The 2015 legislative session ended last week. I appreciate having had the opportunity to represent you, and I’m grateful to have heard from so many of you this session. I sponsored legislation that spurs growth in the emerging Georgia solar industry (HB57), attract investment from local, national, and international companies, and create high quality new jobs for Georgians; end cyberbullying HB131 and to urge (HR620) local boards of education to provide educational awareness renewable energy. I also spent time this session working on issues related to DeKalb County. Among other things, I am proud to have helped pass important reform legislation that will improve standards for ethics and procurement and will also require the use of an independent internal auditor. I was also actively involved with annexations and the cityhood efforts in DeKalb. More information on each of these items as well as summaries of statewide legislation is contained below.

2015 Legislative Summary

Statewide, the following pieces of legislation passed both the House of Representatives and Senate before the end of the session and now require the Governor's signature. Bills that passed will now go to Governor Nathan Deal’s office for his signature. Governor Deal has 40 days to sign bills that passed or do nothing, and the bill becomes law. The Governor may also veto bills, which requires two-thirds of members of each house to override. Bills that did not pass can be reintroduced next year. To voice your support, concerns or questions for any bills, contact the Governor’s Office at 404-656-1776.

Transportation

HB 170 is expected to raise approximately $900 million in new revenue annually to fund maintenance of Georgia’s roads and bridges. The new revenues were primarily achieved by transforming the sales tax on motor fuel sales into 26 cents per gallon excise tax. In addition, the bill eliminated the tax credit for and imposes a $200 registration fee on low-emission vehicles, creates a $5 nightly hotel fee and eliminates the sales tax exemption on jet fuel for Delta Airlines. Click to view this bill.

HB 213 will lift the 50/50 restriction on MARTA which requires that half of all revenue be spent on operations and half on maintenance. Click here to view this bill.

Education

SR 287 proposes a Constitutional amendment allowing the General Assembly to establish the Governor’s proposed Opportunity School District. The Opportunity School District would allow for state intervention in schools that are failing to achieve results on standardized testing measures. The superintendent of the newly created district could opt for:

  • State management of the school
  • Shared governance with the local school board
  • Conversion to a charter school
  • Closure of the school

HB 3: Sanctions for Transactions Involving Student-Athletes: Prohibits the solicitation a student-athlete to engage in a transaction that could result in the loss of athletic scholarship or athletic team participation. Click here to view this bill.

HB 63: Employer's GED Tax Credit Program : Revises the basic skills education program's income tax credit for employers: $400 tax credit for employees who pass the GED; $1,200 for employees who pass the GED and complete a basic skills education and training program. Click here to view this bill.

HB 91 was already signed by the Governor and it retroactively awards high school diplomas to approximately 9,000 Georgians who failed the Georgia High School Graduation Test, which is no longer a graduation requirement.

SB 89: Digital Classroom Act: Allows local boards to use digital and electronic software instead of physical textbooks. Click here to view this bill.


Haleigh's Hope, Rachel's Law, Budget and others

HB 1: Haleigh's Hope Act or “the medical marijuana bill”, authorizes possession of low THC cannabinoid oil for patients suffering from cancer, sickle cell disease, ALS, Parkinson’s, seizure disorders and others. Click here to view this bill.

HB 17: Hidden Predator Act: Provides a two-year retroactive window revive civil cases that have been time-barred by Georgia's current five-year statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases. Click here to view this bill.

HB57, (C0-sponsor) The Solar Power Free-Market Financing and Property Rights Act of 2014, Legalizes financing of solar technology for residences and small business. Click here to view this bill.

HB 76 General appropriations: State Fiscal Year July 1, 2015 - June 30, 2016, The 2016 Budget appropriates $21.8 billion to fund the state’s operations for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget includes funding for education that reduces the austerity cuts that have been implemented for more than a decade, including health insurance coverage in the state plan for school bus drivers and cafeteria workers. The budget unfortunately shifts $102 million from school districts to fund the health coverage for school workers, which will increase the pressure on local school budgets. The budget adds healthcare funding, including provide services to people with developmental or intellectual disabilities and funds stabilization beds at Grady. The budget also increases pay for public defenders, district attorneys and judges. As finalized, it also provides $75 million in bond eligibility to MARTA for transit construction and equipment purchases. Of note:

  • The budget adds $490,000 for supported employment slots and $150,000 in one-time funds for options for severely disabled.
  • It cuts $16 M in community health state funds from the Governor’s request and spends $5.9 M for OB/GYN fees and $17.2M to partially restore the temporary ACA primary care rate increases
  • $500,000 to support free clinics
  • $3 M for the rural hospital pilot project
  • Adds $631,357 for school nurses and $275,000 for Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports
  • $1.6 M for the GBI to investigate elder abuse
  • $230,000 for the sexual assault centers
  • $107,594 for a coordinator for the Alzheimer’s state plan
  • $1.7 M for 1,000 community-based services waivers
  • Increases funds for legal services to domestic violence victims by $193,126

HB 72: Protecting Disabled Adults and the Elderly: Expands protection measures for suspected abuse or exploitation of the elderly. Click here to view this bill.

HB 110: Sale of Fireworks: Legalizes and sets parameters for the distribution, transportation and retail sale of consumer fireworks. Click here to view this bill.

HB 131 (Co-sponsor) The End to Cyberbullying Act, amends the current definition of bullying to include cyberbullying. Provides administrators with the ability to police these electronic acts of bullying whether or not the act occurred on-campus.

HB 237: Angel Investor Tax Credit: Extends the Angel Investor tax credit, at the current capped amount of $5 million, for calendar years 2016-2018. Click here to view this bill.

HB 268: Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse: Requires all childcare-related employees or volunteers to report any reasonable cause that child abuse has occurred. Click here to view this bill.

HB 429: Ava's Law: Provides that no health benefit plan can restrict coverage of a terminal condition and requires Georgia insurance policies to cover autism spectrum disorders for children six years old or younger. Click here to view this bill.

HR 620 (Sponsor): Local boards of education; provide educational awareness regarding renewable energy; urges local boards of education to provide educational awareness regarding renewable energy.

SB 2: Move On When Ready: Allows local boards of education to award a high school diploma to dual enrollment students who meet certain qualifications. Click here to view this bill.

SR 7: Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund; provide that General Assembly by law may impose additional penalties or fees for the offenses. Constitutional Amendment: asks Georgia voters for permission to create the new state fund and use it solely to help trafficking victims. Will be placed on the November 2016 General Election ballot.

SB 8: Crimes and Offenses: children who have been sexually exploited; make provisions; create Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund Commission, establishes a new Safe Harbor for the Sexually Exploited Children Fund, receiving money through $2,500 fines on convicted traffickers and an annual fee on adult entertainment establishments, which will be the greater of $5,000 or 1% of gross revenue for the previous year. This money is then used to provide housing, mental care, education, job training, legal help, and child care to the victims. Convicted traffickers will also be listed on the state sex offender website. Click here to view this bill.

SB 63: allows craft breweries to sell up to 36 ounces of beer for consumption on their premises and up to 72 ounces of beer (or a 6-pack) can be taken home. Click here to view this bill.

SB 88: Establishing Payroll Card Program: Provides employers with the option to pay their employees through a payroll debit card program. Click here to view this bill.

SB 94: Body Cameras: Provides a comprehensive revision and modernization of Georgia's search and seizure laws to accommodate a police officer's use of a body camera. Click here to view this bill.
SB 101: Soil Erosion and Sedimentation; provide for buffer against coastal marshlands within which certain land-disturbing activities are prohibited,
establishes a 25-foot buffer to protect marshland as well as to help reduce erosion and filter land-based pollutants such as fertilizer and insecticides. The bill contains a buffer exemption for Army Corp of Engineers permit that requires a buffer variance for these specific types of projects rather than an automatic exemption.

Controversial Measures


SR 287 (B. Miller/R) Opportunity School District; allow the General Assembly to authorize the establishment; provide for state intervention for failing schools – Constitutional Amendment. SR 287 is a constitutional amendment that would allow the General Assembly to authorize the establishment of an Opportunity School District (OSD) to provide for state interventions for failing schools. The Georgia House Democratic Caucus opposed this bill. Will be placed on the November 2016 General Election ballot.


SB 133 (B. Miller/R) Opportunity School District; establishment; provide for definitions; supervision of public elementary and secondary schools that are failing. Creates the framework for the state-wide Opportunity School District. Perennially low-performing schools which score under 60 on the state CCRPI for three consecutive years which would become eligible for OSD takeover. The OSD Superintendent, appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate, would have sole authority to decide which eligible schools will be taken over as well as which intervention model would be most appropriate for the school. The models include: direct management by the OSD, shared governance between OSD and the local education agency, conversion to a charter school, or possible closure of the school and reassigning all students. Once taken over, schools will be under OSD supervision for between 5-10 years unless sustained academic progress is shown for three years. SB 133 becomes effective on January 1, 2017 only if an amendment to the Constitution is ratified on the November 2016 ballot (SR 287) allowing the General Assembly to authorize the establishment of an Opportunity School District to provide for state interventions for failing schools. The Georgia House Democratic Caucus opposed this bill.

SB 139 (T. Harper/R) Selling and Other Trade Practices; provide regulation; auxiliary containers shall be done by general law. This bill would have prevented local governments from imposing restrictions on the use of disposable plastic bags based on environmental or other considerations. The Georgia House Democratic Caucus opposed this bill. Defeated.

Pending Measures


The biggest story of the 2015 Legislative Session might not be the bills that we passed. It might be the bills that didn’t pass: SB129 Religious Freedom Restoration Act and HB194 regards cuts to early voting days.

For the second year, the “religious freedom” or RFRA bill failed to pass in the final days of session. Without anti-discrimination language amended into the bill, SB129 would create a legal “carve-out,” allowing discriminatory acts when justified as an expression of religious belief. Massive opposition came from the LGBT community, a broad coalition of religious leaders, corporate leaders, the hospitality community, and goodhearted Georgians. The bill was tabled in House Judiciary when the author would not accept anti-discrimination amendment language.

SB 129 (J. McKoon/R) "Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act"; provide for the preservation of religious freedom. This bill would have allowed individuals to cite religion and sue the government for forcing them to comply with our state's laws, leaving our citizens open to discrimination in the workplace and beyond. Did not receive a vote from the House. May be reconsidered in 2016.

HB 194 (M. Hamilton/R) Elections; advance voting times and dates; revise
The Bill would cut the number of days of early voting from 21 to 12. It further would have restricted local governments’ current options in when and how to conduct early voting. Did not receive a vote from the House. May be reconsidered in 2016.

 

DeKalb Local Legislation

Reform bills: Three DeKalb County reform bills were passed during the legislative session. Their intent is to ensure that DeKalb County meets the best practice standards for county governments. These reforms were deemed necessary by the Government Operations Task Force and also by a citizens’ group, Blueprint DeKalb. HB 597 provides for an ethics board appointed by representatives of outside organizations, instead of by the Commissioners. HB 598 involves the development of a purchasing policy involving sealed bids for purchases exceeding $50,000 for all county departments. HB 599 mandates that the Board of Commissioners will create a Department of Internal Audit, which will be independent, to monitor the cost effectiveness of County departments and programs.

New Cities: The proposed cities of LaVista Hills (HB 520) and Tucker (HB 515) both cities claimed some of the same neighborhoods and commercial areas, in December a subcommittee of the House Governmental Affairs Committee determined the boundary between the two cities and declared it to be “set in stone.” However, during the session, some changes were made in order to secure agreement between the House and Senate. Here are the maps for both cities. Both proposed cities now proceed to referenda, which will occur in November of this year. Several other proposals, including the proposed annexation of Druid Hills and some other areas into the city of Atlanta and the proposal for the City of Stonecrest, Greenhaven did not make it through the session. A brief summary is provided:

DeKalb County Cityhood History

Annexations have been introduced after new city hood bills.

City of Atlanta aggressively pursuing annexation into DeKalb supported by several DeKalb legislators. Hearing held April 17, 2015 with the Atlanta delegation.

HR 743 Study committee may create revised rules to for cities and new avenues to pursue annexations (3/27 passed).

2013-2014 Cities

Bill Number

City

Sponsor

Outcome

Introduced

SB270

Lakeside

Sen. Millar

Died*

3/13-3/14

HB677

Tucker

Rep. Mitchell

Died

1/14

HB665

Briarcliff

Rep. Oliver

Died*

3/13

HB687

South DeKalb

Rep. Stephenson

Died**

1/2013

* Combined efforts to form Lavista Hills

** Formed Greenhaven

***Unfavorable Feasibility study for Stonecrest
 

2015-2016 Cities

Bill Number

City

Sponsor

Outcome

Introduced

HB520

Lavista Hills

Rep. Taylor /
Sen. Millar

On the Ballot

3/2/15

HB515

Tucker

Rep. Mitchell

On the Ballot

3/31/15

HB539

SB208

Stonecrest

Rep. Haigler

Sen. Ramsey

Held both chambers

3/3/15

3/5/15

HB613

SB221

Greenhaven

Rep. Stephenson

Sen. Ramsey

Held both chambers

3/19/15

3/13/15

HB612

Winship

Henson

Placeholder

3/20

Click on the map provided that I had drafted to indicate the reach of the annexation to Atlanta proposal. As you can see, the County is at a cross roads and as the map suggests, it is crucial that residents remain active. DeKalb Strong is group that is working to help reform DeKalb County government.

http://dekalbstrong.com

If you have any questions about these potential changes to state code or if you have any suggestions for future legislation, I hope that you will contact me. You can reach me at my capitol office at 404-656-0202 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Additionally, I will be spending a lot more time in the district now, so feel free to contact me 678-232-1056.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.