Your Georgia Desk:
From Representative Jason Spencer:
Week Ten: Legislative Session Adjourns Sine Die
On Thursday, March 20th, the 2014 legislative session came to an end when the House and Senate completed the 40th and final legislative day. This last day of session is known as “Sine Die,” a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting.” Being the final day of the legislative session, we worked late in the night to ensure the passage of important legislation related to issues like education, criminal justice and public safety. There are several key legislative accomplishments that I want to bring to your attention.
One of the most important bills we passed this session was House Bill 744, which establishes the state budget for Fiscal Year 2015. As the only piece of legislation that we are constitutionally required to pass, the Fiscal Year 2015 budget will guide all state spending from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. Totaling $20.8 billion in state funds, the final version of this budget includes many of Governor Deal’s original budget recommendations like increased funding for education. In fact, one of the most noteworthy features of the budget is a $314.3 million increase to Quality Basic Education (QBE), which will provide local school systems with the flexibility to eliminate teacher furlough days, increase instructional days and increase teacher salaries. Increased funding was also designated for higher education, including $7.2 million for the creation of a new Zell Miller Grant for technical college students in House District 180. Also included in the budget was approximately $1 million for Ware County Schools, $3.4 million for Okefenokee Technical College to enhance the welding program and $3.1 million for Sparsity Education Grants for Georgia’s poorest school districts, like Charlton County, whose tax digest does not sustain their system.
Here’s a rundown of some of the major topics that came before the 2014 legislative session:
• Guns (HB 60): Continuing a debate unresolved from last session, lawmakers worked to find agreement on how to expand the places where the holders of concealed-weapons permits could legally carry firearms. Last year, the hang-up was over college campuses. That was scrapped this year, and the final bill that passed includes bars and churches as well as reduced penalties for taking them into prohibited places. The bill also prevents the Governor from confiscating firearms during declared states of emergencies. I voted “Yes” to protect your Second Amendment rights.
• “Medical marijuana” (HB 885): The tightly regulated proposal died in the Senate, but it never actually called for legalizing the use of marijuana. Instead, it sought to permit possession of prescribed medication made from the oil derived from the plant as a way to address brain seizures. This bill actually passed the House twice despite the Senate blocking the measure. I voted “Yes” for medical freedom.
• Autism: The Senate favored requiring insurance companies cover treatment for autism before the age of 6, but the House and business groups opposed mandating new coverage requirements for fear of raising premiums. The measure died in the House committee and was never brought up for a floor vote. However, the Governor approved autism coverage for the State Health Benefits Plan.
• Obamacare (HB 707/HB 943): Conservatives rallied around my bill to resurrect it from a procedural death in the Senate Rules committee. My bill throws up road blocks to limit the state from to implementing portions of the Obamacare. What finally passed was a slimmed down but potent version, but it ends the University of Georgia Obamacare “navigator” program when their federal grants expire, prohibits the creation of a state insurance exchange (the center piece of Obamacare) and prohibits the use of state and local resources to be used to advocate for Medicaid expansion. Please refer to my Op-Ed published in this week’s AJC to learn more.
• Abortion and Obamacare (SB 98): No health insurance plans offered through an Obamacare exchange will be able to cover elective abortions if the governor signs into law what the General Assembly passed. I voted “Yes” to keep tax payer dollars from financing elective abortions through Obamacare.
• Medicaid expansion (HB 990): The General Assembly passed legislation requiring the governor to get lawmakers’ approval before changing the eligibility for the state-federal health insurance program for the poor. I was a top co-sponsor on this bill and voted “Yes” to protect tax payers from financing Obamacare.
• Common Core (SB 167): A bill by Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, failed in the House Education Committee that would have forced the state to end its use of the Common Core multi-state education standards. The bill never came to a floor vote in the House.
• Foster care: Legislation died that would have moved the job of monitoring foster parents from state caseworkers to those employed by community service boards.
• Tax cap (SR 415): Voters will decide on their November ballot whether to cap the state income tax at the present 6 percent. I voted “Yes” to give people the choice to vote to limit increases on their taxes.
• Patient compensation (SB 141): Legislation never made it out of committee that sought to shift medical-liability cases from courts to a panel of doctors and patients. This measure would have violated a person’s right to jury trial (Seventh Amendment), and that is the reason it died in committee.
• Electronic discovery: The bill died that would have lessened the amount of electronic records companies must keep in case they are sued.
• Criminal justice reform (SB 365): The third installment of Gov. Nathan Deal’s reforms passed. It provides training, education and counseling for prisoners and protects from lawsuits employers, landlords and schools that enroll ex-felons who have earned a certificate of sentence completion. This is part of the comprehensive re-entry program that may include Camden County’s program in the future.
• Zero tolerance (HB 826): The legislature ended a policy called zero tolerance in which schools were forced to have students charged with a crime for bringing knives and other weapons but who had no intent to use them to harm anyone. I voted “Yes” for common sense and local control of education policies.
• Food stamp drug tests (HB 772): Applicants for food stamps and welfare payments will have to take a drug test if a social worker has reason to suspect they are high. If the test is negative, the state will pay for it. I voted “Yes” to protect tax payer dollars from abuse and perversion.
• Religious freedom (HB 1023/SB 377): Bills never came up for a vote that sought to adopt the wording in federal law to protect individuals’ religious freedoms by not requiring them to provide services to customers that conflict with their personal principles. Critics and large employers opposed the bills as legalizing discrimination.
• Floridian Aquifer: Senator William Ligon’s bill died in committee that would have made permanent the moratorium on storing treated surface water in the Floridian Aquifer along the coast. The moratorium expires July 1. I expect this to come back next year.
• Bus drivers (HB 714): Bus drivers and cafeteria workers employed by school contractors would no longer be claim unemployment benefit payments during school holidays and summer months under a bill agreed to by the House and Senate. I voted “Yes” to prevent improper usage of unemployment benefits.
• Plane parts (HB 164): The sales-tax exemption on replacement parts for out-of-state airplanes repaired in Georgia becomes permanent. Due to expire this summer, the exemption has been extended. I voted “Yes” for this powerful economic development measure which leads to more creation of aviation related jobs on the coast of Georgia.
• Environmental disaster (HB 549): The state will be required to have experts available to respond to any chemical spill, fire or other disaster that threatens to contaminate a lake or stream, and it will be required to coordinate its response with local agencies. I voted “Yes” for this conservation measure. Protecting our coastal environment is important to our local economy.
• Pygmy hedgehogs and the “Water Bill”: A bill, authored by Rep. Regina Quick (R-Athens) and proposed by an Oconee County elementary student, to permit keeping African pygmy hedgehogs as pets never came up for a vote in the House committee it was assigned to. This bill was used as a pawn and held hostage because Rep. Quick led the opposition against SB 213, a bill that would increase the power of the EPD director and harm the Floridian aquifer and violate the private property rights of land owners. Her opposition led to a better compromise which protected private property rights and narrowed the power of the EPD director to augment water flows. Without her opposition, SB 213 would have been a terrible piece of legislation that would have harmed water resources in southern Georgia. I look for the pygmy hedgehog bill to resurface next year.
• Slowpokes (HB 459): Drivers in the left lane must pull to the right to allow a faster driver to pass, even one exceeding the speed limit. The measure sped through the House and Senate. I vote “Yes”.
• Early voting (HB 891): Cities will be able to ask their local legislators to shorten the early-voting period from three weeks to one, including a Saturday. This will be a cost saving measure to local governments who do not want a prolonged early voting period. I vote “Yes” for local control and for efficient use of tax payer resources.
• Solar power: Property owners wanting to hire outside companies to finance, install and operate solar panels on their rooftops will have to wait until next year.
With the future of these bills in the hands of the governor, the General Assembly’s 2014 legislative session has adjourned sine die. Although session is over, I hope that you will continue to contact me with any questions or concerns that you might have regarding your state government. You can reach me at my capitol office at 404-656-0126 or by email at [email protected] Additionally, I will be spending a lot more time in the district now, so feel free to contact me locally at 912-541-0243.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative and look forward to earning your vote once again on the campaign trail. If you would like a yard sign or want to host a meet and greet during the campaign season, I would love to meet with your group. Just send a notice to my campaign manager, Melaney Spencer, at [email protected] or call her at 404-483-6893. Again, it is a pleasure to fight for our conservative values on your behalf.