The Issues

2016 is all wrapped up and was highly productive.  Here is a recap of some major legislation that passed this year.. If you would like to discuss a specific legislative issue, please contact Scot either by email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call his personal cellphone at 678 576 2644.

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Co-sponsored Legislation that passed  These next several bills are pieces of legislation I have sponsored and have passed the legislative process in 2016.

HB 768 The Georgia ABLE Act

HB 768 establishes the Georgia ABLE Program (‘Georgia Achieving a Better Life Experience’), modeled after education savings plans under Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, whereby disabled individuals can save private funds in tax-exempt accounts to pay for qualified disability expenses without becoming ineligible for Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for possessing in excess of $2,000 in assets. Similar legislation has been passed in 35 other states.

The ABLE program will be administered by the Georgia ABLE Program Corporation which will be governed by a board of directors consisting of the Commissioner of Community Health, the Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, the State Auditor, the State Treasurer, and three members appointed by the Governor. The Corporation is assigned to the Department of Administrative Services for administrative purposes only and the Georgia ABLE Program Trust Fund – which will receive all payments and contributions – shall be located in the Office of the State Treasurer where the funds will be invested by the Treasurer pursuant to the investment plan adopted by the ABLE Program Board. Georgia may also participate jointly with other states with ABLE programs to raise the necessary assets required to fund the program.

HB 34 – The Georgia Right to Try Act

The Georgia Right to Try Act grants some terminally ill patients faster access to investigational drugs that have passed phase one in the three-phase FDA drug approval process. The bill only grants access to investigational drugs, biological products, or devices for eligible patients with terminal illnesses whose physician has recommended such a course. The process requires full voluntary cooperation from all parties as well as written informed consent whereby the patient acknowledges the risk associated with the treatment, the best and worst potential outcomes, and the costs associated with the treatment. Under HB 34, manufacturers are not required to offer the treatment and may or may not charge for the drug and health insurance companies are not required to pay for the treatment. Doctors, as well as other involved participants, are indemnified.

SB 304/HB 827 – Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims

The Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act was introduced in response to the discovery of a huge backlog of untested rape kits in hospitals, clinics, and law enforcement agencies throughout the state. According to an AJC investigation, Grady Memorial Hospital alone had more than 1,400 untested rape kits – a number they claimed had risen so high due to a lack of legal clarity about whether releasing the kits to law enforcement would violate federal privacy regulations. This bill seeks to clarify this issue.

Specifically, the bill outlines requirements for recording and reporting evidence collected during a forensic medical evaluation for investigations of rape or aggravated sodomy. Law enforcement officers collecting such evidence are required to provide email notification to the GBI Division of Forensic Sciences (the division) within 72 hours of collection. The bill also requires law enforcement to submit said evidence within 30 days and follow procedures of the division regardless of whether the evidence will be tested.

In addition, every law enforcement agency in the state is required to create a list of evidence resulting from any forensic medical evaluation during an investigation of rape or aggravated sodomy in the agency’s possession on July 1, 2016. The list must be submitted to the division by September 16, 2016 and must identify whether the listed evidence should be tested or stored. Evidence on the list must be transferred to the division no later than November 16, 2016. HB 827 requires the division to issue an annual report detailing the number of rape and aggravated sodomy cases for which the division has tested or stored evidence. The
division is required to submit this annual report to the Speaker, the Lieutenant Governor, the House Committee on Judiciary, Non-Civil, and the Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.

HB 727 – More Local Control for the use of Fireworks

In 2015 I introduced a bill that would have allowed local governments to manage the use of fireworks in their communities through local ordinances.  That version of the fireworks bill did not pass, and this year we reformed Georgia fireworks law with HB 727.  HB 727 did not go as far as I had hoped in allowing locals to have a bigger say, but it certainly represents an improvement over what had been in place. HB 727 regulates where and when fireworks can be exploded. This bill makes it unlawful to explode fireworks within five yards of an overhead obstruction or across or into a public road. Fireworks may not be used in close proximity to electric plants, wastewater treatment plants, jails, prisons, hospitals, and nursing homes. It is unlawful to explode fireworks at public gatherings where the local fire department or the state fire marshal determines that such conduct would be unreasonable. Also, it is unlawful and punishable as a misdemeanor to explode fireworks while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The governor or the director of the Environmental Protection Division may issue a declaration to prohibit the use of fireworks for a specific duration.

The bill also limits the times which fireworks may be exploded on January 1, July 3, July 4, and December 31. Moreover, the bill allows for local noise ordinances to govern when fireworks are otherwise permitted to be exploded. HB 727 also allows for temporary fireworks stands for the benefit of non-profit 501(c)(3) corporations.

HB 73 Enabling Durational Residency Requirements for Local Elections

I believe that those that run for public office should live among us.  Therefore I have written a bill that would allow for local legislation to enable County Commissioners to have a durational residency requirement of up to 12 months prior to them being sworn into office.  This is the same standard that is applied to member of the Georgia General Assembly. 

HB 555 Provide Reporting of Certain Statistics Regarding Juveniles Seeking Abortions without Parental Notice

Today in Georgia, there are instances when minors petition the court to have an abortion without notifying their parents.  When that happens, prior to the passage of HB 555, the courts had not been required to report the number of times this has happened.  HB 555 requires the court to track the total number of times this happens and report it to the Administrative Office of the Courts.  No personally identifiable information is collected in this reporting.

HB 859 – Campus Carry

HB 859 allows a Georgia firearms license holder (must have passed a background check, be finger printed, and be 21 years old or older) to keep their weapon on their person while in or on any building or real property owned by or leased to any technical school, vocational school, college, university, or other institution of postsecondary education. This will not apply to buildings or property used for athletic events or student housing including sorority and fraternity houses and only applies to the carrying of handguns which are concealed.

This bill represents a step-forward in ensuring that responsible men and women – individuals who have gone through a comprehensive background check – have the right to defend themselves. This bill is about providing for private defenders – whether it be a young man defending himself from a robbery on his way home from the library or a young woman defending herself against sexual assault.

SR 883 - Joint Study Committee on Financial Technologies and the Payment Processing Industry I sponsored this in The House

The Financial Technologies and the Payment Processing Industry is responsible for over 40,000 jobs in Georgia.  This study committee will be made up of Senators and Representatives and will look for ways to make sure current Georgia Law is not a hindrance to this important sector of our state’s economy.

Other Significant Legislation

HB 751 – The Fiscal Year 2017 Budget

The FY 2016 Budget is set by a revenue estimate of $23.7 billion. While, in nominal terms, this budget is the largest ever proposed, in reality, FY 2017 per capita spending under this budget – when adjusted for inflation and population growth – is on par with 1998 levels. For reference, Georgia’s population has grown by nearly 2 million people between 2000 and 2014.

K-12 Education
• The FY 2017 budget includes $124.1 million for enrollment growth along with an additional $300 million going to local school system to offset austerity cuts allowing systems to eliminate furlough days, increase instructional days, and provide teacher pay raises. Additionally, the budget includes $28.6 million in additional lottery funds to increase the pay for pre-k teachers and their assistants.
o Investing in attracting and retaining high-quality teachers is paramount to Georgia’s long-term economic success. With fewer students studying education and less eventually pursuing a career education, the Governor’s budget builds on previous years’ investments in education to restore austerity cuts and better compensate our teachers. Our educators carry the future of our great state on their shoulders – they should be rewarded for their hard work.
• $29.4 million for Move-On When Ready.
o This program is a real-world example of competency-based education that allows students the flexibility to learn at their pace and often times get a head-start on college or a career.

Higher Education
• Additional $59.1 million for the HOPE and Zell Miller scholarships to account for the growth in the number of high-performing eligible-students staying in-state for college.
• College students and their parents will not see a tuition increase across USG institutions due to the diligence of the General Assembly and Governor in providing adequate funding.
• Additional career field added to the Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grant (SIDWG) – eligible students receive this award in addition to the HOPE grant for pursuing in-demand careers.
o Add: Industrial Maintenance (including Machine Tool Technology)
o Current: Certified Engineer Assistant, Commercial Truck Driving, Computer Technology, Diesel Equipment Technology, Early Childhood Care & Education, Health Science, Movie Production Set Design, Practical Nursing, Precision Manufacturing, and Welding and Joining Technology.

Economic Development
• $825 million in additional transportation funding.

• The FY 2017 budget includes rate increases for a number of critical health service providers including primary care and OB/GYN providers as well as occupational and physical therapists within the Children’s Intervention Services (CIS) program that provides rehab services to children with physical disabilities and developmental delays.
• The budget includes funds for the creation of new residency programs in emergency medicine, OB/GYN services, and rural healthcare.

Conservative Stewardship
• Rainy Day Fund: In partnership with the Governor, we as House Republicans have taken necessary steps to restore our state’s Rainy Day Fund to its current level of over $1.4 billion – equal to what we were forced to use during the Great Recession.

HB 801 – Rewarding Students for STEM Classes

HB 801 seeks to reward Georgia college students for taking academically rigorous STEM classes that ultimately lead to employment in a high-demand STEM field. It directs the Board of Regents to identify bachelor level STEM courses to receive extra weight (0.5 added to a B, C, or D) for purposes of calculating a student’s HOPE scholarship GPA – not their college GPA. HB 801 also adds computer science to the list of qualified advanced science courses for high school students. The Georgia Student Finance Commission is instructed to issue a biennial report to the House and Senate Committees on Higher Education detailing high demand fields with workforce shortages. The legislation also permits the Governor to convene a task force to identify high demand fields and those with workforce shortages and recommend the initial courses to the Board of Regents.

SB 364 – Reducing State Testing in K-12 Education

SB 364 revises the annual performance evaluation for public school teachers and administrators. Student growth will now account for 30 percent of the teacher evaluation, down from the original 50 percent. A professional growth component will account for 20 percent. This bill also lowers the test component for administrator evaluations from 70% to 40%. The number of in-class observations are reduced for teachers with at least three years of teaching experience who have earned ‘Proficient’ or ‘Exemplary’ on the previous evaluation. Furthermore, SB 364 raises the attendance threshold that a student must meet to be counted toward a teacher’s evaluation from 65% to 90% attendance.

SB 364 also reduces the amount of state mandated testing. Currently, there are 32 state mandated tests in grades K-12 – including Georgia Milestones and End of Course Tests. This legislation reduces the number of state mandated test to 24 by removing social studies and science milestone tests in grades 3, 4, 6, and 7. There is no federal requirement for these tests, so Georgia can remove them. This bill also adds formative testing in grades 1 and 2 to assess reading and math development. Further, this legislation seeks to move the dates for standardized testing as close to the end of the semester or school year as possible to minimize inefficient instruction time after these tests.

HB 770 – Increased Penalties for Human Trafficking

HB 770 expands the victim class for human trafficking to include those with developmental disabilities and ensures that offenses perpetrated against victims with developmental disabilities will be sentenced consistent with offenses against minors – punishable by a felony and 25 to 50 years or life in prison and a fine not exceeding $100,000. Currently, individuals with developmental disabilities are being targeted by traffickers because traffickers believe these particular victims will be unable to testify against them.

Further, this bill specifically states that the involvement of an undercover operative or law enforcement officer in a trafficking investigation is not a defense to prosecution thereby allowing law enforcement to conduct undercover investigations to build cases against traffickers.

This bill adds the terms “Developmental disability” and “controlled substance” into the sexual servitude definitions. The definition of “sexual servitude” is expanded to include explicit conduct performed by an individual who is younger than 18 years of age or who has a developmental disability and was induced or obtained by deception or coercion – including the use of controlled substances. HB 770’s language seeks to specify the definition of sexual servitude to ensure proper application.

HB 792 – The Campus Taser Bill

HB 792 would allow anyone at any postsecondary education institutions to carry electroshock weapons (i.e. stun gun or taser) on campus. The bill requires the use of that weapon to be only in self-defense or the defense of another.

HB 862 – Homestead Exemption for Disabled Veterans

HB 862 allows an eligible disabled veteran to qualify for the homestead exemption by meeting either, rather than both, of the standards required by law. Currently, these are: the permanent loss of one or both feet, hands, or sight in one or both eyes; or honorably discharged and 100 percent disabled and compensated at the 100 percent level as unemployable. The bill also provides that eligible veterans shall be issued a free motor vehicle license plate, and that the vehicle on which said license plate is affixed shall be exempted from all ad valorem taxes for state, county, municipal, and school purposes.

HB 1060 – Updates to Georgia Gun Laws

The final version of HB 1060 included measures from the original HB 1060 introduced by Rep. Rick Jasperse as well as provisions from Sen. Jesse Stone’s SB 282 and Sen. P.K. Martin’s SB 270.
The provisions originally contained in SB 282 – the Georgia Firearms Industry Nondiscrimination Act – prohibit any person, unless otherwise precluded by law, to refuse to provide financial services or terminate existing services to a person or trade association solely because they are engaged in the lawful commerce of firearms or ammunition.

The provisions originally contained in HB 1060 allow new Georgia residents with a recognized carry permit from another state to carry their firearm for 90 days after which they must submit an application for a Georgia weapons carry license. This legislation also states that persons who have a valid hunting or fishing license are not required to have a carry license on their person in order to carry a knife while engaging in legal hunting, fishing, or sport shooting on recreational or wildlife management areas owned by the state. Further, this bill allows a person who leaves a place of worship upon notification that firearms are prohibited to avoid being fined. With regards to gun safety, this bill allows probate judges receiving applications for permits, to issue printed information on firearms safety courses and goes on to require the Department of Natural Resources to provide on their principal website information on hunter education and classes and courses in this state that render gun safety instruction. Finally, HB 1060 provides immunity from civil liability to firearms safety instructors should one of their students fail to use a firearm properly or lawfully.

Provisions previously contained with SB 270 add to the exemption for retired law enforcement carry privileges to include officers who are citizens of this state and have an aggregate of ten years in law enforcement with arrest powers, separated from service in good standing, and have an identification card for retired law enforcement. Finally, this bill clarifies definitions for “commercial service airport” and “major airline carrier” in an effort to clarify that a carry permit holder may carry their firearm up to security but not through security.

SB 18 – Rewarding our Veterans in Education

SB 18 requires the Technical College System of Georgia to establish policies for granting academic credit to active duty military or veteran students for college-level learning acquired prior to their enrollment. Training and experience from military service must be substantially related to the coursework credit given by the Technical College System of Georgia.

SB 277 – The Protecting Georgia Small Business Act

SB 277 provides that neither a franchisee nor a franchisee’s employee is an employee of the franchisor for any purpose. This legislation was introduced in response to a recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that changed the definition of the employer-employee relationship that has existed since the 1980s. Now, a company that hires a contractor to staff its facilities may be considered a so-called joint employer of the workers at that facility, even if it does not actively supervise them.

The NLRB ruling has potentially broad reaching impacts for businesses as diverse as retailers, restaurants, and manufacturers. Previously, companies were only responsible for employees directly under their control meaning that without the power to set hours, wages, or job responsibilities only they could not be held responsible for the actions of their contractors/franchisees. This ruling stands to force companies to cut ties to staffing agencies that recruit temporary workers and pull companies into collective bargaining negotiations with contractor employees.

SB 331 – Termination of Parental Rights for Rape Pregnancies

SB 331 allows the termination of a father’s parental rights when, by clear and convincing evidence, the father caused his child to be conceived as a result of non-consensual sexual contact. For purposes of legitimation proceedings, there shall be a presumption against legitimation where the court finds that the father caused his child to be conceived in such a manner. Such fathers shall also be barred from inheriting from a child so conceived; however, a child conceived as a result on non-consensual sex may still inherit from the father.

For reference, legitimation refers to the legal action, other than by marrying the mother of a child, that the father of a child born out of wedlock in the State of Georgia may establish legal rights to the child. For reference, legitimation refers to the legal action, other than by marrying the mother of a child, that the father of a child born out of wedlock in the State of Georgia may establish legal rights to the child.

SB 348 – Supporting College and Career Academies

SB 348 seeks to expand educational opportunities in the state by easing the process for the creation of college and career academies. A college and career academy operates as a partnership and collaboration between businesses, high schools and post-secondary institutions to advance work force development and work based learning programs.

This bill amends the BRIDGE Act to allow local school systems to create a college and career academy as part of a contract to act as a strategic waivers school system or charter school and also adds as a provision that a charter district or a strategic waiver district can initiate a college and career academy. This bill solves the problem of having to create a freestanding charter, which will increase the number of college and career academies throughout the state. This bill also provides training requirements for the governing board of a college and career academy, including, but not limited to, best practices, constitutional and statutory requirements, and applicable statutes, rules, and regulations.