By Pam O'Dell,
The Georgia State House heard forty-one bills within twelve hours last Thursday. Ending at 9:31 pm, the infamous “Cross-over Day” (the 30th day of the legislative session and the last day in which a bill must pass either chamber or die) went two and a half hours short of its constitutional limit of midnight. With only ten more legislative days ahead, we have some idea of what may be permanent policy changes for the year with a couple of caveats: Bills that ‘died’ are often resurrected upon being amended to a ‘live’ bill and, bills are often ‘gutted’ in order to provide a ‘vehicle’ for another bill that failed to pass on time (thereby losing their intended value).
Safe Carry Protection Act: HB 512- Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper (117-56)
Picken’s hometown boy worked hard on what may be the gun bill of the year. The Georgia Carry bill does away with prohibitions against licensed gun owners carrying firearms in churches, bars, unsecured government buildings and some areas of college campuses. Another- NRA-backed- bill passed the Senate but ‘the talk in the hall’ (of the capitol) is that the Senate version will probably be incorporated into the House bill (letting all know who has more political clout at the capitol among the gun-rights groups).
Comprehensive Ethics Reform: HB 172- David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge (164 - 4)
House Speaker Ralston responded to the Senate’s version of ethics reform ( a change of Senate Rules-not a proposed change in law) telling the Atlanta Journal Constitution it was a “gimmick cloaked as reform” A final version which passed the House, restricts lobbyists gifts and allows citizen advocates to visit the capitol without having to register. As the bill heads to the Senate, one might wonder if the Speaker’s bill might be relegated to a dark corner as punishment for his comments- or whether it was his intention all along to plant seeds of dissent (causing the bill to fall victim of political back lash) while silencing the tea parties, and that pesky transparency advocate: William Perry of Common Cause.
Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act : HB 123- Ed Lindsey, R- Atlanta (97-43)
A “Parent –Trigger “ bill, this legislation would allow groups of parents to petition their school board in order to change an allegedly non-performing public school into a charter school. It was largely favored by legislators from urban and Republican districts and opposed by those from rural or Democrat districts. Lindsey, who serves as the House Majority Whip, wielded the necessary political power to get the bill passed- but not without a great deal of controversy.
Boating Safety Act: – SB 136- Butch Miller, R- Gainesville (57-0)
Named the Kyle Glover Boat Education Law, the Act makes comprehensive changes to Georgia’s Boating laws largely as a result of the tragedy on Lake Lanier in which an alcohol- impaired boater hit a pontoon boat killing two boys. The bill changes the Boating under the influence (BUI) limit from 0.10 to 0.08. It has the Governor’s support and is expected to pass the House by a large margin.
The Georgia Tourism Development Act: HB 318- Ron Stephens, R-Savannah (148-19)
This bill passed the House largely along political lines. It makes several changes to the Act that was passed in 2011 allowing the state to rebate sales tax funds collected by approved tourist attractions in order to fund up to twenty-five percent of construction costs. Notably, final project approval authority was changed in the new bill and given to the Commissioners of Economic Development and Community Affairs instead of the Governor (an insubstantial change given that both departments are within his adminstrion).
Juvenile Justice Reform: HB 242-Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs (171-0)
The Governor’s effort to save taxpayer dollars and provide delinquent children with more localized, rehabilitative-centered care resulted in a comprehensive bill which essentially re-writes much of the juvenile code. Child advocates have been working for some provisions within the bill for over five years. The bill was carried by the Judiciary Chairman and represents a great deal of work by the Governor’s Special Council on Justice Reform.
Private School Scholarship: SB 243- Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton (54-0)
Sponsored by the Governor’s floor leader, SB243 addresses a controversial school tax –credit program that benefits private schools. The program allows tax payers to take a state tax credit if they donate to a private school. Initiated in 2008 with a bill sponsored by Representative Earl Erhart, R-Powder Springs, the program was capped at 50 million. Erhart expressed an intention to expand the cap but it was met with significant opposition.