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March 2017 Legislative Update

ABRAMS’ SPONSORED LEGISLATION

HB 330: Requires the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) of the Department of Human Services to include contact information for a regional DFCS case worker, knowledgeable in kinship care and financial assistance information, for kinship caregivers with notices during a relative search. MY VOTE: YES

HB 331: Known as 'The Caregiver Educational Consent Act', authorizes a kinship caregiver to 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 well as protects any person acting in good faith on executing a kinship caregiver's affidavit from civil liability, criminal prosecution, or professional disciplinary procedure. MY VOTE: YES

CRIMINAL/JUDICIAL

HB 9: Commonly known as "up skirting," legislation criminalizes knowingly using any device or apparatus to observe, photograph, videotape, film, or record underneath such person's clothing for the purpose of viewing intimate body parts or undergarments without the person’s consent. Also unlawful to disseminate any such image or recording. MY VOTE: YES

HB 65: Expands the list of conditions for which a patient may register with the Low THC Oil Patient Registry. HB 65 expands the list to include Tourette’s syndrome, autism, intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, human immunodeficiency virus, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome. MY VOTE: YES

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 213: Updates the Georgia Code to include the drug fentanyl alongside morphine, opium, and heroin. Individuals convicted of felony drug trafficking of fentanyl would be subjected to the same punishments as trafficking those other drugs. MY VOTE: YES

HB 258: Amends the Code regarding the aggravated assault of a peace officer by increasing the minimum sentence to ten years of imprisonment. If the aggravated assault of a peace officer involves the discharge of a firearm, none of the mandatory minimum sentence can be probated, stayed, suspended, deferred or withheld. MY VOTE: NO.
I disagree with the increase of mandatory minimums and the lack of discretion available to judges to fully determine if extenuating circumstances are present.

HB 359: Amends the Code section relating to the power of attorney between a parent and an agent for temporary authority over the parent's child. The new article shall be known as the 'Supporting and Strengthening Families Act'. A parent of a child may delegate caregiving authority for their child, not to exceed one year, by executing a power of attorney to an adult individual who meets certain qualifications. To be a qualified adult, the individual must reside in Georgia and be the great-grandparent, grandparent, stepparent, former stepparent, step-grandparent, aunt, uncle, great aunt, great uncle, cousin, sibling, or is associated with an organization licensed as a child placing agency or nonprofit in good standing with the IRS. MY VOTE: NO.   Although the bill is well-intentioned, I am concerned that it allows too many loopholes for misuse of this power of attorney form and can place minors in jeopardy.

EDUCATION

HB 37: Would prohibit any private postsecondary institution eligible for tuition equalization grants from implementing a sanctuary policy. Sanctuary policies restrict employees’ cooperation with federal and state officials or law enforcement officers reporting immigration status information. Any private postsecondary institution that refuses to cooperate may lose state funding or state-administered federal funding, which includes scholarship funds received by students of the institution. 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.

HB 51: Significantly restricts the ability of Georgia colleges and universities to respond to allegations of sexual assault on college campuses. At present, colleges and universities are required by federal law to provide an internal investigative and disciplinary process for potential violations of a school’s sexual misconduct policy. These policies may run independently or concurrently with any criminal investigation or prosecution. HB 51 would limit the ability of any university to conduct the process and protect students. HB 51 would also require university employees who have reason to believe any felony, but including sexual assault, has been committed to notify law enforcement. While a victim’s identifying information would be withheld in such a situation, this requirement increases the likelihood that rapes on campus will continue to go severely underreported. MY VOTE: NO. While I support securing due process rights for all students, this law overreaches and victimizes those who have been violated by offering superior protections to those accused of attacks.

HB 114: Amends the “Move on When Ready Act” to ensure dual-enrollment students are not penalized by local school systems for taking on the challenge of collegiate coursework while still in high school. This legislation provides that no school system can exclude a dual-enrolled student from eligibility for class valedictorian or salutatorian; however, students who move into the school system after their sophomore year must take at least one course on site at their high school to be eligible for valedictorian or salutatorian. MY VOTE: YES

HB 217: Increases the total amount of tax credits available for public funding of private school education via student scholarship organizations from $58 million in 2017 to $100 million per year beginning in 2022. MY VOTE: NO. I do not support the public funding of private education, as (1) public schools are available to all children, regardless of income; (2) private schools are permitted to discriminate in their choice of students and their approach to education and (3) our persistent underfunding of education argues against any diversion of funds.

HB 273: Amends O.C.G.A. 20-2-323 to require local boards of education to provide recess, an average of 30 minutes, for kindergarten and grades one through five beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. MY VOTE: YES

HB 280: Current version of “campus carry.” HB 280 would allow for any weapons carry license holder to concealed carry a firearm on public university campuses. Athletic areas, student housing, and fraternity and sorority houses are not covered under the proposed exception. Carrying is also prohibited on up to three on-campus pre-school spaces. MY VOTE: NO

HB 338: Allows the State School Board to hire and direct a Chief Turnaround Office responsible for intervention in low-performing schools. The CTO would be responsible for identifying low-performing schools, conducting assessments of targeted schools, hiring turnaround coaches, and recommending potential actions, up to and including restructuring of low-performing schools. Bill also creates an educational turnaround advisory committee comprised of educators, administrators, school board members and parents. 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. HB 338 further amends O.C.G.A. 20-2-54.1 relating to the removal process of local school board members upon potential loss of accreditation.    
MY VOTE: YES.
While I strongly opposed the OSD, HB 338 is an important bill that creates a path for empirical evidence of the needed supports for chronically low-performing schools. Specifically, the bill will require the collection of necessary evidence to diagnose the causes of struggling schools – like determining whether students have proper nutrition, hearing tests, and eyeglasses – needs that must be addressed before any state intervention takes place. Moreover, she noted the “Chief Turnaround Officer,” who will no longer report directly to the Governor but to the Board of Education, must hold extensive credentialing and experience in the field of public education.

FINANCE/TAXES

HB 43: Amended Fiscal Year 2017 budget, recognizes $606.2 million in additional revenue or 2.5 percent over the original Fiscal Year 2017 budget. This brings the total appropriation for Amended FY 2017 to $24.3 billion. Highlights may be found on the House Budget website: http://www.house.ga.gov/budget/enUS/default.aspx. MY VOTE: YES. I voted in favor of the amended budget because it increased supports for children facing mental illness, increased funds for law enforcement and supports public education.

HB 44: Fiscal Year 2018 budget, is set by a revenue estimate of $24.9 billion. This represents an increase of $1.25 billion, or 5.3 percent, over the FY 2017 original budget. The bill, tracking sheet and highlights may be found on the House Budget and Research Office website: http://www.house.ga.gov/budget. MY VOTE: YES. I voted in favor of the budget as it continues to restore funding to public education, increases support for social workers and adds $14.9M for kinship care families in Georgia.

HB 155: Known as the Georgia Musical Investment Act, provides for an income tax credit of 15 percent of qualified production expenditures for: musical or theatrical performances exceeding $500,000; a recorded musical performance, which is incorporated into or synchronized with a movie, television, or interactive entertainment production, exceeding $250,000; and for other recorded musical performances exceeding $100,000. MY VOTE: YES

HB 189: Known as the Contract Cancellation Act, provides that any contract the state of Georgia enters into shall include language that allows the state to cancel the contract on the basis of quality, price, or other measures in order to protect the investments of Georgia taxpayers. MY VOTE: YES

HB 329: Would eliminate Georgia’s graduated income tax structure and replace it with a 5.4 percent flat tax, regardless of income. Also proposes a modest Earned Income Tax Credit for working families, equal to 10 percent of the federal tax credit. MY VOTE: NO. While this plan will close important loopholes that penalize low-income married couples, in its current form, the legislation increases taxes on single low-income taxpayers.

HEALTH

HB 146: Requires legally organized fire departments to maintain insurance coverage for all firefighters in the department to pay claims for cancer diagnosed after a firefighter has served at the department for 12 consecutive months, beginning January 1, 2018. MY VOTE: YES

HB 198: Amends Code Section 20-2-778 by requiring school systems to include information relating to influenza and its respective vaccines if, and only if, the school system already provides information on immunizations, infectious diseases, medications, or other school health issues. MY VOTE: YES

HB 276: Restricts certain actions by Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs). PBMs are prohibited from penalizing a pharmacist for disclosing to a patient a cheaper generic option to a prescribed medication and from prohibiting pharmacies to offer store direct delivery services. It forbids PBMs from charging more in co-pays than the actual cost of the drug, as well as charging fees to pharmacies for adjudicating claims. MY VOTE: YES

LABOR

HB 243: Prevents local governments from adopting ordinances that require an employer to compensate an employee for a last-minute change in their schedule. 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 224: Amends the 'Quality Basic Education Act' to allow military students the ability to attend any school within their school system beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, where space is available. This legislation defines a "military student" as any student whose parent is a military service member who lives on or off a military base. 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

TRANSPORTATION

HB 160: Creates the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding. The purpose of this commission will be to study and assess needs for, potential methods of funding of, and means of providing a system of mass transportation and mass transportation facilities for any one or more metropolitan areas of the state, while including consideration of federal programs. 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 30,000 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.

HB 515: This bill amends the boundaries of multiple House legislative districts. Of most concern, the new map packs African-American voters from Republican HD 40 into heavily Democratic HD 53. In HD 111, the revised maps continue a process initiated in 2015 to dilute black votes by shifting voters into adjacent districts and by adding white voters to the district in 2017.      
MY VOTE: NO. Voters of color are facing increased inconvenience by repeated shifts in their districts, in order to accommodate diminished GOP voting strength. With each redrawing of the lines, voters of color are shifted to new legislators and divided from neighbors.