UPDATES                SENATE REPORT                                
           UPDATES                SENATE REPORT                                
February 16-20, 2015

This week, we experienced a bout of slow flurries and ice on the roads, but legislators had little difficulty getting to the Capitol to conduct the daily business. On Friday, we completed Day 19 of the Legislative Session.

Wednesday, the Joint Education and Youth Committee heard lively debate on the AP U.S. History (APUSH) Framework. My colleagues and I had the opportunity to question the College Board and two experts challenging the new APUSH Framework. Dr. Stanley Kurtz, Senior Fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a regular contributor to National Review Online made a strong case that the College Board monopoly needed competition. Larry Krieger, who has 25 years of experience teaching AP U.S. History and whose books have helped thousands of students achieve high scores on SAT and AP tests, analyzed the new 2015 Framework to point out its leftward ideological shift. Both Kurtz and Krieger frequently pointed out the Framework's inflexible thematic approach that drives instruction and testing.

Many states across the nation have debated the current APUSH framework in recent months. In previous years, teachers were provided with a five-page list of topics they were required to cover for the test. It allowed teachers to present American history from a wide range of perspectives, whether liberal or conservative. Now, under the College Board’s new Framework, classroom instruction is controlled by over 70 pages of topics and detailed guidance which must correspond to the seven dominate themes required by the College Board. The shift toward a leftward ideology is made obvious by a growing focus on group identities, such as "the formation of gender, class, racial and ethnic loyalties," at the expense of such unifying concepts as American Exceptionalism.

I have introduced Senate Resolution 80 to urge the State of Georgia to develop alternatives to the College Board's monopoly over the coursework for our advanced students. Unless we have competition, Georgia will continue to be at the mercy of one organization with the means to control coursework and testing for all college-bound students. Since Georgia taxpayers pay for these courses and tests, Georgia taxpayers need accountability and alternatives. One organization, which is now approaching the point of being a billion-dollar monopoly, must not preempt the constitutional rights of the people to direct the educational agenda of this state.
In another legislative direction on education, we are working to make earning a college degree easier and more attainable for all citizens of Georgia. Senate Bill 18, which passed the Senate on Tuesday, allows the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) to accept prior work experience and skills learned through the military for academic credit. The bill passed by a vote of 53-0. SB 18 ensures that members of Georgia’s military have the opportunity to apply the knowledge gained through their service to their academic careers.

For our coastal district, efforts to protect our natural resources are ongoing. We not only have the constant battle to protect our Floridan Aquifer, we must also revisit the issue of how we protect our coastline and the banks of all state waters from pollution, soil erosion, and sedimentation.

Many citizens in the Third District are carefully watching the progress on SB 101, the Erosion and Sedimentation Act, of which I am a co-sponsor. This bill is intended to re-establish a 25-foot coastal marshland buffer along the banks of all state waters and coastal marshlands, a policy which had been in place until last year until the Environment Protection Division determined it was not enforceable. SB 101 would correct this situation and prohibit any land-disturbing activities within the buffer zone, including but not limited to clearing, grading or excavating. SB 101 has been read and referred to the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee.

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Ben Watson, is continuing to meet with parties on both sides of the debate to consider additional modifications to the bill language. I have been able to facilitate some of these meetings and ensure that the concerns of Third District citizens are considered, but the bill's sponsor will ultimately determine what is included in the bill.

Another piece of legislation regarding our Georgia coast is Senate Resolution 26. As the bill sponsor, I was pleased to see it pass in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. It will create the Joint Senate and House Coastal Greenway Study Committee. The study committee will work to determine the benefits and shortfalls of creating a separate paved trail that will connect 115,860 acres of existing wildlife preserves, natural areas, parks, 12 National Historic Landmark districts in coastal Georgia. This trail would be designed to ultimately connect with the proposed East Coast Greenway, which will stretch from Calais, Maine to Key West, Florida. Many think of it as the coastal equivalent to the Appalachian Trail. Our coast draws visitors from all over the world, due to its beauty, its historic sites, popular outdoor recreation areas, wildlife areas, and beaches, and this proposed coastal trail will be studied to determine if it would have a positive effect upon Georgia's tourism industry.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary tabled SB 129, the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) due to an effort to amend the bill. As one of the members of that committee, I was not in favor of any amendments.

I am working with the bill's sponsor, Sen. Josh McKoon, to ensure that he can pass his bill in the Judiciary Committee without amendments. The bill language has been drafted to reflect the language of the federal RFRA, which has a time-tested success record of over 20 years for protecting the religious liberty interests of citizens whose religious rights have been burdened.  As seen in the recent Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case, even laws that appear to be neutral toward religion can burden First Amendment religious free exercise rights.

When considering the actual history of RFRA principles, the courts have applied the RFRA standards of strict scrutiny and the compelling governmental interest balancing test for 50 years. These are the key elements of the Georgia RFRA language in SB 129, and amendments would have a negative effect in how these principles would be applied in Georgia. Therefore, it is important that the bill language reflect the original federal RFRA so that Georgians can have the same protection for religious freedom in Georgia's courts as we have in federal courts.

There are only rare occasions when people of faith gather together at the Capitol to draw attention to religious issues, but March 3, 2015 is one of those times. It is an important opportunity and worth the trip. The main event happens on the second floor of the Capitol between 2:30 - 3:30 p.m., but anyone attending should arrive early enough to talk with legislators about the need to pass SB 129 and HB 218, legislation that will strengthen religious liberty in Georgia.

For citizens in my Third District, there is a website which provides additional information about the rally. That address is www.coastalgeorgiaitstime.com.

To watch first-hand interviews regarding issues at the Georgia Capitol, tune in to Capitol News, a brand new show just getting underway to keep Georgians more aware of what is happening under the Gold Dome.

The news channel link is https://vimeo.com/channels/875726. Two of the shows currently posted include the following topics:

Sen. Josh McKoon reviews the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Sen. Fran Millar and I discuss the new AP U.S. History Framework.

Friday, February 27 through Sunday, March 1 - in adjournment

Monday, March 2 - Legislative Day 24 convenes

Tuesday, March 3 - Legislative Day 25 convenes

Wednesday, March 4 - Legislative Day 26 convenes

Thursday, March 5, Legislative Day 27 convenes

Friday, March 6 through Sunday, March 8 - in adjournment

Monday, March 9, Legislative Day 28 convenes

Tuesday, March 10 - in adjournment

Wednesday, March 11 - Legislative Day 29 convenes

Thursday, March 12 - in adjournment

Friday, March 13 - Legislative Day 30 convenes

Saturday, March 14 through Tuesday, March 17 - in adjournment

Wednesday, March 18 - Legislative Day 31 convenes

Thursday, March 19 - Legislative Day 32 convenes

Friday, March 20 - Legislative Day 33 convenes

Saturday, March 21 through Sunday, March 22 - in adjournment

Monday, March 23 - Legislative Day 34 convenes

Tuesday, March 24 - Legislative Day 35 convenes

Wednesday, March 25 - Legislative Day 36 convenes

Thursday, March 26 - Legislative Day 37 convenes

Friday, March 27 - Legislative Day 38 convenes

Saturday, March 28 through Monday, March 30 - in adjournment

Tuesday, March 31 - Legislative Day 39 convenes

Wednesday, April 1 - in adjournment

Thursday, April 2 - Last Legislative Day 40 convenes
                          Third District