2013 session adjourns after passage of budget, ethics legislation

4/2/2013

On Thursday, March 28, the 2013 legislative session came to an end when the House and Senate completed the 40th and final legislative day. It was a good session of which Georgia taxpayers can be proud. Several of the General Assembly’s key legislative accomplishments took place during the final week of the session.

One of the most important bills we passed this session was House Bill 106. This bill establishes the state budget for Fiscal Year 2014, running from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014. Totaling $19.92 billion in state funds, the final version of this budget largely mirrors Gov. Nathan Deal’s original budget proposal but includes a number of changes made by the House that benefit education, healthcare and economic development.

Among additions made by the House are $38.3 million for Equalization Grants for education, $489,475 for continued expansion funding of all programs that provide physician residency training, $25.7 million for road projects throughout the state, and $4.3 million to help the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources retain experienced, certified personnel.

Our South Georgia legislative delegation was also successful in obtaining all of the funds we were working to secure for Valdosta State University, ABAC, and the University of Georgia’s Tifton campus that had been requested and brought to our attention by the leaders of those institutions.

House Bill 142, another major legislative accomplishment from this session, would strengthen Georgia’s ethics laws by placing a $75 limit on each expenditure made by an individual lobbyist on an elected official. Food and beverages exceeding the $75 limit may be provided to legislators only at group events where all members of the General Assembly, all members of the state House or Senate, all members of a standing committee of either body, or all members of a longstanding caucus recognized by the House or Senate ethics committees are invited.

The bill also bans gifts of tickets to athletic, sporting, recreational, musical concerts and other entertainment events from lobbyists to state officials, which is currently allowed. The only exception would be for events where all members of the General Assembly are invited. HB 142 also restores power to the Georgia Government and Campaign Finance Commission by giving it rule making authority. Further, the bill limits reimbursements to elected officials to actual and reasonable transportation, lodging, registration, food and beverage expenses that are related to conferences and meetings within the United States.

Finally, HB 142 clarifies and broadens the definition of who must register as a lobbyist so that it applies to anyone who is compensated for or has their expenses reimbursed in an amount greater than $250 if attempting to influence legislation. It also removed all lobbyist registration fees. The commission is now empowered to set reasonable fees for the cost of the ID card.

House Bill 143 would further strengthen Georgia’s ethics laws by making common sense changes to the state’s campaign contribution disclosure requirements. This bill will require greater transparency in campaign finance by requiring disclosure of all contributions of more than $100 received during the month of January. This will ensure that all campaign contributions made just before the start of the annual legislative session are made public before that legislative session ends.

House Bill 372, the HOPE Grant expansion legislation, also received final approval from the House and Senate this session. This bill returns the eligibility requirement for the HOPE Grant from a 3.0 grade-point average (GPA) to a 2.0 GPA. This will return the HOPE Grant requirements to what they were in 2011. Just as the HOPE Scholarship pays tuition for Georgians attending colleges and universities in the state, the HOPE Grant helps eligible Georgians pay for the costs of attending technical colleges in Georgia.

We expect the change in the HOPE Grant’s GPA eligibility requirement to result in 3,500 to 5,000 new students at the state’s technical schools. This increased enrollment will help fill vacant employment positions throughout the state that require technical skills like plumbing, electrical contracting, and HVAC.

Also receiving final approval was HB 207, which I introduced to establish a special two-day extension of turkey season for young and mobility impaired hunters. I added an amendment to the legislation that allows the use of a .17 caliber rifle or larger for hunting fox or bobcat, an improvement over current law, which authorizes a .22 magnum maximum.

My proposal to create a special license plate for veterans was approved as an amendment to SB 121, and my language to help rural hospitals use remote pharmacy technology on the weekends was approved as an amendment to SB 216. These provisions will allow remote order entry on prescriptions when the licensed pharmacist will be at the hospital pharmacy within 24 hours and for up to four hospitals that have an average daily census of less than 12 acute patients and are under the same ownership or management. This will greatly benefit all of our rural hospitals that are either owned or managed by South Georgia Medical Center in Valdosta.

The House and Senate also gave final approval last week to HB 150, which would prohibit the charging of a fee to remove police mug shots from websites if the person arrested is acquitted or charges are dropped; HB 318, which would make changes to the Georgia Tourism Development Act and includes an amendment to create an “Invest Georgia” venture capital fund for start-up businesses; HB 407, which would extend to one year the use of ignition locks after a second DUI conviction; and HB 487, which would transfer regulatory control over video gaming machines in Georgia from the Department of Revenue to the Georgia Lottery Corp. and authorize lottery tickets to be awarded as prize winnings, with a percentage of revenues going to fund the HOPE Scholarship program.

These bills are now on the desk of the Governor, who over the next 40 days can sign them into law, veto them or allow them to become law without a signature. On the budget, the Governor can also veto individual line-item appropriations.

One high-profile bill that would have expanded the ability of persons with licenses to carry guns in public places (SB 101) failed to receive a final vote when House and Senate conferees were unable to resolve differences over the issue of weapons on college campuses.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about legislation that passed or did not pass in the General Assembly this year. We had a very productive session where we focused on what the people of Georgia had asked us to do. We were also able to balance the budget by staying on a fiscally conservative path that keeps Georgia moving forward.

Now that I have my third session behind me, I feel even more confident moving forward in terms of my ability to represent my district in an efficient and effective manner. I also feel good about the position of our state moving forward.

Finally, I am glad the session is over so I can spend some time with family and try to get back to work on what pays the bills!


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