February 26, 2016

The General Assembly met five days this week and have now completed 29 legislative days.  It was a week of extended floor sessions and later committee meetings.  Monday, February 29, will be the 30th legislative day and it is also known as cross-over day.  That is the final day when a bill must have passed at least one house and crossed over to the other house in order to still be alive for this session.

There was sad news in the House this week because of the death of Rep. Bob Bryant (D-Savannah) and leaders from both parties spoke at length about him during a memorial time on Thursday.

Several dignitaries spoke to the General Assembly this week, including Ohio Governor and Republican Presidential candidate John Kasich, Ga .Congressman Buddy Carter, and the new University of Georgia football coach Kirby Smart.  Also at the Capitol, Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke to the Georgia Democratic Caucus.

In House action, Representatives started the week with the campus carry bill on their calendar.  This bill (HB 859) would allow persons with gun permits to carry firearms on public college campuses, but does not allow guns in athletic venues, dorms, fraternities and sororities.  It was debated for a couple of hours then passed along party lines on Monday.  A day later, the House approved legislation to allow stun guns and tasers on public college campuses (HB 792), again along party lines.  Both bills now go to the Senate, where the Ga. Board of Regents was able to stop the campus carry gun bill a couple of years ago.

The House passed public safety legislation that would allow first-time DUI offenders to have ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles (HB 205).

The House also passed legislation to abolish the current Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) and recreate it as a seven-member Commission with appointments being made by the Supreme Court (2), Governor (3), Lt. Governor (1) and House Speaker (1).  The State Bar of Ga., which currently has three appointments, would not have any under this new structure.  The JQC’s purpose is to investigate and resolve complaints against judges of unethical or illegal conduct.  This restructuring of the JQC would need voters’ approval, through passage of a constitutional amendment (HR 1113), as well as the enabling legislation (HB 808) that the House passed on Tuesday becoming law.  The House also passed a special study committee resolution (HR 1363) on Judicial Qualifications Commission Reform.

The House Ways & Means committee passed legislation that would exempt sales taxes on Super Bowl tickets (HB 951) after it was amended by adding the back-to-school shopping and energy-efficient appliance sales tax holidays to it. The bill was then passed by the House this afternoon.

The Senate passed Sen. John Kennedy’s bill that would implement the latest recommendations from Governor Deal’s Commission on Criminal Justice Reform regarding the reentry of former prisoners into society (SB 367).

The Senate also passed three bills related to fireworks. SB 369 tightens the hours and locations for setting off fireworks and grants more control to local governments.  The other two bills were related to sales tax on fireworks:  SR 558 and SB 350.  SR 558 is a constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters, would specify that sales tax on fireworks would be used only for trauma care, fire services and local public safety; SB 350 stipulates how these taxes would be divided among these three areas.

Committees were especially busy this week trying to pass bills before the approaching “cross-over” day.  Several news-making bills that passed committee this week include the medical marijuana bill (HB 722). The House Judiciary Non-civil committee approved an amended HB 722 that expanded the number of medical diagnoses for which this can be prescribed but deleted the provision for cultivating medicinal marijuana.  This bill is on the calendar for full House action on Monday.  Rep. Allen Peake subsequently introduced HB 1077 calling for a nonbinding statewide referendum on whether Georgia should establish a regulatory structure for cultivating medical marijuana in the state.

At a speed seldom seen at the Capitol, the casino bills went from committee action to a supplemental calendar for full House action in less than 24 hours. Yesterday afternoon the House Regulated Industries committee passed two measures to allow casino gambling in Georgia (HR 807 and HB 677).  These measures then went to the Rules committee which met at lunchtime and put them on a supplemental calendar for today. When the House reconvened after lunch, Speaker Ralston announced that these two bills would be postponed until Monday. The resolution is a constitutional amendment that would be on the November ballot. The bill would allow for four casinos, two in Atlanta and two outside the metro area, with licenses costing a total of $65M for the Atlanta locations and $15M each for the other two locations.  According to the bill, the tax rate on gambling revenues would be 20% and revenues would go towards the HOPE scholarship program.  However, legislators are already speaking up on where this tax revenue should go with some agreeing on the HOPE scholarship program, some calling for funds to go to healthcare, and others for mental health.

The House Energy Utilities & Telecommunications committee approved a bill that calls for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain to construct petroleum pipelines through June 30, 2017 (HB 1036).  During that moratorium the State Commission on Petroleum Pipelines, with the majority of members appointed by the Speaker and Lt. Governor, would study the need for new pipelines and facilities.  This bill came about in response to Kinder Morgan’s proposal to build a pipeline through east Georgia.

The Senate Public Safety committee passed a bill stipulating that DACA residents (from Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) could apply for a driving privilege card but not a regular Ga. driver’s license (SB 6).  This bill is on the Senate calendar for Monday.

Rep. Wendell Willard introduced legislation that would repeal the state’s certificate of need (CON) law by 2018 (HB 1055).  The CON law regulates hospital and healthcare facility construction.  The House Governmental Affairs committee decided that this issue would be studied before next session and it will not take action on this bill.

Sen. Jeff Mullis introduced two resolutions calling for study committees to research and recommend alternative fuels infrastructure so that Georgia can be on the forefront of having the necessary framework for providing options for citizens and alternative fuels for their vehicles (SR 1037 & SR 1038).

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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