January 29, 2016

It was a busy week with more committee meetings and the State of the Judiciary speech on Wednesday. Chief Justice Hugh Thompson’s speech to the House and Senate followed the recommendations of the governor’s judicial task force and focused on shifting the Supreme Court’s caseload to the Court of Appeals, which recently expanded from 12 to 15 judges. He also touched on criminal justice reform, the need for all courts to have multilingual capabilities, and the need for a new judicial building with state of the art technology as well as security.

 

One of the biggest accomplishments of the week was the House passing the amended FY 2016 budget (AFY ‘16) yesterday.  The House made few changes to the Governor’s version which includes a $110M mid-year increase due to growth in public K-12 schools and $759M for new road construction.

 

With significant bipartisan support, Republican Rep. Rich Golick introduced civil rights legislation that would prohibit discrimination in public accommodations (HB 849).  Rep. Rick Jasperse introduced a “campus carry” bill that would allow guns on college campuses (HB 859).  And several health care bills were introduced including Medicaid expansion (HB 823), the Georgia Health Care Transparency Initiative (SB 299), and the Georgia Affordable Free Market Health Care Act (SB 291).

 

The House Judiciary Non-civil committee spent all afternoon Monday hearing from supporters of Rep. Allen Peake’s medical marijuana bill (HB 722).  This bill includes provisions for growing it in Georgia and expands the list of illnesses from which patients can seek relief with cannabis oil.  Opponents of the bill were scheduled to speak on Wednesday but that meeting was cancelled and will be rescheduled.  Rep. Dusty Hightower’s Judiciary Non-civil subcommittee passed out Chairman Tom Rice’s bill that calls for ignition interlock devices for drivers who refuse blood alcohol testing (HB 205).

 

The Senate Regulated Industries committee passed out horse racing legislation (SB 264 and SR 143) that would allow pari-mutuel wagering in Georgia. These bills will be on the Senate general calendar waiting Rules committee action.

 

Three additional religious freedom bills were introduced this week.  Senator Greg Kirk introduced the “First Amendment Defense Act of Georgia” (SB 284) and Rep. Ed Setzler introduced legislation calling for the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to apply to Georgia (HB 837).  The “Georgia Student Religious Liberties Act of 2016” is a bipartisan bill that among other things would allow student-led prayers at school events (HB 816).

 

February 1 is the last day to register to vote in the state’s March 1 presidential primary, and absentee voting for that race has already begun.

 

The legislature met four days this week and they will be in session four days next week, Monday through Thursday. They have now completed 12 legislative days and are over one-fourth of the way through this legislative session.

 

As always, please do not hesitate to contact any of us if you have questions or need information on any legislative issue. All bills can be found on the state’s legislative web site, and live action can be watched in the House and Senate chambers when they are in session.

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