On Thursday, March 20, the Georgia General Assembly reached “Sine Die,” the final adjournment for the 2014 legislative session. During the last two days of the session, the Senate and House of Representative completed work on the state budget for fiscal year 2015 and took action on a number of key issues but were unable to agree on some major legislation.
I am proud to be able to represent the people who live in the 41stDistrict and hope to hear from you throughout the year on issues of importance, so please do not hesitate to call my office at 404-656-0085 with your thoughts. You can also send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on my cell phone if it is urgent at 678-907-2723.
State Senator, District 41
Senate and House agree on FY 2015 budget as legislative session comes to an end
The Senate and House reached final agreement on a $20.8 billion state budget for fiscal year 2015. The budget, which takes effect July 1, represents a 5 percent increase over the current year and includes $314 million in additional Quality Basic Education formula funds for public schools, which is only a 4 percent restoration of the $7.6 billion cut from the budget over the past decade. HB 744 now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal, who can sign the budget in its entirety or veto selected line items.
HOPE Grant Expansion: HB 697 received final approval to create the Zell Miller HOPE Grant program to cover full tuition costs for HOPE-eligible technical college students who maintain at least a 3.5 grade point average. This legislation is intended to attract top students back to Georgia’s technical college after a reduction in tuition assistance had caused a nearly 20 percent drop-off in enrollment.
MLK Statue: The House voted to give final approval to the Senate version of HB 1080, which would authorize the placement of a privately funded statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the grounds of the State Capitol. The Senate had amended the legislation to protect the state from any intellectual property disputes over the use of Dr. King’s image.
Gun Bill: The Senate majority voted 37-18 to approve an amended version of HB 60, which will allow guns to be carried in more public facilities than presently allowed, including K-12 school buildings. The proposal would also allow firearms to be carried in bars if the owner agrees and churches where the congregations exercise an “opt-in” provision.
Drug Testing the Poor: A legislative majority also gave final approval to HB 772, which requires applicants for food stamps or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to pay for and undergo a drug test if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are using illegal drugs. A similar law in Florida was declared unconstitutional.
Punishing School Workers: Also passing the Senate and House by majority vote was HB 714, which will prevent some school bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other non-teaching employees from seeking unemployment compensation outside the school year. This will adversely affect some 64,000 of our state’s lowest-paid workers and drive Georgia families deeper into poverty.
Other major legislation approved by the Senate and House includes:
- SB 213, the Flint River Drought Protection Act, authorizes, during periods of drought, the Environmental Protection Division to determine the number of acres within the Flint River Basin that must not be irrigated in order to maintain acceptable water flows.
- SB 274, which establishes the Georgia Capitol Agricultural History Museum to recognize the state’s largest industry.
- SB 383, which ensures that the personal items of a deceased person are returned to the family instead of being retained by the coroner or discarded.
- SR 415, which would amend the Constitution to permanent cap the state’s income tax at 6 percent, where it has been for more than 30 years, thus tying future legislatures’ hands in dealing with potential fiscal crises that might arise. Voters will have to approve the change in November’s General Election.
- HB 459, which imposes minimum speed requirements and restrictions for impeding traffic flow in the left lane of multi-lane highways.
- HB 549, which requires the Environmental Protection Division to develop emergency plans for responding to chemical spills and other water quality emergencies.
- HB 702, which authorizes the placement of a monument depicting the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the State Capitol.
- HB 766, which establishes work-based learning programs for Georgia students.
- HB 838, which would prohibit the transmission of a photograph or video depicting nudity or sexually explicit conduct of another person, also known as “revenge porn.”
- HB 958, which provides a number of sales tax exemptions and other state tax relief, including a two-year extension of the sales tax holiday periods for back-to-school purchases and energy-efficient appliances.
- HB 965, which would provide immunities from certain arrests, charges or prosecutions for persons seeking medical assistance for a drug overdose.
Senate and House leaders were unable to agree on final language for HB 885, which would have allowed doctors to prescribe cannabis oil, a derivative of marijuana, to treat seizure disorders in children. Also, the House was unwilling to pass SB 397, which the Senate had approved to guarantee insurance coverage for the treatment of autism in children ages 6 and under.
Also failing to pass were proposals to create new cities in DeKalb County.