• January 31, 2014

    This week was supposed to be a five-day work week for the General Assembly, but it was interrupted by the worse than anticipated snow storm in Atlanta.  The bad weather and slick streets wreaked havoc on traffic all around the metro Atlanta area as commuters tried to get home Tuesday afternoon and evening.  Most businesses and state and local governments were closed on Wednesday and Thursday, including the legislature.  However, because there was no quorum to stop the legislative clock, the two snow days this week were counted as legislative days.  We have now completed 14 legislative days and will reconvene on Monday, February 3.

    Rep. Allen Peake introduced legislation this week that would authorize doctors to prescribe cannabis oil, a derivative of marijuana, to treat seizure disorders in children (HB 885).  The bill is narrowly drawn and has gotten the support of the Medical Association of Ga.  Also introduced this week was the “Safe Carry Protection Act” (HB 875) which expands the areas into which concealed weapons may be carried and makes it more difficult for persons with mental issues to obtain a gun license.  Rep. Rick Jasperse, the bill’s author, removed the controversial “campus carry” provision that would have allowed guns on college campuses; however, it does decrease the penalty for carrying guns on campus, changing it from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil fine.

    The House passed several bills this morning, including a bill purported to streamline the approval process for cell tower location by regulating negotiations between local governments and cell phone companies (HB 176), legislation that would cap the number of acres that can be commercially developed on Jekyll Island (HB 715), and a technical correction to last year’s ethics bill that would exempt candidates for county or city offices from election cycle campaign filings when they spend $2500 or less (SB 297).

    The Senate Appropriations subcommittees are working on the amended FY 2014 budget and it is expected that the full Senate will vote on the AFY ’14 budget next Friday.

     

  • January 24, 2014

    The General Assembly reconvened on Tuesday, Jan. 21, after taking Monday off to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  An adjournment resolution (HR 1108) passed by both houses will set the legislature’s calendar for the next three weeks.  If they maintain this schedule, Feb. 18 will be the 24th legislative day.

    On Tuesday, Governor Deal signed HB 310 that passed the House and Senate last week.  This legislation was the result of a federal lawsuit addressing the short interval between elections and runoffs that did not allow enough time for Georgians overseas to mail their absentee ballots.  The bill provides new dates for primary election qualifying (March 3-7), primary elections (May 20) and primary runoff elections (July 22).  Non-partisan judicial elections will also be held on May 20.  The date of the general election remains on Nov. 4 with general election runoffs on Dec. 2 for state offices and Jan. 6 for federal offices.

    This morning the House overwhelmingly passed the amended FY 2014 budget by a vote of 163-1.  The AFY ‘14 budget is approximately $320M more than the original FY ‘14 budget of $19.9B.  Almost 60% of the increase will be used for additional student enrollment in K-12 public schools.  The House-passed AFY ’14 budget and budget tracking sheet can be found on the House Budget & Research Office web site.

    Both House and Senate have introduced bills that would permanently cap the number of acres that can be commercially developed on Jekyll Island (HB 715 and SB 296).  Yesterday the House Natural Resources committee passed HB 715 and the Senate Natural Resources Committee passed SB 296.  Rep. Mark Hamilton was commended by the House committee chair for being able to bring a diverse group of interested parties to the table and reach an agreement on this development vs. preservation debate that has come before the legislature many times.

    The House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee unanimously passed a bill to regulate negotiations between cell phone companies and local governments regarding location of cell towers (HB 176).  Local governments opposed this bill last year because they thought it gave too much leverage to the phone companies, but the bill has been rewritten and local governments are neutral on this new version.

    Also introduced in the House this week were a constitutional amendment that specifies revenues from fees and assessments must be used for the purpose for which they were collected (HR 1087) and a balanced budget compact for the U.S. government (HB 794).  There will be a hearing on the Compact for a Balanced Budget in a House Judiciary subcommittee on Monday, Jan. 27.

    A recently introduced resolution that has gotten a good bit of press this week is Senator Josh McKoon’s

    SR 756 which creates a study committee on the use of medicinal marijuana for serious medical conditions.  It has been assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.  A House version, sponsored by Rep. Allen Peake, is being drafted and is expected to be introduced next week.

  • January 17, 2014

    The Georgia General Assembly convened January 13 with the Speaker of the House and the Lt. Governor each banging their gavels shortly after 10:00 a.m. On this first day, both House and Senate recognized their newly elected members, passed resolutions and allowed “points of personal privilege” before adjourning.  The passed resolutions include an invitation to the Ga. Supreme Court’s Chief Justice to report on the State of the Judiciary on February 5 and an adjournment resolution that sets their schedule through January 25.  The General Assembly met five days this week, and they will convene Tuesday through Friday next week.  They will be in recess on Monday, January 20, in observance of MLK Day.

    Governor Deal gave his State of the State address on Wednesday, unveiling his $20.8B budget for fiscal year 2015 and declaring “The State of our State is Excellent…” He focused on the state’s improving economy and noted that our unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in five years. He vowed to continue fighting the expansion of Medicaid coverage in Ga. because the expansion would require tax increases in order to pay for it. Some highlights on education in his budget are an increase of $547M for K-12 public education, the largest increase in K-12 spending in seven years, and $44.8M for internet connections in all of Georgia’s K-12 public schools. For technical college students, he has proposed expansion of HOPE grants to cover four additional areas of training for which workers are needed and $10M for a 1% interest loan program.  He has requested an additional $35M, for a total state commitment of $266M, to deepen the Port of Savannah and said he is ready to start work on that project this year.  He also touted the criminal justice and juvenile justice reforms that he supported the last couple of years and said he is now focused on the “third leg” of reform that will lower recidivism rates through reentry and reform efforts. The FY 2015 and the amended FY 2014 budgets can be found on the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget web site.

    With a vote of 38-15, split along party lines, the Senate passed a bill (HB 310) that moves the primary state election date to May 20 and sets qualifying for state elections for the week of March 3.  May 20 is the date that Speaker Ralston, Lt. Governor Cagle, and the federal judge have agreed upon for federal primary elections for U.S. House and Senate seats. The House passed HB 310 last session, so they only needed to agree to changes made in the Senate, which they did Friday morning with an almost unanimous vote of 159-1.  It now goes to Governor Deal for his signature.

    The House paid tribute this week to two Representatives who died this past year: Calvin Hill (R-Canton) and Quincy Murphy (D-August).

    While the issue of allowing guns in places where they are currently banned, specifically churches and college campuses, was generating a lot of talk from legislators, they are now considering drafting a new bill rather than passing one of the bills that was carried over from last session.  The new legislation would give flexibility by allowing an “opt in” for churches and colleges who wanted to allow guns on their premises but they would not be required to allow it.  There was a statewide poll in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Sunday, January 12, that indicates strong opposition to allowing guns in church (72%) and on campuses (78%).  As reported in the AJC, this opposition remained consistent among voters: urban and rural, conservative and liberal.

    The Senate Health and Human Services Committee held several meetings over the interim on medical malpractice legislation (SB 141).  It has been reported that this bill, which is opposed by both the Medical Association of Ga. and the Ga. Trial Lawyers, does not have enough votes to get out of committee.