HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVE LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS:
· HB 326 – HOPE Changes: This bill amends the HOPE scholarship and grant program in several ways: (1) HOPE will no longer cover books or fees or remedial college courses; (2) the General Assembly will annually set a percentage “factor” that will allocate the amount of the prior year’s tuition that will be covered by HOPE. For example, the factor rate for 2012 is 90%, which will not account for any tuition increases adopted for 2012; (3) those students who have or do graduate with a 3.7 GPA and either a 1200 SAT or 26 ACT will receive full tuition. The plan does not grandfather in current HOPE scholarship recipients.
House Democrats supported the legislation in exchange for restoration of $18.6 million in funding for remedial courses for technical colleges and the grandfathering in of proprietary schools currently receiving HOPE TEG support. We also received $10 – 20 million in funding for a 1% interest loan for students.
The House Democrats also negotiated for restoration of the full day of pre-K, rather than the 4 hour day proposed by the Governor. House and Senate Democrats offered additional amendments, including continued coverage of existing student scholarships and means-testing, but all amendments were rejected in the House. In the Senate, the Democrats received support for adding the valedictorian and salutatorian as automatic recipients of the full tuition scholarships. Also, home schooled students will qualify for HOPE tuition, if they have a 3.3 GPA and a 1200 SAT or 26 ACT after their first semester.
All students graduating after May 2015, must have two advanced courses, in both Math and Science. They must also have AP courses during high school or courses through IB (International Baccalaureate), Joint Enrollment or foreign language programs.
I voted in favor of the bill because the Governor honored his agreement to restore funding and to fund the loan program. He also agreed to fund a full-day Pre-K program.
· HB 78 – FY 2012 Budget: This bill adopts the FY 2012 budget. While the budget continues to restore some funding cuts, including Meals on Wheels, school nurses and other human services, it also includes severe cuts to education and health care. It underfunds enrollment growth for our K-12 schools, creates a shortfall in Medicaid funding and cuts provider payments by ½ %, which is in addition to the 1% hospital tax imposed in 2011. I voted against the bill.
· HB 200 – Human Trafficking: This bill improves expands the definition of sex trafficking and prevents those charged with human trafficking from asserting certain defenses. It also increases penalties for human trafficking and allows for the forfeiture of assets for those convicted of human trafficking. The bill decriminalizes certain sexual crimes, which allows for greater protection of minors and those forced into sexual servitude. Victims will have access to Georgia’s Victim’s Compensation Fund, and the bill provides law enforcement with training to aid victims. I voted in favor of this bill.
· HB 87 - Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011: This bill grants the authority to local police to enforce federal immigration laws and creates the ability for private citizens to sue local government for not enforcing those laws. Among the policing powers is the ability to request proof of citizenship when a person is stopped for any criminal offense, including failure to yield, failure to stop at a stop sign or any traffic offense. The concern is that it allows racial profiling. Beyond the moral implications, a similar provision has been found to have severe financial consequences for Arizona, as international tourists and several conventions have decided to boycott the state. It also compels employers to sign on to the federal E-verify program and conditions the renewal of business licenses on businesses certifying that they are enrolled in the program. The measure passed the House and is now in Senate Judiciary. I voted against the bill.
· HB 47 – Allow Unmandated Insurance Plans: Would allow health insurance companies to sell health insurance products licensed in other states. These products will not be required to cover services currently mandated under Georgia law. For example, mandates such as mammograms, hospital stays after birth and other patient-protections would not be required for these out-of-state products. This bill was introduced in 2010 and did not pass. The bill is assigned to the Health and Life Sub-committee of the House Committee on Insurance. I voted against this bill.
· HB 91 – Felon Designation on Licenses: This bill requires that driver’s licenses include a designation that a person is a felon, convicted of one of the “seven deadly sins” in Georgia. Opponents argue that the designation may lead to discrimination against persons who have been released but must use a license to secure lawful services such as rental cars, insurance or renting a hotel room. The bill passed the House. I voted against this bill.
· HB 92 - Changes to Requirements for Early Voting Passes House: This measure would shorten the early voting period from 45 days to 21 days, making the time period for voting consistent for all elections in Georgia. This legislation also requires one mandatory Saturday for voting. The House passed this legislation with strong support, marked by a vote of 148-20. This bill now moves on to the Senate. I voted in favor of this bill. Georgia voters rarely use the earliest voting days, and research shows that some seniors may vote early, prior to the more standard 21 days, and seek to change their votes once more information becomes available.
· HB 179 - Outdoor Advertising Regulation: This bill creates additional regulations for the construction, maintenance and dismantling of outdoor advertising signs, otherwise known as billboards. This legislation would permit the owner of a billboard to cut any trees or shrubbery within the line of sight from the roadway to the sign. It also directs the Department of Transportation to inventory signs that have expired permits and effectuate their removal. This legislation has been approved by House and Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature. I voted against the bill.
· HB 216 – Changes to PSC Chairmanship:This bill would allow members of the Public Service Commission to elect the chairperson with a simple majority vote, as was the practice until 1992. Currently, the practice is to rotate the chairmanship among the five members. Opponents argued that returning to the earlier practice provides the chairman and committee members with the ability to build coalitions and adversely affect constituents. The bill was defeated on a vote of 60-103. I voted against the bill.
· HB 186 – Career Pathways in Education: The bill seeks to expand the career pathway options for Georgia's High School students. Students will be allowed to to work in "career clusters" to explore technical courses while in high school. The House passed the legislation. I voted in favor of this bill.
· HB 24 - The Evidence Modernization Act: This legislation brings Georgia’s evidence rules in line with the Federal Rules of Evidence. This creates more efficiency in the practice of law as all students are taught the Federal Rules of Evidence and attorneys coming for a special appearance would have a uniform set of rules to work from. Such a move would allow for the rulings of the Federal 11th circuit to be given some legal effect in Georgia. This bill has passed the House and is in Senate Judiciary. I voted in favor of this bill.
· HB 30 - Restrictive Covenants of Trade: This legislation follows last year’s HR 178, which allows for the enforcement of non-competition agreements. HB 30 provides guidance to courts seeking to enforce non-compete agreements between business partners, executives of corporations, and franchisors, and it creates limits on the length of time and the geographic restrictions for non-compete covenants. This bill has passed the House and is in Senate Judiciary. I voted in favor of this bill.
· HB 39 - Parent Notification for Unexcused Absences: This bill will allow for school systems to provide notice of a child’s unexcused absences via first-class mail. Currently, school systems can only let parents know of their child exceeding five unexcused absences only via certified mail. This bill has passed the House and awaiting a hearing in Senate Education and Youth. I voted in favor of this bill.
· HB 237 - Residential Mortgage Fraud Enforcement: This bill gives additional powers for district attorneys to investigate and prosecute fraud that occurs in the processing of home mortgage loans. This legislation was founded on the observation that there was much fraud in the home mortgage industry during the recent financial crisis and that District Attorneys and the Attorney General lacked the power to demand the records of lenders and fully investigate such frauds on home buyers. The bill has passed the House and is now in the Senate Judiciary committee. I voted in favor of this bill.
· HB 238 - Public Defender’s Council Overhaul: This legislation gives additional authority to the director of the Public Defender’s Council and de-politicizes the public defender’s system. The director will be given more authority to develop and implement policies relating to the public defender service. The system is streamlined to allow local governments input into whom will serve as the public defender within their judicial circuits. It also shrinks the local Public Defender advisory councils from seven members to three. The bill has passed the House and is now in the Senate Judiciary committee. I voted in favor of this bill.
· HB 72 - English Only: This bill would restrict the written portion of the driver's test by prohibiting permanent residents and U.S. citizens from taking the test in any language other than English. Temporary visitors and illiterate persons would still be permitted to take the test in their native language or have it presented orally. Opponents were concerned that the restrictions did not improve public safety and would have decreased economic development. The bill was amended and then tabled by a vote of 115 - 50. I opposed the original legislation and supported the amendment. The bill was then tabled. I will vote against removing it from the table.
· HB 77 – Supplemental Budget: This bill adopted the amended budget for FY2011. Although it included some increases for education and health care, it continued severe cuts for education and human services. The bill also added $500,000 for redistricting activities; however, the legislation was unclear on the rationale or use for the funding increase. The amended budget has bee adopted and awaits the Governor’s signature. I opposed the FY2011 budget and the FY2011 amended budget.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES LEGISLATION TO WATCH:
· HB 131 – Exempt State Agencies from Pollution Fines:Would exempt state agencies from certain fines and penalties relating to environmental regulations, including control of water pollution, meeting stream buffer requirements and undertaking prohibited land-disturbing activities. The bill would also repeal the requirements regarding the preparation of an erosion and sediment control plan. I oppose this bill.
· HB 256 and HB 280 - E-911 Funding Bills: These bills legislation would provide funding for E-911. HB 256 seeks to improve the collection of prepaid cell phone fees using a point of sale collection mechanism similar to sales tax. HB 280, which was introduced this week, expands the use of E-911 funds to include the mobile communications vehicles and equipment, indirect costs for 911 system center operations and other functions. HB 256 and HB 280 are waiting for calendar placement in Rules. I support this legislation.
SENATE LEGISLATION TO WATCH:
SR 20(TABOR): Passed the Senate Finance Committee and awaits action by the Senate. The constitutional amendment would restrict state spending to a formula of population plus government inflation, similar to Colorado's TABOR, which limits the state’s ability to maintain critical services. Nearly 20 states have rejected this legislation, and Colorado has suspended enforcement since 2005. The Senate adopted this bill. I strongly oppose this legislation.
SB 63: Would direct Georgia Medicaid program to create a new Medicaid smart card that includes recipient medical information as well as fingerprint identification to be used by all enrollees. Providers would be required to verify that a patient’s identity by using a fingerprint scanner to match information from the card. The bill is currently assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. I strongly oppose this legislation.