Weekly update 2/7/2014
On Monday, February 3, 2014, we returned to the Gold Dome. With the 2014 legislative session heating up, we had a very busy and productive week. Dozens of committees and subcommittees met to review proposed legislation, and my colleagues and I met on the House floor every day to vote on many different bills and resolutions. We also heard Chief Justice Hugh Thompson give his first State of the Judiciary Address in a joint session with our colleagues from the Senate. In his address, Chief Justice Thompson applauded a series of criminal justice reform bills that we have passed over the last few years. One of the main goals of criminal justice reform was to increase the number of accountability courts in Georgia. Chief Justice Thompson proclaimed that 93% of these court graduates remain free of criminal charges and 85% are employed. With fewer people in prison, these courts save Georgia more than $20 million in prison costs each year.
In addition to hearing the State of the Judiciary, we also met on the House floor to vote on several pieces of legislation. One of the bills that we passed last week could have a significant impact on Georgia’s education system. House Bill 766 allows students over the age of 16 to obtain coursework credit for work based learning programs. House Bill 766 enables school districts and businesses to develop partnerships, so that they can better prepare tomorrow’s workforce with the skills they need to thrive. These bills will now go to the Senate for consideration.
In addition to passing legislation for Georgia’s youth, we also passed two pieces of legislation that would make it easier for residents and visitors to enjoy Georgia’s outstanding hunting and fishing opportunities. House Bill 740 allows all active duty military personnel and their families to obtain a Georgia hunting and fishing license, even if they do not list Georgia as their home of record. Similarly, HB 786 creates a non-resident lifetime infant sportsman’s license, so that children from other states can more easily enjoy Georgia’s hunting and fishing opportunities throughout their entire life.
Another bill passed this week was House Bill 774, which could raise the speed limit on interstates in the metro Atlanta area. Current law requires that the speed limit not exceed 65 mph in metro areas with a population greater than 50,000. HB 774 could raise that speed limit to 70 mph, upon completion of a traffic study. HB 774 passed the House on Monday with bi- partisan support. While all of these bills and others were passed by the full body of the House, other bills were studied in committees so that they will soon be ready for a floor vote in the weeks ahead. One bill that was heard in the Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee this week was House Bill 875. HB 875 has many components but would primarily expand 2nd Amendment rights for current Georgia Weapons Carry license holders by increasing locations where those individuals can carry their weapons and emphasizing private property.
The bill would give these individuals broader access to government buildings, if that building does not provide active security at entrances, and allow private property owners to decide on the prohibition or permit of weapons at churches and bars. HB 875 also allows veterans under the age of 21 who have been honorably discharged from service to receive a weapons carry license, eliminates the re-fingerprinting requirement for weapons carry license renewals, prohibits the creation of a database of license holders, and lessens the penalty for license holders who are found carrying a weapon on college campuses. While HB 875 would expand rights for responsible, law-abiding citizens, it also takes measures to improve mental health regulations for Georgia Weapons Carry license applicants. Under HB 875, licenses would be denied to any person who has been deemed “mentally incompetent to stand trial” or any person who is been deemed “not guilty by reason of insanity” at the time of the trial. The bill also ensures that these groups shall be reported within 10 days to the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC).
Probate judges shall check GCIC to ensure that what is on the application form is accurate, thereby ensuring the public’s trust in our license process. Additionally, HB 875 would give school boards the opportunity and choice to arm an employee under their well-thought-out guidelines and supervision. Finally, under a state of emergency declaration declared by the governor, this bill would prevent the confiscation of weapons or ammunition by the state, which is currently allowable. HB 875 was voted out of committee this week, and now awaits further action in the Rules Committee.
Another piece of legislation that was heard in the House Education Committee this week was House Resolution 486. This resolution would call for a constitutional amendment to allow any newly created cities or municipalities to set up their own school system. The legislation was passed out of the Education Committee and now goes to the full House of Representatives for consideration. As a constitutional amendment, the legislation must pass by two-thirds of the state
House and Senate before it can go to the voters for their consideration. Meanwhile, our colleagues in the Senate passed the Amended Fiscal Year 2014 budget, the state’s mid-year spending plan, this week. The Senate passed a slightly different version of House Bill 743 than we previously passed in the House last month. The amended budget will now move to a House and Senate Conference Committee to work out a final spending plan to submit for a final vote of the full legislature.
As legislation makes its way through committees and onto the House floor for a vote, I hope that you will contact me with your ideas and opinions. I am always eager to hear from you, so that I can better understand what issues are most important you and your family. Please stop by and visit if you are in Atlanta during the legislative session, or call my office at the State Capitol and let me know what I can do for you. The phone number is 404-656-0109.