February 28, 2014

The legislature met for three days this week and has now completed 29 out of 40 legislative days.  They will reconvene on Monday, March 3, for the 30th legislative day.  This is also known as “cross-over” day because a bill must have passed the chamber in which it was introduced and crossed to the other chamber in order to be considered for this session. If a bill fails to make it through its house of origination by the 30th day, it could only survive if it were amended onto another bill which had already passed.

This week, the House and Senate agreed on a midyear $20.2B budget that runs through June 30.  In this amended FY 2014 budget there is $300M in new spending, including $130M for increases in public school enrollment, $58M for changes in the State Health Benefits Plan to appease teachers and state employees who protested higher out of pocket costs with the state’s new healthcare plan, and $5.5M to help replenish the emergency fund that was used to pay for road treating and clearing and other services from the ice and snow storms we experienced a few weeks ago.  The budget now goes to Governor Deal for his signature.

A constitutional amendment was introduced in the Senate that declares English to be the official language of Georgia and prohibits any requirement that a “language other than English be used in any documents, regulations, orders, transactions, proceedings, meetings, programs, or publications” (SR 1031).  This resolution has been assigned to the Senate Rules committee.  A constitutional amendment that passed the Senate this week calls for a six percent cap on the state’s top income tax rate (SR 415).  Sen. David Shafer, sponsor of SR 415, referenced the income tax rates of other southern states and noted that our income tax rate puts us at a competitive disadvantage and that he would like to see it phased out.  Should they pass both houses, these constitutional amendments would be on the November ballot for voter consideration.

In the House, a constitutional amendment was passed that would allow the state’s University System to contract with private businesses to operate dorms and parking decks and pass along the universities’ property tax breaks to these private businesses (HB 788).  The Board of Regents requested the bill in an effort to unburden the University System’s debt load related to campus construction projects.  Some legislators expressed concern that contracting out these operations would increase costs to students.  If the Senate also passes this bill, it will be on the November ballot along with other approved constitutional amendments.

The House passed what has been referred to as “e-discovery” legislation which reflects federal rules and creates a judicial process for managing electronic discovery requests (HB 643).  This bill, which has been supported by business groups, aims to stop expensive searches that are not necessary.

After seeming to hit a dead end, the House Health and Human Services committee unanimously passed the medical marijuana bill (HB 885) that could provide relief for sufferers of seizure disorders.  Under this bill, five universities in Georgia could opt to cultivate and synthesize marijuana into the CBD derivative that is used to treat seizures.  The treatment is limited in scope and must be administered with doctor supervision.  While many families have expressed anecdotal success with this treatment, Chairwoman Sharon Cooper noted that it is not FDA approved in the U.S. and that academic research institutes could risk losing federal funding for participating.

There were two bills dealing with religious freedom that have received a lot of attention this week in the Georgia General Assembly.  Both of these bills are called “The Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” (SB 377/HB 1023) and are currently in the Senate and House Judiciary committees, respectively.  This legislation is similar to the bill that gained national attention when it was passed in Arizona and later vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer after major corporations headquartered there, and the NFL, expressed opposition.  The bills in Georgia have also met with business disapproval from major hometown corporations like Coca-Cola, Delta and Home Depot, all of which have voiced opposition.  Supporters have asserted that the issue is about the freedom to express one’s religion, regardless of the type of religion, and to protect an individual’s rights, not to discriminate against anyone or any group.  Since there are many steps through which these bills would have to pass before consideration on the House or Senate floor, it is doubtful that either would be voted on this year because there are only 10 days remaining in this session.

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.

Comments are closed.