage for state health policies and any policies purchased on the federal exchange by banning individuals from purchase of abortion coverage on the exchange, and by prohibiting coverage in cases of rape and incest. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted against the bill. SB 98 violates the ACA’s express restriction on the use of federal funds, limiting the coverage that may be provided by private companies, and limiting the scope of a woman’s privately purchased coverage.

UNEMPLOYMENT

HB 714: Denies unemployment benefits to up to 70,000 essential school workers, employed by private contractors and private schools. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted against the bill. This bill eliminate the ability for tens of thousands of privately contracted, essential school workers, such as bus drivers and lunch staff, to draw on unemployment insurance between school years. While public school system employees operate on twelve-month contracts, privately contracted employees generally operate on nine-month contracts. HB 714 would remove those individuals’ ability to care and provide for their families during the few months between school years, despite the fact that their public counterparts continue to be receive payment. Given that the wages of private contractors are subject to unemployment insurance payroll taxes, and given that their employers have paid premiums on those wages, those contractors should be insured when they are laid off in the summer months.

HB 772: Allows drug testing as a prerequisite for receiving TANF and other public assistance benefits based on a reasonable suspicion of drug use. Individuals pay for their testing, but individuals who test positive would lose their food stamp eligibility for one month upon the first offense, three months upon the second offense, and twelve months on the third offense. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted against the bill. The provisions of HB 772 require that demonstrably impoverished individuals pay for drug tests, which can be required solely based on the suspicion of an untrained DFACS worker. Additionally, the administrative costs of implementing drug testing as part of eligibility will exceed any money saved. Further, the costs of litigation and defending the statute will be excessive, resulting in a net loss for the state. As drafted, this law would apply to the more than 53,000 military families that rely on food stamps and other public benefits.

GENERAL

HB 1080: Allows for a privately-funded monument honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the grounds of the state Capitol. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill.

SB 367: Allows the President of the Atlanta City Council to serve on the Atlanta Regional Commission. Also mandates a process to fill any temporary vacancy in city or county government. Status: Signed by Governor.

  • My Vote: I voted in favor of the bill.

BILLS THAT FAILED TO PASS

  • HB 891: Would have restricted early voting in cities to only one week, versus the 21 days required under current law.
  • HB 964: Would have allowed private entities, such as businesses, and newly created cities to create state charter schools.
  • SB 350: Provided for the privatization of the state foster care program by way of a competitive bidding process.