January 17, 2014

The Georgia General Assembly convened January 13 with the Speaker of the House and the Lt. Governor each banging their gavels shortly after 10:00 a.m. On this first day, both House and Senate recognized their newly elected members, passed resolutions and allowed “points of personal privilege” before adjourning.  The passed resolutions include an invitation to the Ga. Supreme Court’s Chief Justice to report on the State of the Judiciary on February 5 and an adjournment resolution that sets their schedule through January 25.  The General Assembly met five days this week, and they will convene Tuesday through Friday next week.  They will be in recess on Monday, January 20, in observance of MLK Day.

Governor Deal gave his State of the State address on Wednesday, unveiling his $20.8B budget for fiscal year 2015 and declaring “The State of our State is Excellent…” He focused on the state’s improving economy and noted that our unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in five years. He vowed to continue fighting the expansion of Medicaid coverage in Ga. because the expansion would require tax increases in order to pay for it. Some highlights on education in his budget are an increase of $547M for K-12 public education, the largest increase in K-12 spending in seven years, and $44.8M for internet connections in all of Georgia’s K-12 public schools. For technical college students, he has proposed expansion of HOPE grants to cover four additional areas of training for which workers are needed and $10M for a 1% interest loan program.  He has requested an additional $35M, for a total state commitment of $266M, to deepen the Port of Savannah and said he is ready to start work on that project this year.  He also touted the criminal justice and juvenile justice reforms that he supported the last couple of years and said he is now focused on the “third leg” of reform that will lower recidivism rates through reentry and reform efforts. The FY 2015 and the amended FY 2014 budgets can be found on the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget web site.

With a vote of 38-15, split along party lines, the Senate passed a bill (HB 310) that moves the primary state election date to May 20 and sets qualifying for state elections for the week of March 3.  May 20 is the date that Speaker Ralston, Lt. Governor Cagle, and the federal judge have agreed upon for federal primary elections for U.S. House and Senate seats. The House passed HB 310 last session, so they only needed to agree to changes made in the Senate, which they did Friday morning with an almost unanimous vote of 159-1.  It now goes to Governor Deal for his signature.

The House paid tribute this week to two Representatives who died this past year: Calvin Hill (R-Canton) and Quincy Murphy (D-August).

While the issue of allowing guns in places where they are currently banned, specifically churches and college campuses, was generating a lot of talk from legislators, they are now considering drafting a new bill rather than passing one of the bills that was carried over from last session.  The new legislation would give flexibility by allowing an “opt in” for churches and colleges who wanted to allow guns on their premises but they would not be required to allow it.  There was a statewide poll in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Sunday, January 12, that indicates strong opposition to allowing guns in church (72%) and on campuses (78%).  As reported in the AJC, this opposition remained consistent among voters: urban and rural, conservative and liberal.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee held several meetings over the interim on medical malpractice legislation (SB 141).  It has been reported that this bill, which is opposed by both the Medical Association of Ga. and the Ga. Trial Lawyers, does not have enough votes to get out of committee.

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