The 2013 session of the Georgia General Assembly came to an end at midnight March 28, with the House of Representatives and the Senate reaching final agreement on a $19.9 billion state budget for fiscal year 2014. I am very pleased to report that the budget includes funding for the four-year program at the Liberty County campus of Armstrong Atlantic State University.
This is a major victory that will pay dividends for our community for generations to come and is the product of a tremendous effort by our local legislative delegation, which also includes Rep. Ron Stephens and Sen. Buddy Carter, as well as great local support from Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, Commission Chairman Donald Lovett and leadership from House Speaker David Ralston and Appropriations Committee Chairs Rep. Terry England and Sen. Jack Hill. The campus will be located on Memorial Drive in Hinesville.
The budget legislation, HB 106, includes $850 million worth of bond funding for the construction of schools, roads and other public works projects. Budget increases include $224 million to make up for the shortfall in Medicaid funding, $147 million to cover increased enrollment in the K-12 public schools and $72 million for enrollment growth in the University System.
The final version of the bill worked out by House and Senate conferees includes a restoration of $8 million of the $27 million that had been cut from the state’s technical college system and $5 million for juvenile court incentive grants, which are to pay for alternative sentencing programs for non-violent juvenile offenders as part of the juvenile justice reform legislation passed earlier in the session.
HB 106 now goes to the desk of the governor, who can sign the entire bill or veto specific line item appropriations.
Lobbying Reform: HB 142, which would impose new limits on lobbyists’ expenditures for meals, gifts and entertainment for legislators and other public officials, was approved unanimously in both houses after a compromise was reached to reconcile sharp differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
Under the legislation, which now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature, lobbyists would be limited to spending $75 on dining, travel and entertainment for individual legislators. The cap would be lifted for lobbyist spending on full legislative committees or caucuses, but each lobbyist would be limited to paying for one event per year for each group.
While HB 142 would still allow lobbyists to fund educational conferences and meetings for legislators in the U.S., it specifically prohibits paying for international travel expenses.
The bill would also require anyone who is paid more than $250 per year to lobby or who spends more than $1,000 a year on lobbying expenses to register as a lobbyist, but the current $300 annual registration fee would no longer be required. Exempted from registering under HB 142 are unpaid citizen advocates and attorneys who are not being paid for the specific purpose of lobbying.
HB 143, a companion ethics bill that would remove the reporting requirements for candidates at the local level of government who raise and spend less than $2,500 on their campaigns, also won final approval and goes to the governor for his signature.
Final Week’s Action: Other legislation winning final approval last week and now awaiting Gov. Deal’s signature to become law includes:
HB 150, which would prohibit the charging of a fee to remove police mug shots from websites if the person arrested is acquitted or charges are dropped.
HB 156, which would tighten restrictions on Internet child pornography.HB 318, which would make changes to the Georgia Tourism Development Act and includes an amendment to create an “Invest Georgia” venture capital fund for start-up businesses.
HB 372, which would change the grade-point average requirement from 3.0 to 2.0 for HOPE Grant recipients in Georgia’s technical colleges.
HB 407, which would extend to one year the use of ignition locks after a second DUI conviction.
HB 487, which would transfer regulatory control over video gaming machines in Georgia from the Department of Revenue to the Georgia Lottery Corp. and authorize lottery tickets to be awarded as prize winnings, with a percentage of revenues going to fund the HOPE Scholarship program. I was honored to serve on the conference committee that worked out the final version of this bill.
HR 4, which offers to drop the boundary dispute between Georgia and Tennessee in exchange for Georgia being granted water rights access to the Tennessee River.
SB 160, which would relieve businesses and professionals of the requirement to prove their U.S. citizenship every year to renew their state licenses after they have done so one time.
SB 236, which would require insurance companies to disclose to healthcare policy holders any rate increase that is attributed to the federal Affordable Care Act.
Meanwhile, a proposal to expand the rights of persons with licenses to carry guns in public places (SB 101) failed to receive a final vote when House and Senate conferees were unable to resolve differences over the issue of weapons on college campuses prior to the midnight deadline on the 40th legislative day.
Read Across Georgia: On March 28, Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal visited Liberty County schools as part of her Read Across Georgia initiative to promote literacy. My wife Olivia was honored to accompany Mrs. Deal during her visit.
Thank you again for the privilege of representing you at the State Capitol. Please contact me whenever I can be of service.
Williams, D-Midway, represents District 168 in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact him at 511 Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; by phone at 404-656-6372; or by email at email@example.com.