March 14, 2014

The General Assembly is not meeting today.  They met Monday through Thursday this week and have completed 38 legislative days.  Next week, they will reconvene on Tuesday for Day 39 and Thursday for Day 40, which will be sine die.  Most of the action this week has been in committees with the House reviewing Senate bills and the Senate reviewing House bills.

There was not controversial legislation on the House or Senate debate calendars this week. The House passed a bill of special importance to Savannah (SB 318) that allows local governments to decide on whether or not bars can open on Sundays when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or Monday.  St. Patrick’s Day is March 17, and Governor Deal signed the bill so it will be in effect for this year.  The House passed legislation capping development on Jekyll Island at an additional 66 acres (SB 296).  This bill was a compromise between environmentalists and the Jekyll Island Authority and it now goes to the Governor for his signature.

Yesterday Governor Deal announced the formation of a special council that will study and recommend changes to child welfare and foster care programs currently managed by the state’s Department of Family and Children’s Services.  The Governor met with many interested parties on this issue, including juvenile court judges, child advocates and former foster youth then determined the special council was the best way to move forward and find solutions to the problems in the current system that have been widely reported.  The Senate had passed a bill earlier in the session calling for privatization of several child welfare services; however the House Judiciary committee amended the bill this week to be a two-year pilot project in certain areas of the state (SB 350).  Due to the formation of this council, the legislature may not act on SB 350 this session.

The House pulled the “Flint River Drought Protection Act” (SB 213) from its calendar on Tuesday.  This action often indicates that a bill may not have enough votes to pass.  The Rules committee put it back on the House calendar for Wednesday and it passed overwhelmingly after the scope of the bill was narrowed to affect only four streams in SW Georgia. In only this specific area, the bill allows the state to add water to maintain minimum flows and allows the EPD director to prohibit withdrawal of water when water has been added to protect aquatic life.  Business groups preferred the original bill, but environmental groups opposed it.  The Senate has agreed to the House changes and it now goes to the Governor.

The Senate passed a bill increasing the fines for timber theft to triple the market value of the trees as well as punitive damages and attorney fees (HB 790), a bill allowing slow-moving drivers to be ticketed when they are travelling in the left-hand, passing lane on multi-lane highways (HB 459), and a bill permitting local governments to levy a fractional local option sales tax when less than a one percent tax is needed for identified projects (HB 153).  The Senate also passed a bill that would criminalize instances when private, often embarrassing, photographs are uploaded without permission to the Internet along with identifying information about the subject of the photos (HB 838).  There are more than a dozen states considering legislation such as this, also known as “revenge porn.”

There were two bills granting tax breaks that were amended in committee and passed by the Senate this week.  One bill specifically for Gulfstream that would give a permanent sales tax exemption on parts for maintaining and repairing aircraft was amended to also include a sales tax exemption for materials used in construction of a civil rights museum (HB 933).  The other tax break bill contains state income tax credits for entertainment production companies, sales tax exemptions for qualified food banks, sales tax holidays for purchasing school supplies and energy efficient and water efficient appliances, and sales tax exemptions for materials used in construction of a “competitive project of regional significance” (HB 958).  Since they were amended in the Senate, both bills will have to be agreed to in the House before they are sent to the Governor.

Two House bills authorizing monuments easily passed the Senate on Wednesday.  One bill calls for a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. (HB 1080) and the other is for a monument containing the Ten Commandments (HB 702).  Both of these monuments are to be financed with private funds.

Legislation requiring drug testing for food stamp recipients (HB 772) passed out of the Health and Human Services committee with the Chair Renee Unterman breaking a 4-4 tie to send the bill to the Senate Rules committee.  The Senate Health & Human Services committee also approved legislation that would allow doctors to use cannabis oil for treating children with seizure disorders (HB 885) after amending it.  Known as the “medical marijuana” bill, it was amended in Senate committee to include the bill that mandates insurance coverage of autism (SB 397). The autism bill passed the Senate earlier but has stalled in House committee.

The Senate Judiciary Non-Civil committee passed an amended version of the gun bill (HB 875) on a 4-3 vote.  This Senate committee substitute would allow guns in churches if it were approved by the church’s leaders, the State Board of Regents would control the issue of guns on campus, and domestic violence offenders would be ineligible for a gun license.  The Senate committee passed their substitute after the House voted to use HB 60 as a “vehicle” by putting provisions of the gun bill on it after it had come to the back to the House for what is usually a routine agree/disagree motion.

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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