UPDATES SENATE REPORT
UPDATES SENATE REPORT
The last two days of the session will be Tuesday, March 28th and Thursday, March 30th.
Keep watch, the casino bill is still kicking around as well as Daily Fantasy Sports. Both have been attached to other bills. Calls will be needed to the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Speaker of the House to keep these bills from moving forward.
Two Days Left in the 2017 Georgia Session
ATLANTA - March 24, 2017
This week marks the end of Day 38 of the 40-day legislative session. We have reached the point where committees have wrapped up their work and are no longer meeting. We are working through the House bills that have been reported favorably by their respective committees. However, in these last few days before Sine Die, legislators are also up to last ditch efforts to salvage stalled bills by attaching them to other bills that are still moving.
As far as my week, I faced the biggest controversy this year over an amendment I offered to House Bill 159. The overall legislation is an effort to update Georgia's laws regarding foster care and adoption. My added language would ensure that the many child placement agencies that operate according to their specific mission statements will not jeopardize their autonomy by continuing to act according to their policies when contracting with the state.
The amendment will help Georgia retain all the long-standing partnerships that currently exist between the State and private agencies while ensuring that any Georgian able to participate in foster care and adoption under Georgia law can be matched with an agency that can best assist them with foster care and adoption services. Everyone's rights are protected. The state's goal is to place children in loving foster and adoptive homes, and the more agencies the state can work with, the better. My amendment will ensure that we do not lose any of them because they will all be on firm legal footing to operate according to their long-standing missions.
Unfortunately, this common-sense amendment, which is neutral in its application - meaning that it treats all child placement agencies equally - has been maligned with "the sky is falling" rhetoric. This is the classic case of the metro-media taking the talking points of the radical left, using that for their headlines and stories, and creating a hostile atmosphere that specifically targets the faith-based community, as if religious adherents suddenly have no rights in the public square. If we are going to have freedom at all in this nation, then these spurious attacks on religious freedom must end.
At this juncture, HB 159 is going to undergo further review by the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be back under consideration next year. I understand that some members of the Senate leadership have expressed concerns about the lack of time to thoroughly review the underlying language of the bill. Since it is 100 pages and the first major rewrite of Georgia's adoption and foster care law in about 30 years, the Senate needs more time. The Senate has not been involved in this process, and this session is the first we've seen of the bill. The bill's sponsor has been working on it for two years, but we have learned that some of the largest child placement agencies in the state were not consulted. They need a chance to weigh-in on the original bill language. The Senate has taken the right approach to give this bill the full-two year process.
As for other matters this week, I was glad to see House Bill 425 pass the Senate. Under HB 425, the State Board of Education and local school systems are strongly encouraged to allow for the administration of paper and pencil format standardized tests at the request of a parent or guardian. In addition, this bill requires the State School Superintendent to develop guidelines for students who refuse to participate in standardized tests. The guidelines must prohibit a school system from taking punitive action against any student who refuses to take the test and students are required to have alternative instructional activities. The guidelines must be finished by September 1, 2017, and the State Board of Education has to approve them.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, then you are probably remembering my effort last year on Senate Bill 355, which also addressed these issues. It passed both chambers only to face a veto. This year, perhaps the effort, championed by an educator in the House, will prevail.
We passed a total of 17 House bills this week, including one that works to fulfill our only constitutional requirement each session, passing a balanced budget. House Bill 44, the Fiscal Year 2018 General Budget (FY18) came to the Senate with recommendations from both the Governor and the House of Representatives. We’ve spent hundreds of hours over the past few weeks combing through each line item to ensure your taxpayer dollars are being spent in a fiscally conservative manner.
Our budget is the biggest it has ever been, sitting at almost $25 billion. In the budget, several allocations were made that will have a direct effect on our district, including a $2 million bond to fund the renovation of the Brunswick Central Library in Glynn County. In addition, we included $100,000 in funding for the Georgia Coastal Greenway Project.
Another major milestone we approved this year in the budget is funding for livestreaming the Senate’s committee meetings. This is something the House has been doing for years, but the Senate never implemented. I believe in a transparent government, but right now the only way for citizens of Georgia to be a part of the legislative process is to drive to the Capitol and attend the meetings in person. Now, with the allocation of $485,000 for the Senate Transparency Project, we will be able to provide greater access and transparency in our committee process by allowing you to watch our meetings in the comfort of your own home.
Recruiting and retaining top talent is crucial for the smooth operation and success of any company. It is especially important in our local school systems and law enforcement. The FY18 budget includes $160.1 million for a two percent salary base increase for our state’s educators, school nurses and school bus drivers. These men and women look after the welfare of our children, sharpen their minds and strengthen their talents. Though I know they deserve and appreciate this modest pay increase, I believe they would be even happier if we could just repeal half of the bureaucratic requirements that take up far too much of their time. We also allocated $55.4 million for a 20 percent increase for our law enforcement officers to reduce turnover and improve recruitment efforts. Georgia has not been competitive with other states and the federal government, and we must be able to retain our experienced personnel.
There’s not a lot of time left in this session to vet and vote on legislation. Monday is the last day for committees to pass out legislation for a chance at passage this session. With Sine Die approaching, I encourage you to reach out with any questions or concerns you may have. I enjoy hearing your thoughts on the activity of the General Assembly. As always, I am humbled to represent you under the Gold Dome.
The Senate also passed House Bill 341 which changes provisions about who can be convicted of sex trafficking, and it strengthens the punishments for those individuals. Now, as a result of this legislation, someone who solicits sex on behalf of someone else can be charged with sex trafficking. HB 341 strengthens the punishments for other sexual offenses and clarifies provisions relating to probation opportunities for split sentences.
We passed another measure this week that I did not support. House Bill 338 creates a management system of supports and assistance for Georgia’s lowest performing schools, but in essence, it allows for the state to determine the fate of what it deems a failing local school system. This may also sound familiar. Last year, voters soundly rejected the Opportunity School District (OSD) measure at the ballot box. Unfortunately, this legislation still moves in that same direction, although under a different structure. Even so, I believe the voters in my district have spoken clearly about this issue, and I voted no. According to our State School Superintendent, the School Improvement Division already comes alongside failing school districts, and this legislation tends to allow a duplication of efforts and comes with additional state control.
We have two more days to vet and vote on legislation before the 2017 legislative session comes to a close. With Sine Die approaching, I encourage you to reach out with any questions or concerns you may have. Our last two days are Tuesday, March 28 and Thursday, March 30.
Five Days to Go in the 2017 Georgia Session
ATLANTA - March 17, 2017
Only five days remain in the 2017 legislative session. All of the Senate committees are finishing up their fact-finding work and providing recommendations for the House bills they are vetting. This doesn’t mean the last few days will be a piece of cake-these days are going to stretch into the evenings and will be far from easy. There are still many bills and resolutions waiting for Senate approval, and we are going to try and give each one a chance for final passage in 2017.
Earlier this session, I sponsored Senate Bill 46 which limits the liability for operators of space flight activities from lawsuits in cases where an individual was injured during flight and a written waiver was signed in advance, but not in cases of gross negligence. As mentioned after the passage of SB 46, Camden County has an immense opportunity to welcome the space industry to our state and it’s imperative that we foster this new industry’s growth in Georgia. This is why the Senate also passed House Bill 1 this week. HB 1 has identical language to SB 46. I know it may seem redundant to pass two bills that do the same thing, but it is very important for the economic development of Camden County and our state that we provide for space flight operations. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter which bill the Governor signs, as long as we let the space industry know our state is ready and willing to support their business.
GEORGIA STATE SENATOR