Rep. Shaw’s metal theft enforcement plan awaits Gov. Deal’s signature
On the 40th and final day of the 2012 session of the Georgia General Assembly, final agreement was reached by the House of Representatives and the Senate on legislation I introduced to help combat metal theft, a serious crime that has become a widespread problem across our state.
Now resting on Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk waiting to be signed into law, HB 872 would make it more difficult for metal thieves to profit from their crimes by requiring metal sellers to show a valid ID and a work order or receipt to prove the metal was not stolen. The legislation would also ensure metal recyclers maintain a record of all purchases, so that police may more easily investigate metal theft incidents.
Under the bill, those attempting to sell scrap metal would be required to show a valid identification card. The proposal would also establish a statewide database of buyers and sellers that would be available to law enforcement agencies. Increased thefts of copper wire, air conditioning coils, manhole covers and even church bells and grave markers, along with rising prices for scrap metal, have necessitated tighter regulation and stronger enforcement.
My legislation was supported by a broad coalition of advocacy groups affected by the metal theft problem and resulting public safety issues, including utility companies, railroads, city and county governments, law enforcement agencies, the insurance business and more. Their support was critical to its success, and I also want to thank my colleagues for their work and support. HB 872 passed the House 159-8 and the Senate 50-0 in its final form as a Conference Committee report in the closing hours of the session.
This new law will serve as a model for the rest of the country as other states deal with metal theft.
Meanwhile last week, I was able to successfully amend SB 203 in the House to include provisions of HB 931, which I introduced to update provisions of state law regarding domestic farmers’ mutual fire insurance companies. That legislation also awaits the governor’s signature.
Also receiving final approval during the final week of the session was HB 742, the annual state budget for fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1. While the $19.3 billion plan reflects a slight increase from the current year’s state budget in base funding, it should be understood that the FY 2013 budget maintains per capita state spending at levels that are well below what they were a decade ago.
The new budget will fund 214 additional medical residency slots, three new Federally Qualified Community Health Centers in underserved areas of the state and an increased gas allowance for state troopers to account for recent increases in gas prices. Education was also a top priority in the FY 2013 state budget. Some noteworthy funding increases in education include financial support for a reading mentor program, the school nurse program, and 170 days of instruction and operating costs in our Georgia Pre-K program, as well as fully funding K-12 enrollment growth.
Among the budget’s investments in higher education is a $32 million appropriation for the new Health Sciences and Business Administration Building at Valdosta State University. This project will provide a major boost for healthcare and economic development throughout South Georgia.
Meanwhile, lawmakers approved a zero-based budgeting proposal, SB 33, to require state agencies and programs to justify all of their spending during the budgeting process at least once every 10 years.
Other legislation completed by the House and Senate and sent to the Governor for his signature last week includes:
• HB 397, which would increase penalties for government officials who break Georgia’s “sunshine” laws and clarify the definition of open meetings and what activities are allowed in closed meetings.
• HB 456, which would create a “sunset committee” of legislators to review state agencies, committees and boards for efficiency, received majority approval in the House and Senate. The committee could recommend the agencies be abolished if they are found to be redundant, inefficient or unnecessary.
• HB 541, which would create the offense of threatening or intimidating a public officer or official in the administration of his or her duties.
• HB 685, which would strengthen Georgia’s dangerous dog laws.
• HB 861, which would require drug testing for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.
• HB 1027, which would maintain a 20 percent tax credit for television, film and video game productions in Georgia and grant a 10 percent bonus credit if the program or game includes a special peach logo to promote Georgia tourism.
• HB 1114, which would prohibit assisted suicide.
• HB 1176, which would implement recommendations of the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform in an effort to address the problems caused by Georgia’s prison population doubling over the past two decades.
• SB 302, which would increase the revenues bond cap for the Georgia Higher Education Facilities Authority from $300 million to $500 million, enabling construction of more dormitories, parking decks and student centers on the campuses of Georgia’s colleges and universities.
• SB 410, which would put Georgia’s public schools under a grading system that considers student success and the progress educators make in improving test score performance.
• SB 431, which would add medical identity fraud to the provisions of state law related to identity fraud.
It was also a pleasure for me to have the Rev. Jack Varnell, pastor of Unity United Methodist Church, come to the Capitol on March 26 and serve as Chaplain of the Day in the House of Representatives. I have had many positive comments from fellow House members on the inspiring message Rev. Varnell shared with us that day.
Next week, I will present a comprehensive report on the major action take during this year’s session, which began in January. As always, please contact me with your views on the issues or whenever I can be of service.