2017 Legislative Highlights

1. HB 751 – The Fiscal Year 2017 Budget 

The FY 2016 Budget is set by a revenue estimate of $23.7 billion. While, in nominal terms, this budget is the largest ever proposed, in reality, FY 2017 per capita spending under this budget – when adjusted for inflation and population growth – is on par with 1998 levels. For reference, Georgia’s population has grown by nearly 2 million people between 2000 and 2014.  

  • The FY 2017 budget includes $124.1 million for enrollment growth along with an additional $300 million going to local school system to offset austerity cuts allowing systems to eliminate furlough days, increase instructional days, and provide teacher pay raises. Additionally, the budget includes $28.6 million to increase the pay for pre-k teachers and their assistants. 

  • Additional $59.1 million for the HOPE and Zell Miller scholarships to account for the growth in the number of high-performing eligible-students staying in-state for college. 

  • College students and their parents will not see a tuition increase across USG institutions 

  • The FY 2017 budget includes rate increases for a number of critical health service providers including primary care and OB/GYN providers as well as occupational and physical therapists within the Children’s Intervention Services (CIS) program

  • The budget includes funds for the creation of new residency programs in emergency medicine, OB/GYN services, and rural healthcare. 

  • Rainy Day Fund: We as House Republicans have taken necessary steps to restore our state’s Rainy Day Fund to its current level of over $1.4 billion – equal to what we were forced to use during the Great Recession.

 

2. HB 757 – The Free Exercise Protection Act 

The Free Exercise Protection Act is a comprehensive measure that strikes a balance between protecting the religious liberties of clergy, churches, and faith-based organizations (FBOs), while welcoming all to Georgia without fear of discrimination. This legislation incorporates language previously included in the Pastor Protection Act (PPA) protecting pastors and religious practitioners from performing marriages as well as any other religious rite or sacrament contrary to their strongly held beliefs. Further, HB 757 protects business from being required by local ordinance to operate on a day of rest – such as Saturday or Sunday. 

In addition, this bill protects FBOs from civil penalties for refusing to rent or lease their property for purposes objectionable to their faith. FBOs are further protected from civil penalties for employment decisions based on the religious beliefs of the applicant. FBOs are not required to hire or retain individuals whose religious beliefs are contrary to those of the organization. Finally, this bill codifies the language contained with the federal RFRA law, which states that government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion unless such burden furthers a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of doing so.  HB 757 includes important protections against discrimination whereby the provisions of the bill cannot be construed to permit any form of invidious discrimination.

 

3.  HB 801 – Rewarding Students for STEM Classes

HB 801 seeks to reward Georgia college students for taking academically rigorous STEM classes that ultimately lead to employment in a high-demand STEM field. It directs the Board of Regents to identify bachelor level STEM courses to receive extra weight (0.5 added to a B, C, or D) for purposes of calculating a student’s HOPE scholarship GPA – not their college GPA. HB 801 also adds computer science to the list of qualified advanced science courses for high school students. The Georgia Student Finance Commission is instructed to issue a biennial report to the House and Senate Committees on Higher Education detailing high demand fields with workforce shortages.

 

4.  HB 859 – Campus Carry

HB 859 allows a Georgia firearms license holder to keep their weapon on their person while in or on any building or real property owned by or leased to any technical school, vocational school, college, university, or other institution of postsecondary education. This exception will not apply to buildings or property used for athletic events or student housing including sorority and fraternity houses and only applies to the carrying of handguns which are concealed. 

This bill represents a step-forward in ensuring that responsible men and women – individuals who have gone through a comprehensive background check – have the right to defend themselves.

 

5.  HB 919 – Rural Health Care Organization Tax Credits

This bill provides tax credits to individuals who donate to rural "health care organizations," defined as health organizations located in rural counties, participating in both Medicaid and Medicare that provide health care

to primarily indigent patients and receive at least 10 percent of their gross net revenues from the treatment of indigent patients. 

In the case of a single individual or head of household, the credit shall be for 80 percent of the actual amount expended or $2,500 per year, whichever is less. In the case of a married couple filing a joint return, the credit shall be for 80 percent of the actual amount expended or $5,000 per year, whichever or less. In the case of a corporation, the credit shall not exceed 80 percent of the amount expended or 75 percent of the corporation's income tax liability, whichever is less. The tax credit cannot exceed a taxpayer's income tax liability.

This legislation represents a conservative alternative to Medicaid expansion and demonstrates our caucus’ belief that, ultimately, churches, charities, corporations and citizens are the answer to solving the issues that surround poverty – not one-size-fits-all, expansive government programs.  

 

6.  SB 364 – Reducing State Testing in K-12 Education

SB 364 revises the annual performance evaluation for public school teachers and administrators. Student growth will now account for 30 percent of the teacher evaluation, down from the original 50 percent. A professional growth component will account for 20 percent. This bill also lowers the test component for administrator evaluations from 70% to 40%. The number of in-class observations are reduced for teachers with at least three years of teaching experience who have earned 'Proficient' or 'Exemplary' on the previous evaluation. Furthermore, SB 364 raises the attendance threshold that a student must meet to be counted toward a teacher’s evaluation from 65% to 90% attendance.  

SB 364 also reduces the amount of state mandated testing. Currently, there are 32 state mandated tests in grades K-12. This legislation reduces the number of state mandated test to 24.  This bill also adds formative testing in grades 1 and 2 to assess reading and math development. Further, this legislation seeks to move the dates for standardized testing as close to the end of the semester or school year as possible to minimize inefficient instruction time after these tests.

 

7.  HB 34 – The Georgia Right to Try Act

The Georgia Right to Try Act grants some terminally ill patients faster access to investigational drugs that have passed phase one in the three-phase FDA drug approval process. The bill only grants access to investigational drugs, biological products, or devices for eligible patients with terminal illnesses whose physician has recommended such a course. The process requires full voluntary cooperation from all parties as well as written informed consent whereby the patient acknowledges the risk associated with the treatment, the best and worst potential outcomes, and the costs associated with the treatment. Under HB 34, manufacturers are not required to offer the treatment and may or may not charge for the drug and health insurance companies are not required to pay for the treatment. Doctors, as well as other involved participants, are indemnified.

 

8.  HB 727 – Fireworks Regulation

HB 727 regulates where and when fireworks can be exploded. This bill makes it unlawful to explode fireworks within five yards of an overhead obstruction or across or into a public road. Fireworks may not be used in close proximity to electric plants, wastewater treatment plants, jails, prisons, hospitals, and nursing homes.  Also, it is unlawful and punishable as a misdemeanor to explode fireworks while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The governor or the director of the Environmental Protection Division may issue a declaration to prohibit the use of fireworks for a specific duration.  

The bill also extends the times which fireworks may be exploded on January 1, July 3, July 4, and December 31. Moreover, the bill allows for local noise ordinances to govern when fireworks are otherwise permitted to be exploded. HB 727 also allows for temporary fireworks stands for the benefit of non-profit 501(c)(3) corporations.  

 

9.  HB 768 – The ABLE Program

HB 768 establishes the Georgia ABLE Program ('Georgia Achieving a Better Life Experience'), modeled after education savings plans under Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, whereby disabled individuals can save private funds in tax-exempt accounts to pay for qualified disability expenses without becoming ineligible for Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for possessing in excess of $2,000 in assets. Similar legislation has been passed in 35 other states. 

The ABLE program will be administered by the Georgia ABLE Program Corporation which will be governed by a board of directors consisting of the Commissioner of Community Health, the Commissioner of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, the State Auditor, the State Treasurer, and three members appointed by the Governor.

 

10.  HB 779 – Regulating the Use of Drones in Georgia

HB 779 regulates the use of drones in Georgia. Except for military or governmental contracts involving research, it is unlawful to sell, manufacture, possess, or operate an unmanned aerial vehicle that is equipped with a weapon. The punishment for such conduct is a felony. Moreover, the bill provides that state law preempts any local law or ordinance unless such ordinance has been enacted prior to April 1.

               HB 779 also provides for the creation of the Unmanned Aircraft Commission with the purpose of increasing the amount of industry located within Georgia regarding the manufacture, research, and development of unmanned aircraft. Further, the commission will identify policies that should be implemented regarding privacy, property rights, and public safety with regards to unmanned aircraft.

 

11.  HB 792 – The Campus Taser Bill 

HB 792 would allow anyone at any postsecondary education institutions to carry electroshock weapons (i.e. stun gun or taser) on campus. The bill requires the use of that weapon to be only in self-defense or the defense of another.

 

12.  HB 862 – Homestead Exemption for Disabled Veterans

HB 862 allows an eligible disabled veteran to qualify for the homestead exemption by meeting either, rather than both, of the standards required by law. Currently, these are: the permanent loss of one or both feet, hands, or sight in one or both eyes; or honorably discharged and 100 percent disabled and compensated at the 100 percent level as unemployable. The bill also provides that eligible veterans shall be issued a free motor vehicle license plate, and that the vehicle on which said license plate is affixed shall be exempted from all ad valorem taxes for state, county, municipal, and school purposes.

 

13.  HB 874 – The Criminal Street Gang and Terrorism Prevention Act

HB 874 – the Criminal Street Gang and Terrorism Prevention Act Revision - revises anti-street gang laws to expand the witness intimidation law, clarify admissible evidence to prove a Street Gang Act violation, and enhance penalties for certain violations including the use of telecommunication devices by prison inmates to commit criminal gang activity and those individuals – including prison guards – who smuggle contraband to prison inmates.

Among its provisions, this bill seeks to address the pressing and dangerous issue of prison inmates having access to cell phones while incarcerated. Smuggled into prisons through creative disguises or by prison guards, these phones are being used by inmates and gang members to coordinate violent crimes from prison. Further, HB 874 increases the penalties for participating in criminal gang activities in an effort to combat metro Atlanta’s growing gang problem. A recent FBI report estimated as many as 20,000 gang members reside in Atlanta. Under this bill, any person convicted of criminal gang violence can face imprisonment for 5-20 years.

 

14.  HB 941 – Procedures for Incidents Involving LEO’s That Result in Death or Bodily Harm

Under current law, if a law enforcement officer is being investigated by a criminal grand jury for potential criminal wrongdoing – including a fatality or serious injury that occurs as a result of a law enforcement officer discharging his or her weapon – the officer involved has the right to be present in the grand jury room the entire time the case is being considered, hear all testimony, and be aware of all evidence presented. After all evidence has been presented to the grand jury, the officer then has the right to make a statement before the grand jury. However, the officer is not subject to cross examination as any other citizen would be under similar circumstances. Therefore, an officer could potentially tailor his statement to the grand jury based on what he has seen and heard presented and not be challenged. Georgia is the only state in the nation to have this approach, which allows for the possible manipulation of the grand jury process.

HB 941 changes this process. This bill would continue to allow an officer the right to make a statement before the grand jury and tell his or her side of the story. However, if he or she chooses to exercise that right, they would be subject to cross examination like any other citizen. In addition, an officer would not be able to hear and see all of the other evidence that the grand jury considers.

 

15.  SB 277 – The Protecting Georgia Small Business Act

SB 277 provides that neither a franchisee nor a franchisee's employee is an employee of the franchisor for any purpose. This legislation was introduced in response to a recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that changed the definition of the employer-employee relationship that has existed since the 1980s. Now, a company that hires a contractor to staff its facilities may be considered a so-called joint employer of the workers at that facility, even if it does not actively supervise them. 

The NLRB ruling has potentially broad reaching impacts for businesses as diverse as retailers, restaurants, and manufacturers. Previously, companies were only responsible for employees directly under their control meaning that without the power to set hours, wages, or job responsibilities only they could not be held responsible for the actions of their contractors/franchisees. This ruling stands to force companies to cut ties to staffing agencies that recruit temporary workers and pull companies into collective bargaining negotiations with contractor employees.

 

16.  SB 331 – Termination of Parental Rights for Rape Pregnancies

SB 331 allows the termination of a father's parental rights when, by clear and convincing evidence, the father caused his child to be conceived as a result of non-consensual sexual contact. For purposes of legitimation proceedings, there shall be a presumption against legitimation where the court finds that the father caused his child to be conceived in such a manner. Such fathers shall also be barred from inheriting from a child so conceived; however, a child conceived as a result on non-consensual sex may still inherit from the father.

 

17.  SB 269 – Sanctuary Cities

SB 269 tightens up the enforcement of Georgia’s sanctuary city law by requiring adequate reporting to ensure that local governments cooperate with ICE in Georgia.