Legislation moves forward as final adjournment nears


Last week, several legislative measures that I sponsored or co-sponsored moved through the state Senate and took a step closer to becoming law.

HB 103, which would authorize the Commissioner of Insurance to approve non-traditional groups for group life insurance and repeal a requirement that 75 percent of an organization’s members participate in order to qualify for group life coverage, was approved by the Senate and now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature. Winning approval from various Senate committees and awaiting final action by the Senate are:
• HB 207, which would establish a special two-day extension of turkey season for young and mobility-impaired hunters.
• HB 229, which would remove the annual publication requirement for insurers.
• HB 246, which would provide benefit programs for officers, employees and other agents of the Georgia World Congress Center.
• HB 298, which would create the Agricultural Commodity Commission for Georgia Grown Products.
• HB 304, which would clarify the applicability of the Freeport Exemption to fertilizer production processes.
• HB 312, which would revise the law regulating insurance holding company systems.
• HB 375, would provide for insurance policy cancellations under certain circumstances related to policy terms that permit an audit or rate investigation and non-compliance by the insured.
• HB 389, an insurance bill that would provide conversion and enhanced conversion rights and coverage and sunset requirements.

Final Week’s Agenda: The 40th and final legislative day of the 2013 session of the Georgia General Assembly will be Thursday, March 28. Between now and then, the House and Senate will attempt to reconcile differences between the two chambers on legislation addressing a number of major issues.

For example, the House voted March 22 to approve major changes to Senate-approved legislation that would have allowed guns to be carried in public housing projects. The Senate version of SB 101 was consolidated with HB 512, a more comprehensive gun carrying rights bill passed by the House earlier in the session. Under the newly consolidated version of SB 101, license holders could bring firearms to college campuses, except to dormitories or athletic events. Guns would also be allowed in unsecured government buildings and K-12 schools, although not into areas designated as school safety zones, where only authorized school administrators could carry weapons. Churches would be able to “opt in” to allow guns but would not be required to allow people to bring in firearms.

The substitute bill would prohibit people who have been involuntarily hospitalized or treated for mental illness to obtain a gun license but would allow those who were voluntarily treated to do so. The bill would also prohibit the creation of a database that includes information about persons who have firearms licenses. Those between 18 and 21 years old, who have completed basic military training, would be allowed to apply for a gun licenses as long as they were honorably discharged from the military.

Provisions that were dropped from the previous legislation include those allowing guns in courthouses and public housing projects. The current law empowering bar owners to decide whether to allow firearms on the premises would remain in effect as well.

The same day, the Senate made major changes to House-approved legislation dealing with ethics and lobbyist spending on meals, gifts and entertainment for legislators. The Senate changes call for a $100 cap on spending on lawmakers, with no exceptions for committees or legislative delegations. Lobbyist registration and reporting requirements would be unchanged under the Senate version of the bill, which would also prohibit lobbyists from paying for international trips for legislators and their family members.

The version approved by the Senate differs greatly from the House version of HB 142, which would impose a total ban on lobbyist spending on individual legislators but includes exceptions for committees, delegations and caucuses. The House version also would require unpaid representatives of organizations who visit the Capitol at least five times per session as advocates or opponents of legislation to register as lobbyists and pay a $25 fee.

Efforts to reconcile these differences and pass final versions of legislation on the gun laws and ethics proposals will take a large portion of the three days remaining in this session.

Boating Safety: The House voted March 20 to approve legislation that seeks to improve safety on Georgia’s lakes, rivers and other waterways that are used for recreational purposes. As Georgia’s population has increased over the years, so too has the number of boating and jet ski accidents that occur each year in the state. Just last summer, three young boys died in accidents on Lake Lanier in north Georgia. Kile Glover was struck by a jet ski, and brothers Jake and Griffin Prince were killed after an intoxicated boater collided with their family’s pontoon boat.

Senate Bill 136, otherwise known as the "Kile Glover Boat Education Law" and "Jake and Griffin BUI Law," is aimed at preventing similar accidents. To decrease the number of boating tragedies in Georgia, SB 136 would lower the legal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit from 0.10 to 0.08 for Boating Under the Influence (BUI). This change will create uniformity in Georgia law by bring the state’s legal BAC limit for BUIs and Hunting Under the Influence (HUI) - both of which are currently 0.10 - into compliance with its Driving Under the Influence BAC limit of 0.08.

Georgia is currently one of only eight states that allow a higher BAC limit for boating under the influence than driving under the influence. This inconsistency has led to dangerous conditions on Georgia’s waterways, which grow more crowded each year. In fact, the U.S. Coast Guard estimates that alcohol is a contributing factor in over half of the boating fatalities each year. By lowering the BAC limit for BUIs and increasing BUI penalties so that they mirror DUI penalties, we can help save lives.

SB 136 would also enact other boating safety regulations aimed at increasing safety on Georgia’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters. The bill states that children between the ages of 12-15 may not operate a boat larger than 16 feet in length, but may drive smaller personal water craft if accompanied by an adult or if the child has successfully completed a boating education course approved by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Children under 12 may operate a boat or other personal water craft only if it has a motor with less than 30 Horse Power, and is smaller than 16 feet in length.

SB 136 would also require anyone under the age of 15, as well as anyone renting a boat or personal water craft with more than 10 Horse Power, to watch a free 12-minute boater safety video offered on the Georgia Department of Natural Resource’s website. In addition, SB 136 would raise the age requirement from 10 to 12 for children to wear life jackets while a boat or personal water craft is in motion. Finally, SB 136 would update the regulations for navigation lights to meet current industry standards, and allow navigation lights to be placed on the sides of boats.

The legislation now goes back to the Senate for consideration of House amendments to the bill.

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