Capitol Update

We are happy to provide you with this update on some of the bills that GCO is following this session. Should you have any questions or comments, please email Eric Cochling.

House Bill 243 – Education Savings Accounts – sponsored by Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming

The ESA Bill (HB 243) did not make it onto the House floor for a vote before the end of Crossover Day. What that means, practically speaking, is that the bill is likely dead for the session.

Because Georgia runs on a biennial cycle, bills that made progress this year will pick up where they left off starting in the 2016 legislative session. This means that we are in a good position for January 2016 since we have a bill that has been vetted and has made significant progress in the House. We also feel confident that, given the broad and bipartisan support for the bill within the general assembly and overwhelming support among Georgia voters, our chances for passing the bill next session are excellent.

While this is disappointing news, we encourage you to continue to speak about the importance of educational choice (and ESAs specifically) with your legislators throughout the year! If you don’t know who your legislators are, find them here.

To learn more about ESAs and to support Rep. Hamilton and Sen. Hunter Hill, who is sponsoring similar legislation in the state senate, visit www.georgiaopportunity.org/go/esa.

Senate Bill 133 and Senate Resolution 287 – Opportunity School Districts (OSD) – carried by Senator Butch Miller

The governor’s signature legislation is moving forward despite unexpected opposition and difficulty. Senate Bill 133 provides the nuts and bolts of how the OSD would operate, while Senate Resolution 287 allows voters to decide in 2016 whether they are willing to entrust new powers to the governor’s appointed OSD superintendent to take over failing schools. Each passed with the requisite constitutional majority, 108-53 and 121-47, respectively.
Senate Resolution 287 will ask voters:

“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?”

There was lots of fiery rhetoric throughout the committee hearings and on the House floor both for and against the resolution. Opponents argue that the bill would allow for power to be taken away from local school boards and placed in the hands of a centralized bureaucracy. Supporters maintain that decision‑making power in an OSD is decentralized away from the local school board bureaucracy, and transferred to individual school principals, teachers, and, often, charter school boards.

In other words, both sides argue that they support local control.

At first glance it is difficult to see how a state takeover could lead to more local involvement, but with New Orleans as an example, we can now imagine a way for government to create the space and, importantly, the pressure needed for local communities and institutions to address problems plaguing our most chronically failing schools.

House Bill 440 – Business and Education Succeeding Together (BEST) – sponsored by Rep. Mike Glanton, D- Jonesboro

In February, Rep. Mike Glanton (D) introduced a bill that would create a separate corporate-only tax credit program (Business and Education Succeeding Together, or BEST) that would provide $12 million in scholarship funding. The program is separate from the current tax credit scholarship program and has many of the accountable provisions that the current program lacks. While the bill has not made much progress this session, we believe it will be seriously considered next session as an additional way to continue expanding opportunities for students and families in the state.

Senate Bill 129 – Religious Freedom Restoration Act – Sponsored by Rep. Josh McKoon – R – Columbus

SB 129, the religious liberty bill, was “tabled” by the House Judiciary Committee, because of an amendment that would have effectively gutted the bill of its purpose.

The so-called “non-discrimination” clause introduced by state Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, “completely undercut the purpose of the bill,” McKoon said. Supporters of the bill felt that adding this clause, which the majority of the thirty plus state RFRA’s and the federal RFRA do not have, would effectively leave religious liberty worse off in the state of Georgia. For example, adding a non-discrimination clause could prevent private religious schools from discriminating based on religious belief when hiring staff.

SB 129 became part of a larger culture war, and its failure – tabling the bill makes it very unlikely that it will reach a House floor vote before the end of the session – was due in large part to the fear of “perception” rather than the reality of the purpose or language of the bill. The ongoing struggle over Indiana’s new law is certainly not encouraging lawmakers here to act.

Read additional commentary on the RFRA legislation on our website.

For the case in favor of Georgia’s legislation, read what these fourteen law professors had to say.

Senate Bill 8 and Senate Resolution 7 – Safe Harbor/Rachel’s Law Act – sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford

Georgia legislators, led by Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, are seeking to tighten Georgia’s existing sex trafficking laws. The combination of Senate Bill 8 and Senate Resolution 7 would help create a new Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund, using new $2,500 fines on convicted traffickers and an annual $5,000 fee on adult entertainment establishments to raise money for the fund. SB 8 sets out the framework of the proposal while SR 7 seeks amendment to the Georgia Constitution by asking Georgians for permission to create the new fund. A governor-appointed commission would manage this fund and the effort.

This money would then be used to pay for physical and mental health care, housing, education, job training, child care, legal help and other services for sexually exploited victims. In addition to the new fines, the Bill would require convicted traffickers be listed on the state sex offender registry – something which surprisingly doesn’t happen now.

Legislators are working together to merge Unterman’s version of the proposal with a similar House version, HB 244, with hopes to assure final passage. The Bill passed through the Senate on a 52-3 vote, and is now working its way through the House Committee for Juvenile Justice.

UPDATE: Both of these bills were voted on Tuesday, March 31st, and passed 150-22 and 151-18, respectfully.

Senate Resolution 80 – Demand Revision of College Board of AP U.S. History – Sponsored by Sen. William Ligon Jr., R-Brunswick

This resolution demands revision by the College Board of Advanced Placement U.S. History. Since approximately 14,000 Georgia students take the College Board’s Advanced Placement U. S. History course each year, the General Assembly is right to be concerned that the new framework “reflects a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects,” presenting, “a biased and inaccurate view of many important themes and events in American history, including the motivations and actions of seventeenth to nineteenth century settlers, the nature of the American free enterprise system, the course and resolution of the Great Depression, and the development of and victory in the Cold War.” Though the college board denies any political intent, the course content does seem to have a strong bias that focuses on negative aspects of American history, while not presenting much on America’s positive role in the world.

Those in favor of Senate Resolution 80 hope that by acknowledging this problem, other companies might form to challenge the bias of the College Board’s monopoly on Advanced Placement courses for high school students.

UPDATE: This bill, in substitute form, was voted out of the senate prior to crossover day and awaits action by the house.

House Bill 677 and House Resolution 807 – Allowing Casino Gambling in Georgia – sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah

For the last several years, some form of gambling has been proposed by various legislators under the guise of saving the HOPE Scholarship. This years’ effort is being sponsored, in part, by Rep. Ron Stephens. House Resolution 807 would place a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot that would empower the state to license casinos (which is currently prohibited by the Georgia Constitution), while House Bill 677 is a 127-page bill that describes in detail how the new gambling marketplace in Georgia would operate. These bills, like those in previous years, are being promoted on the basis of the jobs casinos could create, along with the revenue promised to the HOPE Scholarship program. Missing from the analysis is any reference to the problems associated with casinos – including increased levels of addiction and negative economic effects.

House Bill 1 – Haleigh’s Hope Act – sponsored by Rep. Allen Peake, R- Macon

Last Friday, Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order directing state agencies to prepare for the enactment of House Bill 1 which authorizes the limited use of cannabis oil to treat eight specific disorders that include cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, sickle cell disease, and seizure disorders as long as a physician prescribes the medication. The bill also allows for clinical trials to further study how the drug works.

House Bill 439 – Georgia New Markets Jobs Act – sponsored by Rep. Jason Shaw, R- Lakeland

In 2000 the U.S. Congress created the federal New Markets Tax Credit as an effort to stimulate private investment within poor urban and rural areas. Since 2000 a handful of states followed with their own versions of the law. House Bill 439, Georgia New Markets Jobs Act is another such effort.

According to the New Markets Tax Credit Coalition, the tax credits, “stimulate private investment and economic growth in low income urban neighborhoods and rural communities that lack access to the patient capital needed to support and grow businesses, create jobs, and sustain healthy local economies.”

House Bill 439 would allow for millions of dollars in private investment toward projects and communities that likely would never have received such injections of patient capital otherwise – stimulating economic growth in low-income neighborhoods. In other states this tax credit has been used to finance everything from health care centers to charter schools, groceries in food deserts, community centers, domestic violence shelters, factories and small business loan funds in distressed urban, suburban and rural communities.

HB 439 passed through the Senate last Friday 41-9. Though HB 439 differs from the federal New Markets Tax Credit, this bi-partisan sponsored bill represents innovative policy that seeks to remove barriers to opportunity.

Senate Bill 3 – Supporting and Strengthening Families Act – sponsored by Senator Renee Unterman

This bill would allow parents experiencing “short-term difficulties that impair their ability to perform the regular and expected functions to provide care and support to their minor children” a way to confer the authority to act as a temporary guardian on behalf of their children without the trouble, time, and expense of a court proceeding. The intent behind this piece of legislation is to provide a “statutory mechanism” that helps preserve family stability.

This bill passed through the Senate 43-10 and is now in the hands of the House Judiciary Committee.

Legislative Calendar

Tomorrow (April 2, 2015) is Sine Die – the last day of the 2015 Legislative Session.

Reports

These are the house and senate reports on activity in each chamber.
– House Daily Report (daily)
– Senate Daily Report (weekly)

Use Our Website to Follow Important Legislation and Contact Your Elected Representatives

Visit our Take Action page to see all of the bills we’re tracking this session, to take specific actions on bills we support or oppose, and find out how to contact your elected representatives.

 

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