The Blog

This Week Under the Gold Dome: Sine Die Edition

Posted on April 07, 2015

By: Elizabeth Holland

The legislative session for 2015 came to an end late in the evening on Thursday. Here is a recap on what made it through the legislative gauntlet this year including Spencer’s crosswalk bill, new transportation funding, and a plan to take over schools perceived to be failing.

Spencer’s Legislation:

Although Rep. Frye was actively involved with many pieces of legislation this session, here are a few of the victories we’ve kept you updated on and the results:

HB 152 establishes that businesses who have alcohol related infractions have to report these to the Department of Revenue. Also, it requires that bouncers, individuals primarily performing security duties at locations where alcoholic beverages are served, be 21 years old or above (with an exception for military personnel). This bill passed in the House and Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature.

HB 86 transfers the existing Division of Aging Services within the Department of Human Services into a newly formed Georgia Adult and Aging Services agency. The bill also provides for rules on membership and duties of the Agency’s Georgia Adult and Aging Services board. DAS currently investigates abuse claims of elderly Georgians and Georgian’s with disabilities and intervenes when necessary. This bill passed both the House and Senate as well.

SB 76 was passed with language from Spencer’s HB 417.It requires drivers of motor vehicles to stop at crosswalks with pedestrian-activated flashing lights. The bill also enables bicyclists and motorcyclists to go through intersections before a red light changes if their bike is too light to activate the weight sensors in the ground. Anyone who has walked across Prince Avenue  can attest how important this legislation is. With this bill’s passage in the House and Senate, it only awaits the governor’s signature.

Headlining Issues for 2015:

Transportation

The talk of the town this session was transportation. From day one to day 40, debates and compromises swirled over HB 170. We kept you informed week by week of the discussion, and here are the impacts you will see from the final version. There will no longer be a sales tax on gasoline, but there will be a 26 cents-per-gallon excise tax. This number was negotiated down 3 percent from the original 29.2 percent tax proposed by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jay Roberts. There is no longer a tax break for airlines on jet fuel. To raise revenue, the bill eliminates the $5,000 tax incentive for the purchase of electric vehicles. These vehicles also require a $200 registration fee. Lastly, a $5 per night increase in the hotel/motel tax allocates additional revenue to our transportation needs.

In December, a study committee provided an overview of the funding needs for our transportation system. Their findings included the need for $1-$1.5 billion annually for bare minimum maintenance needs. This bill falls short by raising only $900 million.

Finally, tucked into the end of the legislative compromise was a provision creating a tax reform commission to propose an overhaul of Georgia’s tax code in 2016. While all proposals for tax reform should be considered by the House, this provision allows for the committee’s plan to bypass the standing committee process and the amendment process on the House floor. Members will only be allowed a yea or nay vote on the committee’s plan.

The transportation debate this session was marked by deep debate and compromise over a direly-needed new revenue source for our roads and bridges. The endless hard work of the bill’s sponsor made this proposal become a reality. The tax commission proposal is a startling departure from the formula that worked this year.

Opportunity School Districts

One of the major policy priorities for the Governor in 2015 was the establishment of an Opportunity School District.  The plan would allow the Governor to appoint an OSD superintendent and empower him or her to take over up to 20 schools per year that have chronically low test scores. From visits to neighboring states with the program to protests from school children at the Capitol, this issue brought discussion from both sides of the aisle. While Republicans feared the district placed too much control in the hands of state government and Democrats questioned how this would actually improve schools, the measure reached the required two-thirds majority by two votes.

When the bill was up for consideration, we reported about how the bill fell short of meeting the needs of Georgia’s most disadvantaged children. The Opportunity School District limits the local control and accountability that school boards will have. It also relies on a narrow accountability measure to assess schools that is still being tweaked and only provides a snapshot of school activities. Lastly, the statewide district is funded by withholding money from schools that have already endured over a decade of cuts.

Don’t forget about this issue because in November of 2016, it will be on the ballot for you to decide.

Medical Marijuana 

Haleigh’s Hope Act (HB 1) gained approval while families who are directly affected by bill looked on. After not passing through the legislative process in the 2014 session, this new law will legalize medical marijuana use for people affected by eight illnesses listed in the bill including cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizures, ALS, Parkinson’s, Crohn’s, mitochondrial and sickle cell diseases.

Religious Liberty Act

There were two different religious liberty bills that began the legislative process this session. Neither of those found passage. With wording that many critics cautioned would open up paths to discrimination by various entities, the Senate version died after a House committee was cancelled to discuss the bill. An amendment that would have limited discrimination was added to the bill that was not supported by the bill author. That along with criticism from a similar law in Indiana caused representatives to pump the brakes on this controversial topic.

Rep. Frye thanks you for allowing him to represent your voice this session at the Capitol! He can’t wait to prepare and present even more legislation to benefit his district and the state of Georgia next session. See you next year under the gold dome!

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