First I want to express a huge thank you to all my constituents who emailed and/or wrote me during session. I read every email and every letter; it was sincerely a privilege to hear your viewpoints. Second only to serving in the Army was serving my amazing State this session and representing all of you at the Capitol. My promise as always will be to serve and vote based on helping you for today and particularly the next generation instead of the next election. There were a number of bills that passed, but below is a summary of the legislation I think will be of most interest to you.
HB 1 – Use of Medicinal Cannabis Oil
This bill is intended to provide these Georgians with aid and bring families back home. It allows immunity for possession of cannabis oil with a maximum amount of 5% THC for 8 qualifying conditions (Cancer, MS, Seizure disorders, ALS, Crohn’s, Parkinson’s, Mitochondrial disease, sickle cell disease) for those who have obtained a registration card from the Department of Public Health upon a recommendation from their physician. The bill will only allow registered users, or their caregiver, to possess a maximum amount of 20 ounces, otherwise possession above that amount will be a felony. It also clarifies that hospitals and healthcare providers shall not be subject to civil liability if the registered individual receives cannabis oil while staying in a hospital.
It creates the Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis to make a recommendation to the Governor and General Assembly by Dec. 2015 what is the best regulatory infrastructure for creation of in-state growth/distribution model of medical cannabis. This commission will be made up of medical professionals, law enforcement, Dept of Agriculture leadership, pharmacists, and head of GA’s Drug and Narcotics agency, among others.
HB 170 – Transportation Funding
This bill is a comprehensive restructuring of Georgia’s motor fuels taxing structure with the explicit purpose of generating revenue to support currently existing roads, bridges, and transit networks. The state excise rate on a gallon of gas will be 26 cents; the rate on a gallon of diesel fuel will be 29 cents per gallon. This rate will be adjusted annually based on an aggregate of fuel efficiency standards (CAFÉ) and the Consumer Price Index beginning on July 1, 2016. LOST, HOST, MOST, SPLOST and ESPLOST are untouched. The local sales taxes will not be levied on any price per gallon above $3.00. Alternative fueled vehicles will be assessed an annual fee upon registration of $200 for non-commercial vehicles and $300 for commercial vehicles. It also establishes a new fee of $5.00 per day for hotel stays with an exemption for extended stay lodging to be used on transportation purposes. The bill provides for accountability for GDOT by requiring that there be submitted to the General Assembly a ten year strategic plan that outlines the use of department resources for upcoming fiscal years. It also creates the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure to review future tax reform initiatives. The measure also eliminates the tax credit for electric vehicles and the jet fuel sales tax exemption, which Delta had previously qualified for.
Upkeep of Georgia roads is something our State Government must consider a top priority for everyone’s safety and to keep our state economy strong. While GDOT needs to accomplish this at the least cost possible, we must realistically give them adequate money or this job cannot be sufficiently accomplished. I owe it to you and your children to provide road safety and jobs. So YES, I voted for transportation because of the overwhelming evidence that if we did not increase funding for transportation than we would harm Georgia’s job security for us and our children’s children. Without good infrastructure Georgia cannot remain the number one business state, and future generations would not have a head start on promising job opportunities in the future. Every good economy includes good roads. Since the 1970’s we have done little to keep up with known funding requirements. If we had currently continued to do nothing except kick the can down the road, we would be over 74 billion dollars in the hole in less than 20 years. At least these needed funds are coming from an increase in user fee and not an increase in income tax. Two of my top goals while in office are to illuminate income tax and limit the government’s intervention in areas it should not be involved.
SB 133/SR 287 – Opportunity School District
This bill establishes the “Opportunity School District”(OSD) within the Office of Student Achievement. The superintendent of the OSD is appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The OSD may select up to 20 failing schools per year to administer, with no more than 100 schools under its supervision at any time. Failing schools are those which have earned an F rating for three consecutive years. The rating system used to determine grades is based on the state accountability system approved by the State Board of Education.
Schools under the oversight of the OSD may be taken over for: direct management by the OSD; shared management with the local board; reconstitution as an OSD Charter School; or closed if the school is not enrolled at full capacity, the enrolled students will be reassigned to other schools. The OSD superintendent is given the ability to retain or dismiss any leader, teacher, or staff member at an opportunity school. Any teacher who is not retained will still be an employee of the local board. This Act begins with the 2017-2018 school year, upon ratification of the Constitutional Amendment.
HB 3 – Sanctions for Transactions Involving Student-Athlete
This bill prohibits a person from soliciting a student-athlete to engage in a transaction which could cause the student-athlete to permanently or temporarily lose athletic scholarship eligibility, the ability to participate on an intercollegiate athletic team, or the ability to participate in one or more intercollegiate sporting competitions as sanctioned by a national association for the promotion and regulation of intercollegiate athletics. It also creates a cause of action against any person who attempting to solicit student-athletes under these conditions.
HB 17 – Hidden Predator Act
If the childhood sexual abuse was committed before July 1, 2015, this bill requires the action to be brought on or before the date which the plaintiff reaches the age 23. If the abuse was committed on or after July 1, 2015, this bill requires the action to be brought on or before the date that the plaintiff turns 25.
The bill also provides a two-year retroactive window to allow revival of civil cases that have been time-barred by Georgia’s current five-year statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases. Such actions may only be filed against the individual alleged to have committed the abuse; no claim may be brought under the revival window against a third-party “entity” described above. A revival action may not be brought if any claim has already been litigated to finality on its merits or if a written settlement agreement has been entered into between the plaintiff and defendant if the plaintiff was represented in the prior case by an attorney licensed to practice in Georgia. It also allows access for victims of child abuse or their guardians to investigation files after criminal cases have been closed.
HB 57 – Solar Technology for Residences and Small Business
This bill legalizes financing of solar technology for residences and small business. The financing may be based on the amount of solar power generated. It does not contain any tax breaks or credits. It does not change any regulations for existing solar installations or cash purchases. There are limits on the installation sizes that can be financed. The intent is that the financed solar is for use on an individual’s private property. This bill does not change any existing requirements dealing with the sale back to the utility of any excess electricity generated by solar. It does not alter any rights of local or county governments to make zonings. This bill is the cumulative result of 9 months of careful negotiations between Georgia Power, EMC’s, MEAG’s, and the solar industry.
HB 63 – Employer’s GED Tax Credit Program
This bill revises the basic skills education program’s income tax credit for employers. It provides a $400 tax credit to employers for each employee who passes the basic skills education test (GED) when such test is paid for by the employer. It also provides employers a tax credit of $1,200 for each employee who passes the GED and whose employer provides 40 hours of paid time off for the employee to complete a basic skills education and training program. This tax credit is capped at $1 million per calendar year and no single employer can receive more than $100,000 per year in tax credits.
HB 91 – Eliminating GA High School Graduation Test Requirement
This bill allows for students who did not receive a high school diploma because they failed to pass the Georgia High School Graduation Test to receive a diploma. The Georgia High School Graduation Test was ruled by the State Board of Education to be an invalid test and is no longer administered. This will allow over 8,000 former Georgia high school students to get their diploma.
HB 110 – Sale of Fireworks
This bill legalizes and sets parameters for the distribution, transportation and retail sale of consumer fireworks. Use of consumer fireworks is permitted without a license between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 a.m. in any location not prohibited by law. Locations specifically prohibited by law include locations indoors, locations where the user is a trespasser, locations where law specifically prohibits such use, and locations within 100 feet of a gas station/refinery or a nuclear power facility.
The legislation also outlines requirements for the sale of consumer fireworks. Retailers must have a valid license as a distributor. Individuals ages 16 or 17 may sell or transport fireworks if they are serving as an assistant to a licensed distributor, but they are not permitted to transport consumer fireworks by interstate. The initial fee for distributing fireworks will be $5,000, with a $1,000 annual renewal fee, payable to the Safety Fire Commissioner. Each distributor must carry a minimum of $2 million dollars of liability insurance. Temporary fireworks stands may be operated by distributors or non-profit groups if they are licensed and located within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant or co-located within a permanent store. No licensed distributor can operate more than two temporary stands per license. In counties without a permanent store, a licensed distributor located within 75 miles of the county’s border may operate one of their two allotted temporary stores in that county. The license fee for operating a temporary fireworks store is $500 per year, per location, and must expire 90 days after the license is issued. The legislation also imposes an excise tax on the sale of consumer fireworks at a rate of five percent per item sold.
HB 152 – Regulation of Bouncers/Bar Employees
The bill prohibits persons under the age of 21 from serving as a bouncer at a bar. The bill also prohibits individuals under the age of 21 from entering a bar unless he or she is accompanied by his or her parent, guardian, or spouse who is 21 years or older, unless to attend a musical performance or concert or presentation of the performing arts. It also requires bars to report any disciplinary action, such as a citation or arrest that arises out of a violation of any liquor license law/regulation. This bill also prohibits the use, manufacture, sale, offer for use, purchase or possession of powered alcohol, except for bona fide research purposes.
HB 198 – Suicide Awareness and Prevention Training
This bill will require all certificated public school personnel to receive annual training in suicide awareness and prevention. Local school systems must adopt a policy on student suicide prevention and identify appropriate materials to fulfill training requirements. This bill is intended to help teachers recognize signs and know how to refer a student for help, it does not mandate any specific training materials. There is no cost to implementing these provisions.
HB 268 – Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse
This bill requires individuals who are employees or volunteers where their duty is to attend to a child, such as a school, hospital, or social agency, to report to the person in charge of that facility whenever they receive reasonable cause to believe that child abuse has occurred. The individual in charge of the institution or the designated person who receives such notification may not exercise any control, restraint, or modification or make any other change to the information received from the reporter, although he/she may be consulted before the report is made. In addition, reports may be made by telephone, email, or facsimile, but oral reports must be followed up with a written report. The initial report must be filed within 24 hours from the time there is a reasonable suspicion of abuse.
HB 362 – Asthma Medication in Schools
This bill allows school systems to stock asthma medication. Any school employee trained in recognizing symptoms of respiratory distress may provide the medication or administer it to a student. This bill also allows schools to purchase asthma medication directly from manufacturers and allows physicians to prescribe the medication to schools.
There are no mandates in this bill, other than having local boards of education adopt a policy authorizing school personnel to administer levalbuterol sulfate or albuterol sulfate inhalers.
Any school personnel who in good faith administers (or chooses not to administer) the medicine to a student has immunity from civil liability.
HB 393 – Allowing Tesla in Georgia
This bill allows manufacturers of zero emission vehicles that were doing business prior to January 1, 2015, to sell factory direct to consumers. This is a narrowly-crafted exception to Georgia’s dealership law. Manufacturers who qualify for this exemption are allowed to build up to five brick and mortar facilities licensed as new vehicle dealerships and any number of maintenance facilities.
HB 429/SB 1 – Ava’s Law
This bill provides that no health benefit plan shall restrict coverage for treatment of a terminal condition when such treatment has been prescribed by a physician as medically appropriate. This bill also incorporates SB1, “Ava’s Law,” requiring any individual or small group health insurance policy sold in this state to provide coverage for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders. This coverage shall be for covered individuals six years of age or younger. Although the policy or contract shall not include any limits on the number of visits, the policy or contract may limit coverage for applied behavior analysis to $30,000 per year. Beginning January 15, 2017, and every January 15 thereafter, the Department of Insurance is required to submit a report to the General Assembly regarding the implementation of this insurance coverage, and such reports shall include the total number of insured diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, the total cost of all claims paid out in the proceeding calendar year, the cost of such coverage per insured per month, and the average cost per insured for coverage of applied behavior analysis.
SB 8/SR 7 – Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund
This bill restructures and revises the statute of limitations period for bringing a civil action for recovery of damages suffered as a result of childhood sexual abuse. If the childhood sexual abuse was committed before July 1, 2015, this bill requires the action to be brought on or before the date which the plaintiff reaches the age 23. If the abuse was committed on or after July 1, 2015, this bill requires the action to be brought on or before the date that the plaintiff turns 25.
The bill also establishes the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund Commission and creates a separate fund in the state treasury—the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund. The 8 member commission may allow money from the fund to be disbursed for the purposes of providing rehabilitative and social services to sexually exploited children.
I voted NO because a revenue bill can only originate in the house, and therefore was in violation of the Constitution. I could not vote yes, since I am sworn to defend the Constitution. Overall, I thought it was a good bill and think we need to do even more for sexually exploited children and women.
SB 63 – Retail Sales of Alcoholic Beverages by Distillers and
This bill allows for manufacturers or distillers who are issued a distiller’s license and issued a permit by the commissioner, to conduct distillery tours for a fee or free of charge. If conducting these tours, the distiller may provide a free souvenir of a complimentary sealed container of distilled spirits, free food and free limited tastings. The free souvenir must be a single bottle of distilled spirits manufactured by the distiller of not more than 750 milliliters. The free souvenir must be provided after the tour, and the recipient must be 21 years of age or older. Also, brewers of malt beverages may also conduct brewery tours in the same manner as distillery tours. However, the free souvenir from a brewery tour is a sealed container or containers of malt beverages not to exceed 72 ounces. All fees for tours must be collected prior to conducting the tour.
SB 132 – “Quality Basic Education Act”
The bill allows all high school students, whether in public or private school, to apply to a postsecondary school in order to take one or more classes; if accepted, the student can get credit for the class at both the student’s high school and the postsecondary institution.
HB 76 – 2016 Budget
The Fiscal Year 2016 budget effective for state spending beginning July 1, 2015, is set by a revenue estimate of $21.8 billion. This reflects an increase of $992 million, or 4.7%, over the original Fiscal Year 2015 budget. Budgeting priorities include enhanced funding for transportation, maintaining State Health Benefit Plan coverage for non-certificated school employees, full funding for Equalization grants for public schools, salary adjustments for critical positions in state agencies, support for rural hospitals and provider rate adjustments.
K-12 education received an infusion of $574.7 million, or 58% of all new revenue. It provides $165.1 million to fully fund Quality Basic Education (QBE) enrollment growth of 1.33% as well as training and experience for teachers, charter system grants and State Commission Charter School supplements. The bill also includes an adjustment in Local Five Mill Share of $9.4 million to recognize the decline in local property tax digests. 12.5% of all new revenue is assigned for higher education needs.
SB 160 – Minors in Possession of Alcoholic Beverage
This bill allows police officers the discretion to issue a citation to a minor that is in possession of alcohol. Currently that police officer would have no choice but to arrest the minor. The bill still gives the police officer the discretion to affect a custodial arrest if the minor poses a danger to him/herself or the person/property of another. The bill also makes it a crime (misdemeanor) to intentionally cause a minor to be identified as someone in an obscene depiction. This includes giving the minor’s name, address, telephone number, or email address.
HB 416 – Consumer Information and Awareness Act
This bill requires health care practitioners to wear an identifier that includes his or her name and the type of license the practitioner holds. Each practitioner must affirmatively communicate the practitioner’s specific licensure to all current and prospective patients. It also requires a practice that is not located in a hospital to display a notice in the reception area that identifies the type of practitioners employed at that practice and notifying the patient of their right to inquire about the practitioners’ license(s). A practitioner who violates these provisions is subject to disciplinary action by his or her professional licensing board.
In conclusion I earnestly hope this legislative summary was helpful and educational. My desire is always to be transparent, open at all times, and serve to the best of my abilities for all of you. If you have any questions, please email me at [email protected] or call me on my cell at (678) 622-3810. Please also know you are invited to visit me at my Capitol office located in the Coverdell Legislative Office Building, 18 Capitol Square SW, Room 612, Atlanta, Georgia 30334.
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”