February 7, 2014

The General Assembly, having completed its 19th legislative day today, is almost halfway through the 2014 legislative session.  They met for five days this week and will reconvene on Monday, Feb. 10, for a 4-day week.

Governor Deal has called for internal and external reviews regarding the state government’s reaction to last week’s winter weather.  The Governor has called for creation of a new statewide weather alert system, and he has appointed a task force that will draft plans to be followed during the next winter weather emergency.  The task force is headed by state COO Bart Gobeil and consists of 32 members that were appointed by the governor, including meteorologists from all four major Atlanta TV stations, school administrators, law enforcement officials and business leaders.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Hugh Thompson delivered the “State of the Judiciary” speech to a joint session of the House and Senate on Wednesday.  The Chief Justice indicated the need for more attorneys in rural parts of Georgia where low-income residents are greatly underserved.  He praised the lawyers who donate their time to assist low-income people who need legal assistance, but noted that 70% of the state’s lawyers work in the five-county metro Atlanta area and that six counties are not served by any lawyers.  He also noted that another problem is the lack of interpreters in the judicial system for non-English speaking persons.

A professor and graduate student from The Ga. Tech Research Institute offered a presentation on vehicle technology to a joint meeting of the House and Senate Science & Technology Committees. They gave an overview of current technology and the various levels of vehicle automation.  They reviewed the benefits of this technology and how the state of Georgia can benefit from it.  There is no specific legislation proposing a change in law on this subject and none is expected this legislative session; however there is a House resolution (HR 1265) calling for a study committee on autonomous vehicle technology.

In The House This Week

The House passed a DOT-sponsored bill, authored by Rep. Sam Watson, which takes care of several “housekeeping” items at DOT (HB 774).  It also allows the speed limit to be raised to 70 mph on urban interstates, however a traffic study is required before the speed limit can be raised in any given area.  There was some opposition due to another provision in the bill that would increase the size of contracts that cities and counties can enter into without seeking bids from $20,000 to $200,000.

A House Appropriation Subcommittee passed legislation that would create full tuition scholarships for technical college students who earn a minimum 3.5 GPA (HB 697).  The House Education committee passed a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment that would allow voters in cities created after 2005 to form their own school districts (HR 486).   This resolution is sponsored by Rep. Tom Taylor who represents Dunwoody.  The City of Dunwoody has expressed an interest in leaving the DeKalb County school system and establishing one of its own.

The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee held two hearings then passed the “Safe Carry Protection Act” (HB 875) which expands the number of locations where guns are allowed to include bars, churches and public buildings without security personnel.  It does not allow guns on college campuses but decriminalizes the act by making it a civil penalty with a fine rather than a criminal misdemeanor offense.

Rep. Delvis Dutton (R-Glennville) announced that he will run for the U.S. House in the 12th Congressional District.  He joins several republicans running in the GOP primary who want to unseat current Democratic Congressman John Barrow.

Special election runoffs were held on Tues., Feb. 4, for two House Districts in North Georgia.  Former Chickamauga City Council member Steve Tarvin won in District 2(NW Ga.) and Ball Ground business owner Sam Moore won in District 22 (Cherokee County).  Both winners are Republicans and they are replacing previous Republican House members.

In The Senate This Week

Most important in the Senate this week was passage of their version of the $20.2B amended FY ’14 budget.  Also known as the supplemental budget, the House will either agree to the Senate version, or it will go to a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions.  There are not many variances between the two versions, so the conference committee may not take much time to come to an agreement.

The Senate voted along party lines to pass a resolution calling for an “Article V” convention to amend the U.S. Constitution in order to reduce the federal government’s powers and impose term limits on members of Congress (SR 736).  However, it is doubtful this would transpire because two-thirds of the states would have to call for the convention in order for it to occur.  Sen. Cecil Staton, who authored this resolution, has announced he will not run for a sixth term in this year’s elections.

The Senate passed a bill to establish a Maternal Mortality Review Committee (SB 273) and passed two bills intended to assist older Georgians: creation of an Adult and Aging Services Agency (SB 291) and creation of an Alzheimer Disease Registry (SB 292).  Sen. Dean Burke, a Bainbridge physician, authored SB 273 because he reported that “Georgia has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the United States.”  The Ga. Department of Public Health would house both the Maternal Mortality Review Committee and the Alzheimer Disease Registry.

The Senate passed Senator Ross Tolleson’s legislation regarding development of Jekyll Island (SB 296).  It is identical to HB 715 that the House passed last Friday.  These bills are supported by environmentalists and the Jekyll Island Authority.

In response to a few high profile cases of expressly egregious child abuse cases and the failings of DFCS to protect these children, legislation was introduced that would privatize the functions of DFCS (Dept. of Family and Children’s Services).  Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer and Health and Human Services Chair Renee Unterman are co-sponsoring this bill that would require bidding out child welfare services through contracts with community-based providers (SB 350).

The full text of all bills can be found on the state’s legislative web site: www.legis.ga.gov.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us about any issue or any legislation.

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