Rep. Micah Gravley: Legislative Update

23
Mar

Rep. Micah Gravley: Legislative Update

Your Georgia Desk:

From Representative Micah Gravley

We returned to Capitol Hill on Monday, February 17th for the sixth week of the 2014 legislative session to pass the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, as well as many other significant pieces of legislation.

House Bill 744, the Fiscal Year 2015 budget, is an initial guide for all state spending to occur from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015.  The budget was set by a revenue estimate of $20.8 billion, a 4.6 percent increase from the Fiscal Year 2014 budget.  Nearly 72 percent of the new revenue is budgeted for K-12 and higher education expenses.  These funds, totaling $916 million, will help finance enrollment growth, increase opportunities for technical education, and distribute more dollars to local school systems in hopes of eliminating furlough days and raising salaries for teachers. 

New revenue will also provide for an increase in salaries for correctional officers, additional child protective service workers and an extension of the Planning for Healthy Babies program, which helps prevent babies from being born at a low birth weight.

While we set education as our top priority in the budget, we also passed legislation to increase educational opportunities for Georgians.  House Bill 697 creates a Zell Miller grant scholar designation to cover 100 percent of tuition for those students who maintain a 3.5 GPA or above in Georgia’s technical colleges.  Since 2011, the last time HOPE provided a full scholarship to these students; technical college enrollment has declined by 20 percent.  HB 697 will help address this decline, bringing students back to school, so they can gain the skills needed to join the workforce.  This legislation also helps close a technical skill-gap, making Georgia more attractive to those businesses that are looking for skilled labor.

In addition to passing legislation to improve educational opportunities, we also passed several pieces of legislation to protect Georgians’ constitutional rights.  I was proud to be a co-signer of House Bill 875, a comprehensive bill that restores Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens.   Under HB 875, Georgia Weapons Carry license holders would gain broader access to those government buildings that do not provide active security at entrances.  HB 875 also allows veterans under the age of 21 who have been honorably discharged from service to receive a weapons carry license.  Furthermore, it eliminates the re-fingerprinting requirement for weapons carry license renewals, prohibits the creation of a database of license holders.  In addition, HB 875 prevents the confiscation of weapons or ammunition by the state, which is currently legal in the event of a state of emergency declaration by the governor (a provision  added from HB 100  which I am proud to have supported.)

Private property rights are also restored by HB 875.  Measures in the legislation enable property owners to decide on the prohibition or permit of weapons at churches and bars. Additionally, HB 875 gives school boards the opportunity and choice to arm employees under their well-thought-out guidelines and supervision.

We want to protect the Second Amendment rights of responsible citizens, as a result, HB 875 includes measures to improve mental health regulations for Georgia Weapons Carry license applicants.  Under HB 875, licenses would be denied to any person who has been deemed “mentally incompetent to stand trial” or any person who is been deemed “not guilty by reason of insanity” at the time of the trial.  The bill also ensures that these individuals are reported within 10 days to the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC), so that probate judges can use GCIC to check the accuracy of every application form.  After the bill left the House, significant changes were made in the Senate.  The current form of this bill is now moving and alive in HB 60.

The seventh week of the 2014 legislative session began on Monday, February 24, 2014.  This was a busy and important few days, as it was the last week for bills to pass out of committees before “Crossover Day” Monday, March 3rd.   Crossover Day is the deadline in which a piece of legislation must pass at least one of the General Assembly’s two chambers.  With this date looming, we spent long hours at the State Capitol to ensure important pieces of legislation were either passed on the House floor or ready for a vote on Crossover Day.

Many of the bills passed during this crucial week were related to education and the well-being of our children.  I co-sponsored one such bill, House Bill 826 , which provides local school systems with more flexibility in handling violations of school safety zones.  As a co-sponsor of HB 826, I was honored to speak from the Well of the House in favor of this legislation.

Under HB 826, schools would no longer be forced to expel students who are caught with items like a fishing knife or a baseball bat in their cars on school campuses.  Currently, if a student is found on a school campus with these items in their vehicle, they are automatically suspended and charged with a felony. In these cases under this bill, local school systems will now be able to issue lesser penalties if they have no reason to believe that the student intended to use the object as a weapon.  Granting local school systems the authority to deal with these situations on a case-by-case basis will help prevent a student’s record and reputation from being tarnished with an offense that was actually an innocent mistake.

In addition to HB 826, which protects our children from unjust punishment, we also passed House Bill 804 to protect children from the psychological trauma that can result from testifying in court about cases of abuse.  Testifying before a court is an intimidating task, especially for a young child, and having to face an abuser can be even scarier.  HB 804 provides young victims with another option.  The bill allows them to testify remotely via live broadcast if the court agrees that testifying before the accused would cause serious physical or emotional distress for the victim.  Not only will this measure ease discomfort for victims, but it might also eliminate one of the barriers that prevent them from coming forward about their abuse.

We also passed legislation last week that would that would help prevent child abuse, but also track cases in the event of abuse.  Last week, we passed House Bill 923 to help ensure that cases of child abuse are treated with the seriousness that they warrant. HB 923 increases public access to government records that relate to deceased children who had at some point come into contact with the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS).  The bill also updates the Child Fatality Review Board, which is responsible for examining DFCS cases that involve death.  It is our hope that this increased transparency and review, combined with an increase in DFCS employees, will ensure Georgia is doing everything possible to protect children from abuse.

In addition to passing these pieces of legislation aimed at protecting Georgia’s children, we also passed House Bill 549 to protect our state’s natural resources, such as our waterways and wildlife. This bill will help our state better prepare for a water pollution emergency, like the one recently experienced by West Virginia and the Ogeechee River Fish Kill in Georgia a few years ago.  HB 549 establishes a state water pollution emergency response plan.  The bill requires that the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) maintain an emergency response program to handle critical threats and pollution to our state’s water resources.  The bill also requires appropriate and timely responses to emergencies that threaten the state’s waterways.  Additionally, HB 549 requires that the EPD use proper public notification and coordination between the state and local communities to protect the health of Georgia’s citizens during emergencies and keep them informed.  I am proud that our state has taken these steps to protect our state’s citizens as well as the aquatic wildlife that live along our waterways.

Another important bill passed last week was House Bill 459which aims to encourage drivers to avoid driving in the passing lane for long periods of time.  Under HB 459, any driver on a divided highway who does not move to the right when a car going faster approaches them from behind could face a misdemeanor.  We hope that this legislation will remind everyone that the left lane on a highway is intended to be used for passing and cut down on cases of road rage in our state.

On Monday, March 3rd “Crossover Day” arrived.  One of the bills passed by the House on Crossover Day was House Bill 885, which would increase treatment options for children suffering from seizure disorders, Video Testimony from Parents  HB 885 would tightly restrict and regulate the distribution of cannabidiol, an oil-based derivative of the cannabis plant.  The treatment has been used to successfully control seizure disorders for children in Colorado, and I hope that it can now give hope to families in Georgia.  You can watch my video testimony on this bill at the following link House Testimony from Rep. Gravley on HB 885. 

Also passed on Crossover Day were bills designed to promote economic development in Georgia.  One such bill was House Bill 960, which aims to speed up the development of the Atlanta Belt-Line project by enabling the private sector to help finance and build the transit project.  The Belt-Line is a proposed 22 mile bike path and light rail system that will circle Atlanta.

Another economic development bill that was passed was House Bill 958.  One measure in this legislation establishesAugust 1-2, 2014 as a tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers.  Not only does this tax break provide financial relief for parents, it also encourages shoppers to do business in the state of Georgia.

Finally on Crossover Day, we voted on legislation that would create new monuments at the State Capitol.  House Bill 702would place a monument of the 10 Commandments, U.S. Constitution, and Georgia Constitution at the State Capitol to celebrate the ideals and values that these documents represent.

Similarly, House Bill 1080 would place a monument of Martin Luther King Jr. at the State Capitol in honor of his significant role in the history of Georgia and America. Many Georgians come to the State Capitol to tour and learn about the history of our state, and these two monuments will be great additions to our Capitol grounds, both of which will be PAID for with Private Funds and Not tax dollars.

After Crossover Day, we began reviewing and voting on Senate Bills.  One of those bills, Senate Bill 23, aims to speed up action in reported missing person cases.  The bill prohibits Georgia law enforcement agencies from establishing a “minimum waiting period” before they act on a missing person report.  The legislation defines a “medically endangered person” and adds these individuals to the provisions of the Mattie’s Call Act. Mattie’s Call is a law enforcement initiated alert system that is used to locate missing elderly or disabled persons.

In addition to passing bills last week, we also received some news related to the deepening of the Port of Savannah.  The Obama Administration’s 2015 fiscal year budget request was released, and it only appropriated $1.62 million for pre-construction, not the construction funds the state was expecting.  This news was disappointing to say the least as the current White House administration via Vice President Joe Biden stood in Savannah and promised the needed funding.  We have been expecting $400 million from the federal government to be designated to the project over the next few years.  So far, Georgia alone has reserved $231 million to go towards the port, and we are planning for another $35 million this year.  Even through tough budgetary years, Georgia has remained committed to appropriating funds to the deepening of the Port of Savannah.  I’m disappointed that the federal government is not doing the same.  Not only will the port bring business and prosperity to Georgia, it will also improve import and export opportunities for the entire nation.  It appears his words were nothing more than another broken promise and no different than “if you like your health insurance, then you can keep it.”

Understanding the importance of this project, Governor Deal announced plans to move forward with the project despite this setback.  The governor is exploring several options, including bonds and public-private partnerships. I support Governor Deal’s decision to move forward; deepening the port will allow our state to accommodate bigger ships and help boost our economy tremendously.

An adjournment resolution has passed which calls for the 2014 legislative session to conclude on March 20.   I want you to know that I will be working hard every day we are in session in Atlanta.    I also hope to hear from you regarding your ideas and opinions on the issues facing our great state.  Please call my office at the State Capitol in Atlanta and let me know what I can do for you.  The phone number is 404-656-0325.  And of course, my cell is always open to you at 404-759-5876. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of serving you and your family as your State Representative.

Sincerely,

Micah Gravley
Representative, House District 67

Micah Gravley
Georgia House of Representatives
Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Room 612F
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