March 25, 2014

The Georgia legislature completed its final two days of the 40-day session last week and ran late into the night.  Day 40 ended at midnight for the House and Senate as the Speaker and Lt. Governor banged their gavels and declared the session sine die.  Amid a flurry of flying papers, the session came to an end.  It was one of the fastest sessions in recent years because of the early primary election date which has been moved to May 20.  Most legislators are now campaigning for reelection to their current seats or for election to other offices, and the fundraising emails have already started.

While the final action on bills has been posted on the state’s web site, the final versions of the actual bills may not be posted.  In this update, if a final version of the bill is already available, a link is provided.  We anticipate that by end of this week, “as passed” versions of all bills can be found on the state’s web site:  http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/Search.aspx.

Legislation that passed last week includes full tuition HOPE scholarships for technical college students with a minimum 3.5 GPA and HOPE grants for technical college students with a 2.0 GPA (HB 697), a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to cap the state income tax rate at 6% (SR 415), a bill prohibiting the State Health Benefits Plan from paying for abortions unless the mother’s life is in danger (SB 98), and a bill calling for drug testing of food stamp applicants (HB 772).  There were also two bills approving monuments for the Capitol grounds that received final passage last week: one to honor Martin Luther King Jr. (HB 1080) and one would that would include the Ten Commandments (HB 702).  Both of these monuments are to be financed with private funds.

Of most importance is the passage of the $20.8B budget for fiscal year 2015.  Due to a recovering economy and an increase in tax collections, the FY 2015 budget includes $800M in spending increases.  Most of the spending increase, $300M, is extra funding for K-12 schools.  There is also $17M in bond funds to build a parking deck for the new Falcons stadium.  Some groups, including the Tea Party, have called for Governor Deal to eliminate that budget item even though the state’s Georgia World Congress Center has requested the funding.

The original bill that allowed guns to be carried into bars, churches, government buildings without security, and college campuses was amended to exclude guns on campuses and was changed so that churches would “opt in” rather than “opt out” of allowing persons to carry guns into church.  The amended gun bill, along with another bill to allow hunters to use silencers on hunting rifles, was added onto HB 60 and then passed.

Two “anti-Obamacare” bills passed.  One would shift the authority for expansion of Medicaid from the governor to the legislature (HB 990).  Both the governor and the Republican-dominated legislature have stated opposition to this expansion.  Legislation that would prohibit state agencies from implementing any provision of the Affordable Care Act was added onto the bill requiring health insurance parity between oral and intravenous chemotherapies (HB 943).

Recommendations from Governor Deal’s Council on Judicial Reform were found in two bills, both of which passed.  Changes in the juvenile code were contained in SB 364, and SB 365 contained legislation regarding offender re-entry programs as well as an amendment requiring more disclosure on child fatalities (language from HB 923).

All of the passed bills now go to Governor Deal for his consideration, and he has 40 days in which to sign or veto bills.  Any bill that he does not explicitly approve or veto will automatically become law.

Despite much action on these bills last week, the following failed to pass:  mandatory insurance coverage for children with autism disorders (SB 397), medically prescribed use of cannabis oil for children with seizure disorders (HB 885), the Georgia Chamber-supported e-discovery bill (HB 643), legislation to change the current tax credits for purchasers of low-emission and zero-emission vehicles (HB 257), a bill allowing local governments to levy a SPLOST at less than 1% (HB 153), and a bill requiring that the state drop Common Core standards (SB 167).  Although SB 167 failed, the House did pass a resolution creating a study committee to review Common Core standards and the role of the federal government in education (HR 550).

Legislation to privatize portions of the state’s child welfare system also failed to pass (SB 350).  This legislation came about after widely reported failings of the Department of the Family and Children’s Services (DFCS).  However, the House and Senate failed to agree on the best solutions for these failings, and even advocates for change said the issue was a complex one that needed study.  After meeting with numerous interested parties, including juvenile court judges, child advocates and former foster youth, Governor Deal announced the formation of a special council that will study and recommend changes to child welfare and foster care programs.

Please do not hesitate to e-mail or call any of us if you have questions on any legislation.

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