HB 744 – FY 2015 Budget

Sponsor: Speaker David Ralston (HD-7)

HB 744 funds state operations from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015 at a spending level of $20.8 billion.  Three segments of the budget account for nearly 86% of total spending; Education (54.1%), Health and Human Services (23.1%), and Public Safety (8.4%).

The FY 2015 Budget demonstrates Georgia’s commitment to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars.  A few specific elements of spending include:

  • The FY15 budget represents the largest single education funding increase in seven years with 72% of the $916 million in new revenue dedicated to K-12 and higher education.  The General Assembly understands that – in the wake of the devastating financial crisis of 2008 – the smartest investment our state can make is in education.
  • $166.2 million to fully fund Quality Basic Education (QBE) enrollment growth of 1.25% for 21,074 students, as well as training and experience for teachers
  • $12.2 million for the HOPE Grant to provide full tuition assistance for technical college students who maintain at least a 3.5 GPA and for strategic industries workforce development grants
  • An additional $1 million for the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission to enhance trauma services available statewide
  • $250K to the Department of Public Health for early detection and diagnosis of autism in children
  • $240,000 for training of early autism intervention providers to support families receiving early intervention services
  • The budget also provides for coverage of the treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) effective January 1, 2015 for members of the State Health Benefit Plan

HB 60 – GA Right to Carry Act

Sponsor: Doug Holt (HD-112)

This legislation’s primary focus is to expand the Second Amendment rights of individuals with regard to Concealed Carry Permits.  It also reforms the legal framework for those individuals found to be carrying a weapon in an unauthorized location, increases choice with regards to allowing firearms in certain locations, and grants hunters the freedom to utilize certain equipment.  Permit holders would now be allowed to carry weapons in bars and churches—subject to the approval of the property owner—as well as in government buildings without active security screening.  It gives local Boards of Education discretion in choosing whether to arm personnel at schools although such personnel would be required to complete firearms training.  The bill also includes language in honor of former Representative Bobby Franklin to prohibit the Governor from confiscating firearms or denying a person the right to possess a weapon during a State of Emergency.

HB 943 – Georgia Healthcare Freedom Act (originally HB 707)

This bill firmly establishes that neither the State of Georgia nor any of its departments will use money or human resources to advance the voluntary expansion of the state’s eligibility for medical assistance in furtherance of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).   The measure also prohibits the State of Georgia from creating an insurance exchange in compliance with the ACA.

HB 990 – Medicaid Expansion Limitations

Sponsor: Rep. Jan Jones (HD-47)

This bill prohibits any department, board, or representative of the State from expanding the eligibility requirements for Medicaid without legislative approval.  Without this important protection in place any future Governor could unilaterally commit the state to billions of dollars in Medicaid expansion costs without going through the legislature.  This is simply unacceptable given our commitment to responsible and balanced budgets.

SR 415 – Income Tax Freeze

This resolution proposes an amendment to the Georgia Constitution to be voted on in the 2013 General Election which would cap the state’s top marginal income tax rate at 6 percent if approved by the voters.

HB 128 – Georgia Downtown Renaissance Fund Act

Sponsor: Rep. Allen Peake (HD-141)

This bill establishes the Georgia Downtown Renaissance Fund within the Department of Community Affairs to provide local governments, downtown development authorities, and other organizations with financing to encourage economic and small business development, public improvements, and historic preservation projects.  This legislation demonstrates Georgia’s commitment to supporting not only local economic development initiatives but also small businesses, many of which are concentrated in downtown areas, by offering low-interest loans for downtown businesses.

HB 176 – Mobile Broadband Bill

Sponsor: Rep. Don Parsons (HD-44)

The “Mobile Broadband Infrastructure Leads to Development (BILD) Act” will allow previously approved wireless support structures and wireless facilities to be modified or collocated without additional zoning or land use review as long as the proposed modifications do not substantially change the size of the existing structures.  Requirements by the local governing authority for the issuance of building and/or electrical permits remain.  The bill also provides time limitations for review of new wireless facility applications as well as caps for application fees charged by local governing authorities.  These measures streamline the permitting process to ensure that Georgians – both in urban and rural areas – have greater access to wireless communications.

HB 251 – Alternative Nicotine Products

Sponsor: Rep. Alan Powell (HD-32)

This legislation prohibits the sale of alternative nicotine products (defined as noncombustible products containing nicotine) as well as vapor products (defined as containing a heating element, power source, etc that produces a vapor from nicotine) to minors.  No matter the form, nicotine is a highly addictive stimulant and this measure provides that the sale of these products will be regulated in the manner in which tobacco products are regulated.

HB 264 & 265 – MARTA Bills

Sponsor: Rep. Mike Jacobs (HD-80)

These bills cover several different facets of MARTA’s operations including board membership, streamlined resolution of collective bargaining agreements, and a relaxation of restrictions placed on the dedicated sales and use tax.  Beginning in 2016, the MARTA Board will have two members that are selected by a caucus of mayors from the cities that govern North Fulton County. The manager of MARTA is also given greater flexibility to issue contracts that are valued below $200K.  The 50/50 restriction calls for MARTA expenditures to be made equally between capital and operational items.  This restriction on the “MARTA penny” is suspended for three years, until 2017.

HB 348 – Alternative Fuel Vehicle Tax Credit

Sponsor: Rep. Don Parsons (HD-440)

This legislation would provide a tax credit for both medium-duty and heavy-duty alternative fuel vehicles (defined as those operating on electricity, liquid petroleum, natural gas, or hydrogen) to encourage vehicle fleet owners to convert their fleets to alternative fuel vehicles.  The tax credit is limited to $2.5 million each year beginning in 2016 and ending in 2017.

HB 697 – Establishing the Zell Miller Grant

Sponsor: Stacey Evans (HD-42)

This legislation expands the Zell Miller Scholar designation to the HOPE Grant program for technical college students. The Zell Miller Grant Scholar is awarded the difference between the HOPE grant amount and the current academic year’s tuition. Eligibility is determined on a semester or quarterly basis.  Expanding the Zell Miller Scholar program to our technical schools is a clear statement the cost of higher education should not be a barrier to success both for traditional and non-traditional Georgia students.

HB 772 – Drug Testing for TANF

Sponsor: Rep. Greg Morris (HD-156)

This bill requires food stamp and welfare (TANF) recipients to undergo drug testing when there is reasonable suspicion that recipients are using an illegal drug. Reasonable suspicion is defined as (but not limited to) the applicant’s demeanor, missed appointments, police records, and termination from previous employment due to illicit drug use.  Should an applicant test positive for the first time, they would be ineligible for food stamps for one month. Upon the second and third violations, the applicant would be ineligible for 3 months and then a year, respectively.  This legislation provides protections for children to exempt them from drug testing and to maintain their eligibility for food stamps in the event their parents are deemed ineligible due to drug use.  It also requires that EBT cards have a photograph of one or more members of a household eligible for food stamps.

HB 786 – Nonresident Infant Lifetime Sportsman’s License Act

Sponsor: Rep. David Knight (HD-130)

Currently, lifetime sportsman licenses (hunting and fishing) are only available to children of Georgia residents and certain grandchildren.  This bill expands the availability of those licenses.  It allows purchase of a Type I Lifetime Sportsman’s License for any children less than two years of age, no matter the residency of the child or parents.  This change will provide a positive economic impact for fish and wildlife management as well as simplify the process of obtaining a license.

HB 788 – Board of Regent’s Public-Private Partnership for University System Owned Facilities

Sponsor: Rep. Lynne Riley (HD-50)

This bill maintains a real property ad valorem exemption for properties held in title by the Board of Regents of Georgia but leased to a third party for purposes of operating such properties.  This measure will allow universities the ability to outsource management of student dormitories and parking lots.  The bill also requires the Regents to engage in an open bid process when outsourcing the management of these facilities.  This measure will cut costs, shift primary liability off the University System and reduce debt service.

HB 804 – Remote Testimony Update

Sponsor: Rep. Edward Lindsey (HD-54)

This bill is intended to promote new technologies that impact the conduct of trial proceedings, specifically to allow for children (defined as under 17 years of age) to provide testimony without having to face the accused.  Under this bill the remote testimony can be ordered by the judge after taking into consideration certain factors that weigh the rights of the child and the child’s psychological well-being against the rights of the accused and their 6th Amendment right to face their accuser.

HB 826 – Hazardous Items in School

Sponsor: Rep. Ed Setzler (HD-35)

The bill provides flexibility to school authorities to modify student expulsions if a student is found to be in possession of a firearm or dangerous or hazardous item at school.  This removes the mandatory “zero-tolerance” policy for children caught with such items so school officials exercise reason and common sense in situations where a student innocently or accidently carries such an item onto school grounds.

HB 837 – Probation Services

Sponsor: Rep. Mark Hamilton (HD-24)

This legislation clarifies the powers and duties of certain powers granted to a judge in the carrying out of probations.  It states that these judges have the authority to use county and municipal probation officers and private probation services to supervise misdemeanor and ordinance offenders.  Currently there is some question as to whether these courts have the ability to “toll” probation sentences, which means that the judges have the ability to “stop the clock” on a probationer’s sentence when the person on probation has violated a provision of their probation.  The sentence is “tolled” until the violation is corrected and then begun again.  This bill establishes that county and municipal court judges, and superior court judges, have the same authority when managing misdemeanor probationers.  The bill also clearly establishes the responsibilities of the person who is on probation for a misdemeanor offense.

HB 863 – Animal Cruelty Explanation Act

Sponsor: Rep. Rich Golick (HD-40)

This bill clarifies offenses involving animal cruelty by expanding the meaning of what constitutes “animal cruelty” and adds new activity which qualifies as “aggravated cruelty to animals.”  The bill also elevates a conviction of “aggravated cruelty to animals” to a felony.  Finally, the bill provides for circumstances that justify injuring or killing an animal.

HB 898 – Interstate Compact for Juveniles

Sponsor: Rep. B.J. Pak (HD-108)

This bill enacts a new “Interstate Compact for Juveniles.”  This compact between the states is to establish the proper supervision and return of juveniles that have absconded, escaped, or run away from supervision and control.  This measure ensures GA will be able to cooperatively share resources with other states in the effort to efficiently administer juvenile justice.

HB 915 – Security for Minors Regarding Identity Theft

Sponsor: Rep. Josh Clark (HD-98)

This bill provides guidance to consumer credit reporting agencies regarding requests for security freezes on minors’ (defined as persons under age 16) credit information in the case of identity theft. Specifically, it classifies minors as “protected consumers” and stipulates the requirements and steps necessary to freeze and unfreeze a minor’s credit information.  This legislation better enables both parents and guardians to protect their children’s identities from fraudulent use through the security freeze process.

HB 965 – 911 Medical Amnesty Law

Sponsor: Rep. Sharon Cooper (HD-43)

This legislation provides immunity for individuals who, in good faith, seek medical assistance for either themselves or another person believed to be experiencing a drug overdose. These so-called “good Samaritans” cannot be arrested, charged, or prosecuted if the evidence for the arrest results solely from them seeking such medical assistance.  This bill recognizes that no individual should have to choose between going to jail and saving a life.

HB 958 – Entertainment Industry Tax Credit & Sales Tax Holiday for School Shopping

Sponsor: Rep. Chad Nimmer (HD-178)

This legislation renews the $25 million dollar tax credit for qualified interactive video game production.  Certain thresholds must be met by the companies applying for the credit such as a Georgia employee payroll of $500K and total gross sales of $100 million.  The intention behind these qualifiers is so that the credit is utilized as intended, by legitimate companies.  The legislation also renews the back to school and energy star sales tax exemptions for two more years.

HB 998 – Physician’s Workforce Board Scholarship Board

Sponsor: Rep. Matt Hatchett (HD-150)

This bill revises the powers of the Georgia Board for Physician Workforce (GBPW) as it relates to medical student loans and scholarships.  The GBPW offers service cancelable scholarships to medical students who agree to practice in an area underserved by primary care physicians. Currently, primary care physicians specializing in OB/GYN and General Surgery hare having difficulty finding practice locations in qualifying counties due to hospital closures.  This bill allows the GBPW – with approval of both the Commissioner of the Department of Community Health and the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health – to place physicians in regional areas of the state composed of rural counties where an unmet need for these specialties exist.

HB 1080 – Martin Luther King Monument

Sponsor: Rep. Calvin Smyre (HD-135)

This bill allows for a privately funded statue of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. to be placed on the Capitol grounds of the State Capitol building or in another prominent place.  The statue shall be placed as soon as practicable.

SB 65 – Licensed Professional Counselors

Sponsor: Senator Renee Unterman (SD-45)

This bill allows licensed professional counselors to admit a person for involuntary emergency evaluation of mental illness.  It also allows licensed professional counselors to admit a person for involuntary treatment for alcohol or drug abuse.  It contains a two year sunset provision.

SB 98 – Federal Abortion Mandate Opt-out Act

Sponsor: Senator Judson Hill (SD-32)

This bill addresses the Affordable Care Act as it relates to exchanges and excludes from coverage an elective termination of pregnancy.  It also codifies a funding decision made by the Department of Community Health Board last Fall that provided that the State Health Benefit Plan will not cover elective abortions.  The language in this bill reflects the current plan as it is being administered.

SB 213 – Flint River Drought Protection Act

Sponsor: Senator Ross Tolleson (SD-20)

This bill authorizes – during periods of drought – the Environmental Protection Division to augment flows in the Flint River Basin and to restrict large water withdrawal permit holders from withdrawing any of the supplemental water resulting from the augmentation.  The measure establishes notice and appeal rights for any permit holder impacted by EPD exercising this authority.  The bill also clearly defines which parts of the Flint are subject to these new provisions and that such augmentation projects shall only be for protecting threatened species.  This legislation also establishes new irrigation system efficiency standards.

SB 273 – Georgia Maternal Mortality Review Act

Sponsor: Senator Dean Burke (SD-11)

According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), Georgia has ranked 50th or near 50th for many years in maternal mortality – a metric that measures the number of mothers who die during pregnancy or within a year of giving birth. To address this problem, this legislation codifies the Georgia Maternal Mortality Review Committee within the Department of Public Health and charges the committee with identifying trends in maternal mortality across Georgia in order to generate reports and recommendations for improving maternal mortality rates.

SB 281 – Health Savings Account for SHBP

Sponsor: Senator Judson Hill (SD-32)

This bill requires the State Health Benefit Plan to offer a high deductible plan that includes a health savings account.  The bill only mandates a plan be offered, not that the plan be utilized.

SB 288 – Release of Financial Statements for Athletic Associations

Sponsor: Senator Charlie Bethel (SD-54)

This bill requires any high school athletic association that provides organization, sanction, schedule, or rules for interscholastic athletic events to publish an annual financial report containing the entity’s assets, liabilities, income and expenses.  Additionally, it creates the Joint High School Athletics Overview Committee as a committee of the General Assembly which will monitor these organizations.

SB 296 – Jekyll Island Development Act

Sponsor: Senator Ross Tolleson (SD-20)

This bill provides for changes on behalf of the Jekyll Island – State Park Authority to govern development of Jekyll Island.  The changes allow the Authority to convert no more than 1,675 acres of the total land area of Jekyll Island into developed land. The 1,597 acres of Jekyll Island that has been subdivided, leased, or improved according to the 2013 master plan as of January 1, 2014, is deemed as already converted to developed land. The bill establishes the ways in which the undeveloped land shall be converted; expansion of existing campgrounds, expansion of public health, safety, or recreation areas, and finally a specific portion of land (20 acres) will be allowed for unrestricted development.

SB 320 – Establishing a Veteran’s Court Division

Sponsor: Senator Ed Harbison (SD-15)

This legislation establishes a Veterans Court Division specializing in the treatment of defendants who are veterans in order to ensure their successful reentry into society.  Veterans Courts would operate veterans’ treatment programs that include judicial supervision and drug and mental health testing to rehabilitate veterans based on their unique needs.  Veterans who complete such programs would be eligible to have their sentence reduced.

SB 349 – Community Service Boards Governing Act

Sponsor: Senator Charlie Bethel (SD-54)

This bill amends the powers and duties of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to establish governing boards to oversee community service boards (CSBs) and revises the powers and duties of CSBs so that the boards can work collaboratively, and across regional lines, for the best interests of the patient.

SB 358 – Missing Children Information

Sponsor: Senator John Albers (SD-56)

This bill adds caretakers and governmental units responsible for foster children to the list of individuals authorized to file a police report for missing children. Currently, only the parents and guardians of children have the ability to file such a report. This allows for the timelier reporting of missing foster children.

SB 364 – Juvenile Justice Reform Clarification

Sponsor: Senator Jesse Stone (SD-23)

This bill represents the third phase of Criminal Justice Reform measures recommended by the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform involving Georgia’s adult and juvenile correction systems.  This bill acts primarily as a clean-up to previous Juvenile Justice Reform measures.   It clarifies exclusive original jurisdiction, requires a guardian ad litem in a termination of parental rights proceeding, and protects biological fathers through enhanced notification procedures.  The bill clarifies the timing of continued custody hearings and when the court shall inform the parties of the hearing.  The bill also clarifies when a bench warrant may be issued requiring a child’s presence and what facilities may be included to give credit for time served

SB 365 – Offender Reentry Reforms

Sponsor: Senator Jesse Stone (SD-23)

This bill is also part of the Council on Criminal Justice Reform’s recommended measures.  It primarily concentrates on offender reentry, the process of transitioning from prison or detention life to reintegration back into the community.  It clarifies what a judge should consider in a disposition hearing and concentrates on delinquency proceedings.  It mandates that the Dept. of Juvenile Justice must establish a written permanency plan to ensure that a child is reunited with his or her family or ensure that such child quickly attains a substitute long-term home when return to such child’s family is not possible or is not in such child’s best interests.  It also provides presiding judges discretion with mental health and drug courts to order DDS to restore a defendant’s driver’s license.

SB 382 – Retail Refund Fraud

Sponsor: Senator Jeff Mullis (SD-53)

This bill makes illegal the practice of using a false name or address for the purpose of obtaining or attempting to obtain and return goods in order to gain store credit.  It also makes illegal the practice of using a driver’s license not issued to such person, a driver’s license with false information, an ID of false information, or an altered ID card, to attempt to obtain a refund from a retail establishment. This measure helps retail stores better police this activity known as “refund fraud,” which cost the retail industry an estimated $8 billion last year.

SB 391 – TRICARE Update

Sponsor: Senator Don Balfour (SD-9)

TRICARE is the U.S. Dept. of Defense Military health system providing health benefits to military veterans.  This bill urges each medical facility in Georgia to make good faith applications to be a certified provider of the TRICARE program no later than July 1, 2015.  The facility is responsible for submitting reports to the commissioner of public health detailing their efforts to join the program; however the bill clearly states that it does not require facilities to participate in the TRICARE program.  The bill also includes a tax credit for physicians that serve as a community based faculty physicians.

Article V Bills – HB 794, SB 206, SR 371, SR 736

These various bills address and call for a Constitutional Convention of the States to amend the U.S. Constitution. The purposes of such a Convention would be to address the ballooning federal debt as well as other areas of federal overreach.  Given that our national debt now exceeds $17 trillion, the Georgia House of Representatives felt it was necessary to make a clear statement in support of fiscal responsibility in government.  Unlike the federal government, Georgia is constitutionally mandated to pass a balanced budget every year.  However, our state’s fiscal restraint cannot protect our citizens from the danger posed by our federal debt. Currently, every American citizen owns a $54,518 share of the federal debt—this number rises to $150,095 when attributed to the debt per taxpayer.  These numbers are staggering, and it is long past due that our national leaders make the difficult decisions required to protect the American Dream for our children.

Study Committees

The House passed numerous resolutions creating study committees.  A study committee on autonomous vehicle technology (HR 1265) will examine possible actions the state can take to promote autonomous vehicles.  Additionally, a study committee on compensating wrongfully accused persons (HR 1332) will seek to find the best means of compensating wrongfully convicted persons fully and fairly.  A joint study committee on critical transportation infrastructure funding (HR 1573) will study transportation issues in Georgia to determine funding mechanisms for road transportation projects.  Moreover, a study committee on Georgia-based film and post-production (HR 1601) will provide reports on future opportunities and expansion of the Georgia film and post-production industries.  Furthermore, a House study committee on medical education (HR 1722) will generate information needed to advance medical education within the state and to retain Georgia-educated physicians.  A study committee on licensing and inspection of child welfare providers (HR 1723) will generate a comprehensive review of Georgia’s existing licensing and placement processes for public and private child welfare providers.  A joint study committee on the Georgia Legacy Program (SR 896) will examine funding options to acquire critical areas for clean outdoor recreation.