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2017 Legislative Wrap Up

ABRAMS’ SPONSORED LEGISLATION

SB 186: Allows students who received a high school diploma through dual enrollment to be eligible for up to 30 degree hours of the HOPE grant, provided the student meets residency requirements.

Also includes HB 331 (Abrams, DEM), which authorizes a kinship caregiver such as a grandparent to enroll a child in school and give legal consent for educational services, medical services relating to academic enrollment, and curricular and extracurricular participation. The bill provides the "Kinship Caregiver's Affidavit" form as a template. MY VOTE: YES

ALCOHOL

HB 485: Allows for the unincorporated locations within a county to produce and ship distilled spirits with a referendum or through actions by the local governing authority. MY VOTE: YES

HB 510: Removes an unconstitutional population-based statute from the Code. MY VOTE: YES

CRIMINAL/JUDICIAL

HB 86: Increases the scope of offenses for mandatory reporters of child abuse to include suspicion of a child being involved in sex trafficking for the purpose of sexual servitude. MY VOTE: YES

HB 251: Allows Department of Corrections' personnel and individuals in their custody to enter upon private property during a declared state of emergency or disaster to the extent necessary for property protection, debris removal, restoration of services, and infrastructure repair and relocation. MY VOTE: YES

SB 174: Part of Criminal Justice Reform. Provides a certification of peer review process to improve veteran court divisions, procedures, and align with the standards of other accountability courts. Allows the Board of Community Supervision to provide educational programs for probationers. Mandates a Program and Treatment Completion Certificate to be given to those probationers who successfully complete the program. Grants the ability for judges to require payments of fines, fees, or restitution as a condition of probation, which can be waived if the court finds significant hardship. Also, judges are granted the ability to provide that conditions of probation be imposed when a defendant is serving a split sentence. MY VOTE: YES

SB 175: Part of Criminal Justice Reform. Empowers juvenile court judges to issue an order restraining or otherwise controlling the conduct of the parent, guardian, or legal custodian in any proceeding involving a child in need of services or a delinquent child. Broadens and clarifies the Code regarding the placement of a child who has been found incompetent but has committed a crime, giving preference to the least restrictive setting while balancing public safety concerns. When a child has been found to be unrestoratively incompetent, the length of detention cannot exceed the period of time than is allowed if the case had been disposed of in court. MY VOTE: YES

SB 176: Part of Criminal Justice Reform. Limits the conditions under which traffic violations may lead to incarceration or bond. For example, when an individual is apprehended by an officer for non-serious traffic violations, in lieu of being incarcerated, ordered to post a bond, or ordered for an appearance for trial, the individual may display his or her license and be issued a traffic citation. If the accused fails to appear before the court, before a bench warrant is issued, the clerk of court shall notify the individual via a post card, allowing for 30 days to dispose of the matter. If the accused again fails to dispose of the matter, the clerk of court may demand suspension of the license. MY VOTE: YES

HB 452: Requires the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to post information on its website about criminal aliens being released into the state from federal custody. The information is received from Law Enforcement Notification System (LENS). SB 1 was added to this bill, and it creates the offense of domestic terrorism. Domestic terrorism is any felony offense or attempt to commit a felony intended to cause serious bodily harm, kill, or disable or destroy critical infrastructure, which is intended to intimidate the civilian population or coerce the policy of the government. Under the charge of domestic terrorism, certain underlying offenses carry stiffer penalties: murder, kidnapping, serious bodily harm or disabling or destroying critical infrastructure. Any punishment for domestic terrorism shall not be suspended, stayed, probated or differed unless, in the court's discretion and with agreement of the prosecution and the defense, the sentence is suspended, stayed, probated or differed. MY VOTE: NO.
HB 452 seeks to target immigrants and create a database that may include those convicted of minor infractions. SB 1 creates an unnecessary expansion of criminal offenses and imposes mandatory and excessive sentences. Although the legislation does include a provision allowing a judge to reduce the potential sentence, the likelihood of doing so is nominal.

HB 453: Adds the chief judge of the magistrate court as a member of the board of trustees of the county law library. MY VOTE: YES SB 104: Requires government buildings to post signage with the human trafficking hotline model notice and requires government entities to have a hyperlink located on their websites to the same model notice. In addition, the bill removes the sunset provision on the posting of said model notice. Additional legislation appended to the bill does the following (1) aligns the penalties for false insurance documents within the criminal and insurance sections of the Georgia Code by making the punishment identical felonies and adds a higher sentence for offenders and (2) adds fentanyl and fentanyl derivatives to the list of prohibited substances contained within the drug trafficking Code. A third added bill includes HB 67 (Boddie, DEM), which adds a new tier relating to the theft of a motor vehicle by adding hijacking a motor vehicle in the second degree. A person commits the offense of hijacking a motor vehicle in the second degree when the offender steals a motor vehicle in the presence of the victim without using force. The punishment is in line with burglary, where the punishment for the first offense of hijacking in the second degree is imprisonment of not less than one and no more than 20 years with a fine not to exceed $5,000. For the second offense, the punishment is imprisonment of not less than three and no more than 20 years with a fine not to exceed $5,000. For the third or subsequent offenses, the punishment is imprisonment for not less than five and no more than 20 years with a fine not to exceed $5,000. MY VOTE: NO.
While I support expanding areas where we provide aid to victims of human trafficking, I disagree with the expansion of criminal offenses and sentencing contemplated under the bills added to the underlying legislation.

SB 160: Broadens the offenses of aggravated assault on a public safety officer and aggravated battery on a peace officer. Defines "public safety officer" to include peace officers, correctional officers, emergency health workers, firefighters, highway emergency response operators, and certain officers of the court. Requires that certain portions of a sentence may not be suspended, probated, differed or otherwise reduced; however, the court may depart from such mandatory minimum sentence when the prosecuting attorney and defendant have agreed to a sentence that is below the mandatory minimum in each case. The bill creates a felony obstruction crime where a person knowingly and willfully obstructs by throwing, vomiting, etc. on a public safety officer. The bill also places juveniles between the ages of 13 to 17 who commit one of the aforementioned crimes into the Superior Court to be tried as adults. MY VOTE: NO.
I oppose the expansion of criminal offenses and heightening of sentencing for such a broad category of persons. Moreover, the language regarding “felony obstruction” could result in excessive application and the incarceration of young people and the mentally ill. Lastly, I disagree with the treatment of juveniles as adults in our justice system.

EDUCATION

HB 139: Requires the Department of Education to post certain school-level budget and expenditure information, excluding information made confidential by law, on its website. Also includes HB 148 (Glanton, DEM), which authorizes the Department of Education to create a unique identifier for students whose parent or guardian is an active-duty military service member or reserve member of the National Guard. MY VOTE: YES

HB 280: Allows licensed holders to keep their weapon on their person while in or on any building or real property owned by or leased to any technical school, vocational school, college, university, or other institution of postsecondary education. This exception does not apply to buildings or property used for athletic events or student housing, which includes sorority and fraternity houses, disciplinary hearings, faculty and staff offices, as well as special spaces where high school students take classes. The exception also excludes preschool space that is advertised on site that such preschool is designated for operations licensed or regulated under the Department of Early Learning. The division does not apply if the campus has more than three buildings designated as housing preschool space. This provision would only apply to the concealed carrying of handguns so as not to actively get the attention of others. MY VOTE: NO. This legislation places those under age 21, particularly children, high schools students and victims of sexual assault by fellow students, in grave danger. The bill fails to include any guarantee of enhanced security, and in the context of earlier legislation, public safety officers will be limited in their ability to question potential weapons holders who violate the exemption spaces.

HB 338: Creates an alternative system of supports and assistance for the lowest- performing schools that fall under the State Board of Education's intervention power. Schools performing in the lowest 5 percent, according to the statewide accountability system, are eligible for selection as a turnaround school. Interventions will include a chief turnaround officer, turnaround coaches, and Education Turnaround Advisory Committee (comprised of educators, administrators and parents), who will work together to ensure resources are targeted to increase student achievement. If the school is not improving after three school years of implementing the intensive school improvement plan, the Chief Turnaround Officer shall require that one or more of a variety of interventions be implemented at the school. However, if the school is in substantial compliance with the plan and has exhibited ongoing cooperation and collaboration, the school may be exempt from interventions. HB 338 further amends the removal process of local school board members upon potential loss of accreditation. This legislation also includes the creation of two study committees; the Joint Study Committee on the Establishment of a State Accreditation Process and the Joint Study Committee on the Establishment of a Leadership Academy. MY VOTE: YES

HR 561: Recommends that the higher education institutions of Georgia adopt the American Council on Education criteria which allows separating service members to count applicable military training and experience for academic credit toward degree requirements. MY VOTE: YES

HB 37: Prohibits any private postsecondary institution eligible for Tuition Equalization Grants (HOPE Scholarships for Georgia students attending private colleges) from implementing a sanctuary policy. Sanctuary policies include policies that would prohibit or restrict employees of postsecondary institutions from working with federal and state officials or law enforcement officers on reporting immigration status information. Any private postsecondary institution that violates this code section would be subject to the withholding of state funding or state administered federal funding. Withholding of state funds includes funding for scholarships, loans and grants for students of such private postsecondary institutions. MY VOTE: NO.
Institutions of higher learning should not be compelled to act as immigration enforcement officers for any branch of government. More concerning, if the institution violates the policy, all students would be punished. For example, if a school violates the policy, any HOPE Grant recipient could lose his or her funding, regardless of immigration status.

FINANCE/TAXES

HB 44: Adopted Fiscal Year 2018 budget of $24.9 billion. Items include salary increases for educators, state public safety officers, human services, public defenders and other state employees. MY VOTE: YES

HB 73: Creates tax credit incentives to promote the revitalization of vacant rural downtowns. MY VOTE: YES

HR 560: Creates the House Study Committee on Local Government Utility Payment Options for Customers in Need of Assistance. MY VOTE: YES

HEALTH

HR 240: Creates a Georgia House of Representatives study committee that will identify barriers to access for adequate health care particularly related to asthma, HIV, adult obesity, and low immunization rates. MY VOTE: YES

SB 16: SB 16 increases the list of conditions that are eligible for treatment with medical cannabis. The new conditions eligible include: Tourette's syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, epidermolysis bullosa, Alzheimer's disease, AIDS, and peripheral neuropathy. In addition, the bill allows for reciprocity of medical cannabis registration cards from other states, so long as the medical cannabis in the person's possession comports with the laws of Georgia and has not been present in the state for more than 45 days. MY VOTE: YES

SB 201: Requires companies with more than 25 employees and which do not offer ESOPs to allow employees to use sick leave for the care of an immediate relative, e.g., child, spouse, grandchild, grandparent, or parent or any dependents. MY VOTE: YES

SB 193: Attempts to divert women from seeking abortion services by awarding grants to certain organizations that refuse to offer said services. MY VOTE: NO

LABOR

HB 243: Prevents local governments from adopting ordinances that require an employer to compensate an employee for a last-minute changes in their schedule if made without adequate notice. This bill would prevent local governments from requiring any form of compensation for cancelled shifts, or for requiring any type of additional compensation for unexpected shifts. MY VOTE: NO

MILITARY

HB 222: Allows a member of the Georgia National Guard or a member of a reserve component of the armed forces of the United States located in Georgia to be classified as a legal resident under eligibility requirements for HOPE scholarships and grants. MY VOTE: YES

HB 245: Requires the Georgia Professional Standards Commission to implement a process allowing military spouses to qualify for temporary teaching certificates, teaching certificates by endorsement, or expedited teaching certificates when moving to Georgia. MY VOTE: YES

VOTING RIGHTS

HB 268: Seeks to void a recent federal court settlement requiring the Secretary of State to refine its voter registration process to exclude the “exact matching” process that led to the unlawful cancellation more than 34,000 voter registration applications since 2013. The bill would also require non‐partisan voter information groups and Election Protection groups providing to move their tables or booths beyond the 150 foot barrier and at least 25 feet away from voters standing in line ‐ depending upon the length and location of lines of voters throughout the course of Election Day. MY VOTE: NO
HB 268 would negatively impact reforms recently agreed to by the Secretary of State in the federal settlement of the “exact match” federal voting rights lawsuit and would likely lead to further expensive and time-consuming litigation. Furthermore, it likely violates the First Amendment, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the National Voter Registration Act.