Feb. 10: The 2012 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly continues to move forward with 18 legislative days behind us. After leaving the Capitol on Friday of last week and heading home to our districts, the legislature was back in full swing on Monday. This week the General Assembly was in session for four days. Although we will not be in session on Monday and Tuesday, myself and the majority of my colleagues will be back in Atlanta attending committee meetings and debating legislation.
Several pieces of legislation were passed this week out of the House. On Monday, House Bill 832 passed 148 to 8 and would slightly amend the law relating to the Vidalia onion and the Vidalia onion trademark. This bill would eliminate the requirement that royalty and license fees would not exceed a certain amount. House Resolution 1103 passed unanimously and would dedicate a portion of Interstate Route 520 in Richmond County as the Deputy James D. Paugh Memorial Highway. Deputy Paugh was a dedicated public servant who was killed in October of last year while on duty when a motorist he stopped opened fire on him.
On Tuesday, the House passed five bills and one resolution. In recent years, there has been discussion about human trafficking in Georgia and the victims of it; therefore, we passed House Resolution 1151 (vote of 166 to 1) to create the Joint Human Trafficking Study Commission. This committee will consist of 13 members that will examine Georgia’s system of care for victims of human trafficking for one year and will report the findings and make recommendations. Last session the General Assembly passed House Bill 200 in regard to the crime of human trafficking and now the legislature is looking at a means of a comprehensive system of services for those victims. House Bill 725 passed unanimously and it relates to certain circumstances whereby qualifying for a public office could be reopened. For example, if an incumbent filed their candidacy and paid the qualifying fee and then decided to withdraw, this bill would allow qualifying to be reopened for other candidates on the Monday following the close of qualifying. House Bill 642 passed 134 to 27 and would abolish the office of the State Personnel Administration and moves those responsibilities to the Department of Administrative Services (DOAS). Relating to this bill is House Bill 805 which passed unanimously and it involves the transfer of certain functions in regard to retirement and pensions for people under the State Personnel Administration, which will fall under DOAS should HB 642 pass. House Bill 711 passed 162 to 1 and it changes the specifics involving spouses and testifying in a criminal proceeding, such as certain exemptions to when a spouse would have to testify and the confidentiality of the parties. House Bill 760 passed 167 to 1 and would make changes to capital outlay funds for elementary and secondary education. This bill would increase requirements for the advance funding program, eliminate the requirement of a nonbinding referendum for a school closure and would replace the exceptional growth program with an expansion of the maximum entitlement level for regular capital outlay earnings.
On Wednesday, the House debated two pieces of legislation. House Bill 342 passed unanimously and it defines and expands the definition of a family violence order and will allow law enforcement to arrest a perpetrator if they are in violation of a restraining order. The other bill we debated on Wednesday took up the majority of our time that day. Many people have heard the discussion on the news about Charter Schools in Georgia and this legislation sought to address that issue.
A state Supreme Court ruling last year said that the state did not have the ability to approve charter schools; however, House Resolution 1162 proposed an amendment to Georgia’s Constitution to clarify the authority of the state to establish a state-wide education policy. HR 1162 was voted on this week; however, the bill we voted on was an amended bill and a bipartisan compromise of the bill that was originally introduced. Although local funding was included in the original version, the amended version did not allow local money to move forward to a charter school. House Resolution 1162 failed to pass out of the House on Wednesday because it did not receive the required two-thirds majority vote which is needed to pass a Constitutional Amendment. The vote was 110 to 62 and only 10 votes short of the 120 votes needed to pass out of the House. The passage of a Constitutional Amendment simply means that the legislation will go on the ballot as a statewide referendum and voters would make the decision. HR 1162 will now go back to the Rules Committee and it could be reconsidered on another legislative day.
On Thursday two bills were passed.
House Bill 409 passed unanimously and it simply clarifies that graduates of an accredited college or school of veterinary medicine can apply for a license without the board needing to approve the individuals to take the exam. This ensures that the board does not have to approve the individuals twice.
House Bill 707 passed 122 to 35 and it would allow a voter to use a valid student id with a photo to be used as proof of identity in order to vote.
The General Assembly will continue our work at the State Capitol on Wednesday, February 15th for our nineteenth day of session. I will continue to keep all of you informed throughout the 2012 legislative session. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, ideas, thoughts or concerns. It is both an honor and privilege to continue serving you in the Georgia General Assembly.
If you would like to reach me, please call me at (404) 656-5099 or write me at: State Rep. Ron Stephens, 226 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.