Your Georgia Desk:
Gold Dome Update: Sine Die
By: Sen. Bruce Thompson (R- White)
The 2014 Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly adjourned at midnight on Thursday, March 20. The final day of session, also known as Sine Die, means “without assigning a day for further meeting or hearing.”
Even though the Senate has finished its work until next January, our work as elected officials will not stop. Throughout the rest of the year, I will continue to research issues of importance and meet with constituents about concerns in Senate District 14.
One of the most important pieces of legislation passed this year was the Fiscal Year 2015 General Budget. A final version of HB 744 was negotiated by a conference committee of legislators from both chambers and set at $20.8 billion. The budget includes around $916 million of new revenue for education expenses and allocates $35 million to complete the state’s portion of the $652 million Savannah Harbor project. In addition, the budget committed an additional $300 million to education in an effort to end teacher furloughs and restore class schedules.
During the final hours of the 2014 Legislative Session, the Senate and the House granted final approval to a comprehensive weapons carry bill, HB 60. This legislation, which was heavily debated throughout the committee process, will expand the rights of lawfully-abiding gun owners in Georgia.
The finalized version of HB 60 will allow places of worship to specifically opt-in and decide whether worshippers can carry guns in the sanctuary or on church grounds. Additionally, permit license holders may legally carry firearms in bars unless otherwise stated by the property owner. The bill also includes the following provisions:
- · Prohibits the restriction of the lawful possession of firearms in public housing (unless required by federal law/regulation)
- · Allows the use of silencers for hunting only on personal private property, or private property where the owner has given explicit permission for another individual to hunt with a silencer
- · Allows schools to give written authorization to certain individuals who are allowed to carry weapons on school property, at school functions or within school safe zones
- · Eliminates the requirement that license holders get re-fingerprinted when renewing a license and also expands the ability for private vendors to conduct fingerprint screenings
- · Expands the exemption from several weapons carry laws for all state and federal judges, judges of probate, juvenile, and magistrate courts, full-time judges of municipal and city courts, and permanent part-time judges of municipal and city courts from compliance with these laws, if they are otherwise qualified to receive a weapons carry license
Other Legislative Action
Below is a list of several other prominent bills on the Senate floor during the final two days of the 2014 legislative session.
SR 782: This legislation calls on Congress to enact a Religious Freedom Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The Religious Freedom Amendment would provide another method to keep regulatory agencies accountable and will protect the religious liberties of all Americans.
HB 645: I carried this legislation in the Senate to allow insurance transactions to be submitted electronically in a manner consistent with the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act. This will further streamline the process for the electronic filing of insurance transactions and puts us in line with federal standards.
HB 845: This bill prohibits law enforcement agencies from disseminating booking photos or mugshots online, unless the person has officially been convicted of a crime. Under this bill, mugshots can only be requested by state or federal grand juries, a taxing authority, law enforcement agencies or a prosecuting attorney.
HB 915: This legislation allows a parent or guardian to request a security freeze on their child’s consumer credit report when the child’s identity has been stolen. Identity theft continues to compromise the identity of people of all ages and is a growing issue not just in Georgia, but nationwide. This bill will provide an additional measure of protection for our young people.
HB 973: Under HB 973, any person who knowingly files a fraudulent claim or false information to receive Medicaid in Georgia will be responsible for civil penalties ranging from $5,500 to $11,000. The person will also be liable to pay three times the amount in damages that Georgia Medicaid sustained as a result of the fraudulent activity. The passage of this legislation is important to protecting Georgia’s Medicaid Program against future fraud and abuse.
HB 449: Under this bill, individuals will be protected from having their 9-1-1 calls released to the public if they are a minor or pass away during the call. Since the death of a loved one is already an especially traumatizing event, it is important to provide an extra measure of protection so friends and families can grieve privately and begin the healing process.
HB 697: This bill creates the Zell Miller Grant, a new subprogram of the HOPE program. The Zell Miller Grant will cover full tuition for students who achieve and maintain a minimum 3.5 GPA and are enrolled in a certificate or diploma program. Based on current enrollment numbers, the Zell Miller Grant will cover approximately 16,000 students attending schools within the Technical College System of Georgia in FY 2015.
HB 804: This legislation protects children against testifying in court cases that deal with alleged abuse. Under this bill, children 17 and younger will be relieved from undergoing additional physiological trauma and distress by providing testimony outside the courtroom.
One of the bills that fell short of legislative approval this year was HB 885. This bill, which would have allowed for further research and use of certain cannabis oils to treat children’s seizure disorders, was combined with SB 397 to create the “Kids Care Act.” Together, this bill would have also required insurers to provide coverage for children up to six years old who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Unfortunately, the House and Senate could not come to a compromise and the bill failed to achieve final passage. This is an issue that will likely to re-introduced during the upcoming 2015 Legislative Session.
It is unfortunate that both chambers could not agree on a measure that garnered strong support from families statewide. From the beginning, I have been vocally supportive of the Kids Care Act and felt its passage was in the best interests of all Georgians. I look forward to building a stronger coalition around the Capitol next year if this bill comes before the legislature again. As an elected official, I pledge to do everything possible to protect the safety and well-being of our state’s most vulnerable citizens, especially Georgia’s young people. Autism rates and children suffering with seizures or other health care issues are increasingly on the rise in the U.S. and require swift action to ensure the needs of these growing health care populations are met.
Though my work at the Gold Dome is complete for the 2014 Legislative Session, the needs of the District 14 are always on my mind. Throughout the remainder of the year, I will continue to address the needs of our community and am never too busy to answer your questions or concerns. Please feel free to reach out to my offfice at any time.