In 2021, the Georgia State Legislature convened on January 11. The legislators serving in this session took office following the 2020 elections. Republicans won a 34-22 majority in the Senate and a 103-77 majority in the House. The party also controlled the governorship, creating a Republican state government trifecta.
The following blog post summarizes the General Assembly’s legislative activities taken last week. It was written by Sally Fitzgerald, Capitol Observer for the Georgia League of Women Voters. The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization.
The House has passed the amended budget, HB 80, and sent it to the Senate for probably an equally speedy processing. Not many changes were made, but local schools got a restoration of $567 million of the nearly $1 billion cut that was imposed last session when this year’s budget was first adopted, and money was increased for health care needs, much needed as the COVID pandemic rages. The sooner the better as those monies are desperately needed.
Both chambers have extensive COVID prevention procedures in place, one of which is that every legislator and employee must be tested twice a week. One member of the House refused to get the tests, offered at the Capitol free twice a week. After being counseled by the Speaker, and reminded repeatedly, the legislator refused again on Tuesday when tests were again offered. The Speaker asked Capitol Police to escort the legislator from the chamber until the test was administered. The morale of that story is when daddy says “Do it”, comply, else bear the consequences. In addition, that legislator’s legislative proposals could be put on ice.
There has been an abundance of legislation introduced this past week, much of it on elections. This was predictable after the experiences in GA in the 2020 election cycle. It remains to be seen how much of it will become law.
Legislation described herein is summarized. Should any peek your interest, read the full proposal on the legislative web site, www.legis.ga.gov
CA = constitutional amendment. Requires a 2/3s vote in each chamber and a majority vote in the next general election scheduled for November 2020.
HB 80 Ralston – 7 PASSED House S.Appropriations
The FY21A amended budget aligns the budget for the current fiscal year, July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021, with actual numbers. Formulas based on funded units, such as per student, per credit course taken, per patient, per vehicle, etc., are ‘trued up’ with actual experience to date. The funding for K-12 enrollment, which dropped about 35,000, was not adjusted because of the hold harmless provision of QBE. That reduction will be taken in FY22.
The state’s revenues have not suffered nearly as much as expected, and the rainy day fund is full, so the unexpected revenues were used:
$576.7 million to Department of Education. Restores 60% of original $950 million cut made in original budget
$ 5.4 million to meet federal testing requirements in K-12
$20 million to OneGeorgia Authority to help rural communities leverage existing funds for broadband infrastructure
$54.6 million to Medicaid for projected need
$ 6.6 million to PeachCare for Kids for projected need
$25 million for Forestland Protection Grants to local governments
nearly $200 million to Department of Transportation for new projects and maintenance of existing infrastructure
The rest was spread throughout the budget to replace vehicles ($27 million) and miscellaneous areas.
The governor announced that $1000 per local school employee ($240 million) will be sent to local school systems from the federal CARES2 money for local school employee bonuses. This money is dispensed by the governor according to the federal act and does not appear in the state budget. Bonuses are compensation, and there will be employer costs incurred such as FICA and other benefits based on gross pay which are unbudgeted by the local school district. The local school district will determine whether employees will receive the full $1000 or the net amount after these additional employer costs are paid.
Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) freed up $344.7 million of state funds in FY21 and is shown in the budget.
SB 20 Payne – 54 S.Education & Youth
Adds to the Child Advocate Advisory Committee a former foster child appoint by the Lt. Governor, a current or former foster parent appointed by the governor, and a CASA, court appointed special advocate, appointed by the Speaker of the House. This brings committee membership to 10. The advisory committee meets at least three times a year with the child advocate and his or her staff to review and assess the following: (1) Patterns of treatment and service for children; (2) Policy implications; and (3) Necessary systemic improvements. The advisory committee shall also provide for an annual evaluation of the effectiveness of the Office of the Child Advocate for the Protection of Children.”
SB 28 Hatchett – 50 S.Ethics
Requires annual training for jury court intake officers of 8 hours the first year and 2 hours per year thereafter. Permits juvenile court to consider hearsay evidence. Makes clarifying changes to procedures of the juvenile court.
HB 96 Clark – 68 H.Juvenile Justice
Changes the provision for awarding joint custody unless evidence to the contrary against one of the parents is clear and convincing. The child may choose who to live with if responsible, rather than just reaching age 14.
HB 114 Reeves – 37 H.Ways & Means
Increases the tax credit for adoption of a child in foster care from to $6000, currently $2000.
EDUCATION – PREK – 12
HB – 4 Scott – 76 H.Education
Prohibits a local school system from leasing or selling a school building to a private entity unless the building has been used as a public school for at least 15 years.
HB 9 Scott – 76 H.Education
The Departments of Education and Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities are to develop guidelines for the use of telehealth services in public schools to provide mental health and behavioral health services to students at school or during any school related function.
SB 17 Jones – 10 S.Education & Youth
The whole child model schools which promote and ensure effective coordination of wrap-around services and supports is to be defined by the Department of Education. It shall include community partners and be certified by the State School Superintendent.
SB 42 Mullis – 53 S.Education & Youth
The school climate rating of local schools by the Department of Education shall not include discipline data. The definition of good school climate includes how safe the students and teachers/employees feel being in the building. Very often unsafe conditions are reflected in discipline data reflecting unruly students.
HB 118 Burough – 77 H.Education
The sparcity grant is renamed the FAIR Georgia grant and makes the grant mandatory. The sparcity grant is for programs in school districts which do not have enough students to be enrolled in a program or school for reasons beyond their control to provide maximum funding.
EDUCATION – POSTSECONDARY
HB 87 Evans – 57 H.Higher Education
Permits HOPE grants for an Associate degree at Technical College System of GA institutions. Currently, certificates and diplomas are awarded HOPE grants, but not degrees.
HB 88 Evans – 57 H.Higher Education
HOPE grants shall be equal to the student undergraduate tuition.
HB 89 Evans – 57 H.Higher Education
Zell Miller Scholarships, a form of the HOPE scholarship, for students who do not qualify as a freshman with a high school GPA of 3.5, may qualify with a college cumulative GPA of 3.3 for two consecutive check points.
HB 120 Carpenter – 4 H.Higher Education
USG and TCSG are to consider classifying noncitizen students for in-state tuition.
ELECTIONS & ETHICS
HR 2 Scott – 76 H.Government Affairs
CA to specify that an elected office will be declared vacant when the occupant qualifies for another office.
SR 20 Parent – 42 S.Redistricting and Reapportionment
CA to reapportion election districts by an independent nonpartisan commission of 14 members, 5 to be of the party of the governor in the last election, 5 to be of the party with the second highest number of votes in the last gubernatorial election, and 4 who are not identified from a political party. It provides that the Senate shall have between 30 and 56 districts and the House between 120 and 180 districts. There are also itemized the criteria that can or cannot be used to reapportion. This amendment is very detailed and long, containing information usually itemized in enabling legislation or adopted by each chamber when redistricting.
SB 26 Rahman – 5 S.Ethics
Absentee ballot drop boxes shall be provided at every advanced voting location. Not required for municipal elections. Same requirements for video security and preservation of tapes, ballot pickup schedules and frequency as now in State Election Board Rule.
SB 29 Anaviarte – 31 S.Ethics
Requires a photo copy of acceptable identification when applying for an absentee ballot, except for military and overseas voters. If identification not enclosed, the ballot is treated as a provisional ballot.
HR 28 McLaurin – 51 H.Special Committee on Election Integrity
CA to allow felons to vote. Enabling legislation is HB 101.
SB 35 Parent – 42 S.Ethics
Poll officers shall no longer include government employees who do not live within the jurisdiction of the office holding the election, i.e. not living within the same county or city.
SB 36 Jones – 10 S.Ethics
A pilot program is to be developed for counties of 50,000 or less, i.e. rural, excluding any military personnel and dependents associated with a military compound within the boundaries thereof, to provide grants to establish and fund advanced voting locations. Grant money can be public, private, or a combination, but cannot include contributions from political parties or bodies.
SB 37 Butler – 55 S.Ethics
Georgia is to join the Elect the President by National Popular Vote Agreement. GA would agree to cast its electoral votes for the candidate that won the national popular vote. The agreement is effective when the sum of electors of the member states equals 270 or more. This is a way to neuter the Electoral College without a national constitutional amendment. The process of the Electoral College would be maintained but each member state would cast their votes for the winner of the popular vote nationwide, rather than the winner in their individual state. To date the states who have agreed constitute about 220 votes. It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.
SB 38 Parent – 42 S.Ethics
The Secretary of State shall maintain information on each voter’s request to receive an absentee ballot for every election in which the person is eligible to vote. The voter may opt out of this option at will. If the voter does not cast a ballot for two successive general elections, that voter can be moved to Inactive status in the same manner as currently.
SB 39 Jones – 22 S.Ethics
A person shall not lose the right to vote for a felony conviction for purchase, possession, or control of certain substances. Those crimes will not be included in the definition of ‘felony involving moral turpitude.
SB 40 Jordan – 6 S.Ethics
Absentee ballots may be opened and contents removed and voter verified beginning on the second Monday prior to election day. Tabulation of the votes shall not begin until election day. This will encode into law the same language in State Election Board rule, initiated for the 2020 elections.
HB 101 McLaurin – 51 H.Special Committee on Election Integrity
Reregistration of electors purged from the voter files. Enabling legislation for HR 28.
HB 113 Alexander – 66 H.Special Committee on Election Integrity
Provides for same day voter registration at election day precincts or advanced voting locations. The voter would be allowed to vote a provisional ballot. Proof of residency required. The voter must be at the precinct that serves their residence on election day.
GOVERNMENT – GENERAL
HB 92 Gambill – 15 H.Governmental Affairs
Information in Vital Records can be transferred to State Archives, and thus accessible to the public, 100 years after a birth and 75 years after a death, marriage, or divorce. Currently, the transfer is made 125 years after a birth and 100 years after a death, marriage, or divorce.
HB 98 Lumsden – 12 H.Governmental Affairs
Teleconferenced meetings under emergency conditions include when a declaration of federal, state, or local states of emergency. Participation of members in such meetings is the same as for those physically present.
GOVERNMENT – COUNTIES AND CITIES
SB 23 Parent – 42 S.Government Oversight
Local governments may relocate, remove, conceal, obscure, or alter certain monuments on their own property by an adopted resolution.
GOVERNMENT – COURTS AND CRIMES
SB 10 Jones – 10 –
Drag racing and laying drag to be high and aggravated misdemeanors as in the acts of advertising or promoting an exhibition of such. A spectator at such events is guilty of a misdemeanor. A ‘high performance’ vehicle with 650 horse power or more shall be registered with the commissioner of Driver Services and it must display a specially designed license plate. Laying drag gets 8 points off the driver’s license. Drag racing on any state highway can result in a fine of $2500 or more. The vehicle will be impounded and stored at the owner’s expense until the offense is adjudicated.
SB 18 Jones – 18
The crimes of rape, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery may be prosecuted at any time, i.e. have no statute of limitations, which currently is 15 years.
SB 33 Dixon – 45 S.Judiciary
A victim of human trafficking has a cause of action against anyone who knowingly benefits from participation in a venture scheme which involves such activity (the perpetrator). The action must be brought within 10 years of the violation or 10 years after the victim reaches 18 if the act occurred while the victim was a minor. The state Attorney General may bring action against a perpetrator if the interest of the citizens of the state have been or are threatened or adversely affected.
SB 34 Dixon – 45 S.Judiciary
Victims of human trafficking may petition for a name change under seal under the same provision offered to victims of domestic violence.
HB 94 Rich – 97 H.Judiciary Non-Civil
The felony crime of stolen mail is defined when a person possess mail addressed to 3 different addresses or have 10 pieces of stolen mail. The mail may have been delivered by U.S. Postal Service or a commercial delivery service and may consist of any form of letters or packages. The felony crime of porch piracy exists when a person takes any envelope, bag, or other sealed article without permission of the addressee from the porch, steps, or immediate vicinity of the entrance or exit of a dwelling. This proposed porch piracy does not seem to include stealing from an office or business facility.
HB 112 Kelley – 16 Special Committee on access to the Civil Justice System
Tort immunity for claims of COVID-19 is extended to July 14, 2022, currently July 14, 2021.
HB 125 Williams – 145 H.Public Safety & Homeland Security
Authorizes the GBI to create and maintain a missing persons DNA data base and to link with a federal data base.
HB 126 Williams – 145 H.Public Safety & Homeland Security
Provides for the collection of biological specimens for DNA testing regarding missing children and adults .
HB 127 Williams – 145 H.Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications
Wireless service suppliers shall make location information of its subscribers available to law enforcement agencies upon request. No liability will result from providing such information.
GOVERNMENT – CAPITOL AND GROUNDS
HB 48 Gilliard – 162 H.State Properties
Authorizes a monument to the original 33 African-Americans elected to the GA General Assembly in 1868 and expelled the same year following the end of Reconstruction. Private funds would be used.
GOVERNMENT – EMPLOYMENT
HB 15 Scott – 76 H.Public Safety & Homeland Security
Peace officers shall be trained on de-escalation techniques.
SB 24 Butler – 55 S.Insurance & Labor
Effective 1-1-23 and annually thereafter the minimum wage shall be $15.00, currently $5.15, and shall be increased annually thereafter by the same percentage as the CPI index of the previous year, July to July. There are a few exemptions.
SB 32 Brass – 28 S.Judiciary
Public employee information, now including federal employees, which are not publicly available include an unlisted phone number and cell phone number.
HB 116 McClain – 100 H.Industry & Labor
Raises the state minimum wage to $15.00, currently $5.15.
GOVERNMENT – FEDERAL ISSUES
HR 23 Jones – 25 H.Judiciary
Urges the Unites States Congress to reject any and all actions to increase the number of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.
SR 28 Cowsert – 46 S.Government Oversight
Urges U.S. Congress to call an Article V convention to propose an amendment to the Constitution to limit the number of terms a person can be elected to Congress. Article V refers to the U.S. Constitution article which defines how the constitution can be amended. Since 1787, no amendments have been made using this option. All of our amendments have been done by proposal and passage in Congress before ratification by ¾ of the states. Why would Congress enable another body to limit the terms of its members?
SR 29 Cowsert – 46 S.Government Oversight
Urges U.S. Congress to call an Article V convention to propose an amendment to the Constitution to have Congress balance the budget.
HB 110 Clark – 147 H.Public Safety & Homeland Security
Every person who is eligible to have a weapons carry license, but does not have one, may carry a weapon in any area or place as if they possessed such license.
HB 93 Cooper – 43 H.Health & Human Services
Eliminates duplicate state licensure and regulation of clinical laboratories; repeals provisions relating to examination of human specimens and methods for selection of blood donors and collection, storage, and processing of human blood; eliminates state inspections of clinical laboratories.
HB 99 Stephens – 164 H.Judiciary
Retail establishments with employee-only toilet facilities must allow customers with certain documented medical conditions to use them. The retail establishment will have no liability for such use.
HB 115 Wilensky – 79 H.Insurance
Prohibits an insurer from genetic testing for any nontherapeutic purpose in the absence of a diagnosis of a condition related to such information.
HB 128 Williams – 145 H.Health & Human Services
Prohibits providers from discrimination against potential organ transplant recipients due solely to the physical or mental disability of the potential recipient.
REVENUE & TAXATION
SB 25 Butler – 55 S.Finance
An income tax credit for child care and dependent care expenses up to 100% of the federal tax credit for same.
HR 30 Stephens – 164 H.Economic Development & Tourism
CA to allow up to 6 resort facilities for casino gambling.
SR 30 Beach – 21 S.Regulated Industries
Horse racing and betting thereon is to be allowed in Georgia. Creates the GA Horse Racing Commission of 5 members for 4 year terms to govern the sport, similar to the structure used for the lottery. Six venues are authorized. The bill is extensive, 51 pages, and defines with detail the manner in which this sports and the betting on it will be conducted, how it will regulated and what the revenues will support.
SB 31 Hufstetler – 52 S.Finance
Establishes a program to conduct a simulated exchange for health care facilities for indigent and elderly patients to purchase and sell charity case credits to meet charity care requirements for the patients. Program to expire on December 31, 2022.
HB 100 Gilliard – 162 H.Ways & Means
An excise tax exemption for motor fuel for public school buses previously in place for tax years 2013 through 2015. Compressed natural gas is now included as a motor fuel, and applies to public transit and postsecondary entities both public and private [HB 100]. This is not a big savings for public school districts, but it does violate the practice of taxing other governmental entities. And when the state is not fully funding their education formula which is defined at less than the cost of educating a student, any savings is welcomed. Postsecondary entities, both public and private, already have this exemption as does public transit.
HB 86 Stephens – 164 PF
The GA Lottery Corporation is authorized to offer and regulate on-line sports betting of college, professional and Olympic teams. Betters must be at least 21 years old and not prohibited from placing a bet. Bets must be placed while within the boundaries of the state. Six licensees are authorized. The Application Fee for a license applicant is $50,000 and the licensing fee is $900,000/year with the applicant fee being applied. The annual tax rate is 16% of the adjusted gross revenues which will be deposited in the Lottery Fund for HOPE scholarships. The League of Women Voters does not have a position on the lottery or on gambling.
HB 95 Lin – 99 H.Ways & Means
A refundable state income tax credit of 10% of an allowable FIT credit for an earned income tax credit.
HB 123 Petrea – 166 H.Ways & Means
An income tax exemption for retirement income from federal uniformed services.
TRANSPORTATION & DRIVING
SR 26 Harper – 7 S.Appropriations
CA to authorize the state to sell bonds to make loans or award grants to local governments that own airports for acquisition, construction, development, extension, enlargement, or improvement of airports with less than 750,000 takeoffs and landings per year. Sorry, Atlanta.