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Two Days Left in the 2014 Legislative Session
March 17, 2014

The Georgia General Assembly is in the very last days of the 2014 Legislative Session. While many people refer to the last day as Day 40, it is also known as Sine Die.

With only two days remaining in this year’s session, the General Assembly will work carefully to consider a number of House bills before they achieve final passage on the Senate floor and head to the Governor’s office. Here is a look at some of the bills passed this last week.

HB 153 authorizes local governments to propose Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes (SPLOST) of less than one cent. This fractional penny SPLOST will not apply to education local option sales taxes.

HB 658 ends the Georgia estate tax, more commonly known as the “death tax,” and any requirements for related estate tax returns on July 1, 2014. Currently in Georgia, any property or assets transferred to others at the time of death is taxed on the fair market values of the item or property.

HB 770 establishes the crimes of home invasion in the first and second degree in both the criminal and juvenile code. Under this legislation, both offenses may be designated and punished as felonies.

HB 777 enacts the Interstate Boating Violator Compact, an agreement between states that allows the home state to treat a boating conviction of one of its residents in another state as if the conviction had occurred in the home state. HB 777 allows the Department of Natural Resources to suspend a person’s privilege to operate a water vessel for violations of laws outlined in the Interstate Boating Violator Compact. The bill changes the effective date of criminal boating violations to January 1, 2014.

HB 790 expands the responsibility of the Georgia Forestry Commission to enforce timber theft laws by allowing commission foresters and firefighters, along with investigators, to issue citations for cutting or carrying away of timber of another landowner.

HB 702 administers the placement of a historic granite monument on State Capitol grounds. The monument would specifically include the Preamble to the Georgia Constitution, the part of the Declaration of Independence which states that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” and the Ten Commandments.

HB 1080 provides for the placement of a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Capitol grounds, subject to the availability of private funds and intellectual property rights.
HB 838 prohibits any person from transmitting unauthorized nude or sexually explicit photos or videos of another person to the internet. 

HB 933 extends the current state sales tax exemption on the sale of equipment used in the maintenance or repair of aircraft not registered in Georgia. Under current law, this exemption is set to expire on June 30, 2015, and this bill will make the exemption permanent.

HB 958 includes the extension and revision of certain entertainment tax credits, food donation tax exemptions and back to school sales tax holidays.

HB 943, known as the Cancer Treatment Fairness Act and Required Coverage for Autism Spectrum Disorders, requires health insurance policies providing coverage for intravenously administered chemotherapy to ensure the same level of coverage for orally administered chemotherapy. The bill was amended to require insurers to cover children six years of age or younger diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).


Follow-up Report on SB 167, National “Common Core” Standards
March 21, 2014

REGARDING COMMON CORE: WHERE DO PARENTS AND TAXPAYERS GO FROM HERE?

At this juncture, the effort to stop the continued lock-step march into national Common Core standards and its centralized educational framework rests with local parents and taxpayers to make their voices heard with the members of the State School Board and with their local boards of education. The legislative effort failed to remove our state from this agenda that is pushed by the Gates Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and other national groups. However, our efforts have at least ensured that the Department of Education has embarked upon a review of the inadequate Common Core standards.

At the end of the Race to the Top grant period in September, it appears that Georgia will be able to modify and sequence the standards to address some of the problems our teachers and students are experiencing in the classroom. This does not mean, however, that the State School Board is yet willing to withdraw from the national standards movement that is driving our education policies.

Secondly, parents should be extremely vigilant about curricula that is adopted at the local level, and this includes electronic resources. Your voice at the local level and with your appointed State School Board representative matters.

Next week, I will send out a report to recap the last couple of days of the session. The pace was fast and furious, and the official results on all the legislation should be available no later than Monday or Tuesday.


RECAP ON SB 167 AND WHY I WITHDREW SUPPORT FOR THE HOUSE SUBSTITUTE

When I entered the effort to withdraw Georgia from the national Common Core standards, I knew it would be an uphill struggle. Last year's legislation required a full statewide withdrawal and failed to get out of committee. This year, we had an initial opportunity to sit down with Senate and House leadership, as well as the Governor's Office, to develop a compromise which included the option for local school systems to return to instruction and curricula aligned with the former Georgia Performance Standards while the standards review process was underway. Upon our agreement, SB 167 passed the Senate.

After Senate passage of the bill, big business interests and the top leadership of educational lobby groups mischaracterized the bill language. Due to their influence, an unacceptable substitute was offered by the House Education Committee.

Although I listened to their ideas and arguments for the House substitute, and even agreed on a few on their points, the following major principles were not honored in the substitute bill.

1 - My overall purpose for the legislation was to make it clear that Georgia would not continue down the road of national standards.

2 - Local districts should have flexibility to align their curricula and instruction to the former and superior Georgia Performance Standards during the standards revision process for math and English language arts.

3 - The Council, while still intact, no longer had a majority of parents. Teachers are already involved through the Department of Education's internal review of the standards which is underway even now. The bill already required teachers to be included on the sub-committees. The Council was intended to provide parents an opportunity to have a strong voice in the process.

4 - While the data section of the substitute bill could have provided a good starting point for data privacy, it did not protect our students from corporate data mining. Personally identifiable data collected by third parties, done so outside the bounds of any contract, as that which often happens in the virtual world of free educational software applications, was totally up for grabs in the substitute bill language. Private student data can still be harvested by corporate interests.

5 - Finally, throughout this process, I constantly advocated in meetings for a moratorium on high-stakes consequences for teachers. Though the Department of Education did not want to risk the one-year NCLB waiver, which requires 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation to be linked to student test results, this entire scheme is based on questionable science and shortchanges teachers. At the very least, while any process moves forward to revise the deficient Common Core standards, the State should allow local districts to use test results only in an advisory capacity so that our teachers would know how they may fare under this new evaluation system once new standards and assessments are in place.

Since it was obvious that the House Education Committee would not pass SB 167 as it came out of the Senate and had a weak substitute of its own that I could not support, I offered the House Education Committee an opportunity to pass my own substitute bill in committee which incorporated the House substitute language but also addressed the five concerns mentioned above. This effort was also rejected by a majority of the committee members.


THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGEMENT THROUGHOUT THE SESSION

I appreciate all your kind words and helpful advice throughout this roller coaster session. I understand, too, that many of you were praying for me and my family almost on a daily basis. What a blessing it is to know that people take this responsibility of prayer for our government and its leaders seriously. Some of you even came up to the Capitol to attend rallies and take time to visit with me in my office. Thank you for being engaged in the effort for good government. Your involvement makes all the difference.





                
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         GEORGIA STATE SENATOR
WILLIAM LIGON
                          Third District