2015 Legislative Session: Week Eleven
We returned to the Gold Dome on Monday, March 23, 2015. We had a full schedule last week, meeting every day to continually review legislation. We also convened on the House floor every day to continue voting on bills that have been passed through the committee process. Here are some of the bills we discussed this week.
- Senate Resolution 287– This bill would allow Georgians to vote on the creation of an “Opportunity School District” (OSD) in the state of Georgia. SR 287, and its companion legislation, SB 133, were originally proposed by Governor Nathan Deal as part of his comprehensive plan to boost student achievement and create more educational opportunities for Georgia students. In November 2016, Georgia voters will have the opportunity to vote on this measure, which would allow the state to step in and intervene in chronically failing public schools. If approved by Georgia voters, this district would assume all operational and managerial responsibility for failing public elementary and secondary schools. The constitutional amendment would appear on the November 2016 general election ballot and require support from a majority of voters. This means that you will eventually have a chance to decide if the Opportunity School District model should be practiced here in Georgia. In making that choice, I hope that you will study the Opportunity School Districts that have been implemented in other states. You will see that these programs have a proven history of success in expanding educational success and opportunities for all students.
- SB 133-This enabling legislation will establish the Opportunity School District upon ratification of the constitutional amendment set forth by SR 287. The Opportunity School District will provide oversight to schools that are defined as persistently failing, or as scoring below 60 on the College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI), for three consecutive years. The CCRPI is the Georgia Department of Education’s official measurement of accountability.
The jurisdiction of the school district would fall under the control of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, and the Opportunity School District superintendent would be appointed by the Governor and subject to Senate confirmation. The superintendent would be charged with developing operational procedures for the Opportunity School District and providing an annual report of progress and operations to the Georgia General Assembly.
In order to ensure areas needing improvement are addressed appropriately, the Opportunity School District would only select 20 affiliated in any single academic year, and the total number of selected schools would not exceed a total of 100 schools at any given time. Schools would remain a part of the Opportunity School District for at least five years, but not more than 10 years. The process for school selection would include opportunities for parent and community feedback through public hearings, but final selection is at the sole discretion of the Opportunity School District superintendent. Finally, before a school’s oversight is transferred to the Opportunity School District, the superintendent must meet with the administration to discuss the school’s evaluation and options for improvement. By creating an Opportunity School District in Georgia through this process, we could give every child in this state the quality education they deserve.
- Senate Bill 2-This bill, which passed unanimously, would allow local boards of education to award high school diplomas to students who have completed 9th and 10th grade requirements, and are dually enrolled in qualified post-secondary educational programs. The bill would require:
- The student complete state required 9th and 10th grade courses in the core subjects of English, math, science, and social studies, as well as one health and physical education class.
- Test scores associated with the courses must meet the required scores by the postsecondary institution.
- A completion of either an associate degree program, a technical college diploma program, or at least two technical college certificates of credit programs in one specific career pathway.
Also this week, we passed legislation designed to further protect the animals that support our men and women in uniform.
- Senate Bill 72, also known as “Tanja’s Law,” revises the penalties for harming a law enforcement animal in the performance of its duties by creating tiers of offenses based on the offender’s actions. Previously, a person intentionally causing serious or debilitating injury was automatically guilty of a felony. SB 72 clarifies the crime into four separate tiers, so that an individual may be charged according to the severity of his or her crime. This bill makes the harming of a law enforcement animal a high and aggravated misdemeanor with fines ranging between $5,000 and $50,000 with accompanying prison terms ranging from 12 months to 5 years. In addition, the offender must pay restitution to cover the necessary costs of veterinary treatment or the full cost of replacing the animal and its handlers. These animals often times put their own lives at risk for our officers, and SB 72 will allow justice to be served.
- Senate Bill 134-This bill also takes measures to ensure justice is delivered fairly to the citizens of this state. SB 134 attempts to provide certain checks and balances for Georgia law enforcement by closing a loophole in Georgia’s anti speed trap law. Under current law, drivers can fight tickets in speed traps if the law enforcement agency derives more than 40% of their budget from speeding fines; however, current law has an exception that does not count tickets for speeding more than 17 miles per hour above the limit. SB 134 eliminates an exclusion of tickets written for speeds 20 mph over the limit so that citizens can more easily challenge tickets from speed traps. While speeding is a dangerous offense, law enforcement agencies should not create speed traps to generate their revenue.
This was also a very important week in the Senate, as our colleagues across the hall passed the following bills:
- House Bill 1 would decriminalize the use of medical cannabis oil in Georgia in an effort to improve the lives of hundreds of Georgians. After the Senate passage of HB 1, Governor Deal issued an executive order instructing state agencies to prepare for the implementation of this legislation and stated that he would sign HB 1 into law soon. HB 1 will provide immunity for the possession of cannabis oil for individuals with certain medical conditions who have obtained cannabis oil legally in another state. Qualifying conditions under HB 1 include:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Seizure disorders
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Crohn’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Mitochondrial disease
- Sickle cell disease.
Now that this legislation has been passed by both chambers, it will soon be signed into law by Governor Deal, and Georgia’s medical refugees can come back home to Georgia. I was proud to see the House and Senate chambers work together and come to a compromise to pass legislation that will help a great number of Georgians.
- A compromise on Senate Bill 1 to address the growing number of children with autism in Georgia. In a press conference held on Thursday, House Insurance Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) and Senate Insurance and Labor Chairman Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) revealed a two-pronged plan that will allow dozens of Georgia children to receive necessary treatment for autism. First, the plan includes legislation that requires insurance companies to cover autism treatment for children 6 years of age or younger. The measure, includes language from Senate Bill 1 and will be added to House Bill 429 and most likely voted upon next week. The second element to the House and Senate compromise is a new piece of legislation that will be considered during the 2016 legislative session. This bill would create a November 2016 referendum, so that voters could decide on a fractional state sales tax that would fund autism treatment for all children under the age of 18. Between these two measures, I am hopeful that we can begin to address the growing autism epidemic.
Finally, during this busy week, we passed a series of resolutions creating study committees to review various issues affecting our state. House Resolutions 612, 743, and 744 establish House study committees to discuss fibroids education and awareness; annexation, deannexation, and incorporation; and the use of drones. All of these committees will meet throughout the remainder of the year, so that they can prepare any necessary legislation for the 2016 legislative session. Although the 2015 legislative session will soon be ending, these committees are a testament to the work that we will be doing during the interim months.
Next week is the final week of the 2015 legislative session. On Thursday we will adjourn “Sine Die,” which is Latin for “without assigning a day for further meeting.” In this crucial last week, I hope that you will contact me with your questions and concerns. Your comments help guide my decisions at the Georgia State Capitol, and I always enjoy speaking with you. You can reach me at my state capitol office at 404-656-0213 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.