March 15, 2013

Capitol Partners

Public Affairs & Government Relations

David Stover (R-Newnan) was sworn in on Monday to represent House District 71, which filled the last open seat in the Georgia General Assembly.

In the House, much of the early part of the week was spent in partisan battling over local legislation.  In particular, a house bill (HB 541) that calls for a constitutional amendment to increase the homestead exemption from $30,000 to $60,000.  Even though this bill pertains only to Fulton County, a Yes vote was required by two-thirds of the House in order for it to pass because it is a constitutional amendment. There are 180 members, so 120 votes are needed for passage.  It is customary for local bills to be voted on as a block.  In the first vote, it failed to pass by one vote. The House was split along party lines with Democrats opposing and Republicans supporting HB 541. Using various parliamentary procedures, the Majority Whip managed to get the entire block of bills reconsidered then tabled. After a couple of days that saw a hold on all local legislation, along with talk of foreboding consequences, another vote was taken and two Democrats who wanted their own homestead exemption bill to pass, voted Yes on the block of local legislation that contained HB 541.  Their votes, along with the Yes vote of Speaker Ralston and all of the Republicans who were in attendance on Wednesday, made the 120 votes needed for passage. They then passed remaining local legislation that had been on hold for two days.

On Tuesday, the House passed its version of the FY 2014 budget.  This $19.8B budget that begins its fiscal year on July 1 includes $512M, or 2.6%, more than the amended FY ’13 budget.  The budget includes a $236M increase for K-12 public school enrollment and expands the pre-K program from 170 to 180 days per year, a $174M increase to the Dept. of Community Health to administer Medicaid and state employee health insurance programs, and $50M for the state’s contribution in dredging the Savannah River harbor.  All budget documents can be found at the House Budget and Research Office site.

The juvenile justice (HB 242) and criminal justice (HB 349) reform bills supported by Governor Deal were passed out of their Senate Judiciary committees this week and will be available for a full Senate vote next week. Both bills would save the state a significant amount of taxpayer money by diverting non-violent offenders away from the prison system and into lower cost, community-based treatment programs.

After lengthy debate and a vote that almost outlawed video gaming machines, the Senate passed Governor Deal’s proposal to require registration of all these machines that are often found in bars and convenience stores (HB 487). This bill makes it easier for the GBI to investigate these gaming operations and transfers the regulation to the Ga. Lottery Corp. which ensures that the HOPE program will benefit from the profits of these gaming operations.

Also this week, the Senate passed legislation that affects all Georgia drivers: HB 254 allows drivers to present proof of auto insurance in electronic format on their cell phones rather than have a paper insurance card. This bill has passed both houses and awaits the Governor’s signature.

In political news, while U.S. Representative Phil Gingrey has not formally announced his intention to run for retiring U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss’ seat, he is currently hiring firms to do statewide campaign work. Also, state Senator Bill Cowsert is making overtures that he will run for the U.S. House in Congressional District 10, currently held by U.S. Rep. Paul Broun who has announced that he is running for Senator Chambliss’ seat.

An adjournment resolution was passed setting the calendar for the remaining six legislative days.  The General Assembly will be in session Wednesday through Friday next week, then Monday, Tuesday and Thursday the following week. If they are able to maintain this schedule, Day 40 will be on March 28.  We have completed 34 of 40 days for this session.


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