March 28th was the final day of the forty day legislative session in Georgia. Legislators voted on proposals related to guns, the HOPE Grant Scholarship, ethics reform and an annual requirement the state budget. Here is a summary of the legislative accomplishments by the General Assembly in 2013.
Spencer introduced and signed on to several pieces of legislation that will make a positive impact across our state. The most prominent of these was House Bill 517: The Downtown Grocery Act. HB 517 removes regulations on package sales of beer and wine that will allow for a small grocery development in downtown Athens and other downtown areas across the state. In Athens, this bill will lead to job growth through the development and operation of a grocery store and give low income families access to healthy food closer to their homes. Other towns in our state will also have the opportunity to encourage economic growth and food security if they pursue downtown grocery developments as well. The Downtown Grocery Act is currently on the Governor’s desk awaiting signature.
Spencer also signed onto a few other pieces of legislation that will make a positive impact in our schools. House Bill 211 allows public school districts to be exempt from fuel taxes when purchasing fuel for their bus fleets. This bill will support the budgets of school districts by decreasing the amount that districts pay for diesel fuel. If this exemption had been in the FY 2012-2013 budget, the Athens-Clarke County School District would have saved $67,650. Another bill that Spencer signed on to that will increase student safety in schools is House Bill 337. This legislation authorizes schools to stock a supply of Auto-Injectable epinephrine. Auto-Injectable Epinephrine is more commonly known by the name “EpiPen”, medication used to treat rapid allergic reactions. Many kids who have severe allergic reactions are prescribed EpiPens and this will ensure that this medication is available in the event of an emergency. These two bills passed and await signature from the Governor.
Spencer signed on to a few pieces of legislation that arrived later in the session and will be priorities for next year. The first of these was House Bill 503. This legislation creates portfolio standards goals for utility providers that will result in a greater proportion of our energy being generated using renewable resources. A full explanation of the positive impact can be found in a previous Capitol Corner post here. Spencer also signed onto House Bill 681that raises the minimum wage. Georgia is one of four states in the union that have minimum wages that are lower than the federal minimum wage. This bill raises the minimum wage to $9.80 per hour. Minimum wage workers have the least bargaining power when it comes to asking for raises so this legislation assists those families who need it most. This legislation is apart of a broader pro-growth strategy to help families and businesses across our state.
House Resolutions were also apart of Spencer’s Legislative Agenda during the session. Spencer signed on to three House Resolutions that support women, workers and our environment. The first was House Resolution 914, a resolution to recognize the need for state and federal funding to protect reproductive freedom for women. The second was House Resolution 915 that supports the rights of workers to collectively bargain and organize. The third was House Resolution 846 that requested the Insurance Commissioner to require insurers to submit responses to a climate risk disclosure survey as is done in California, Washington and New York. There were also resolutions honoring retiring University of Georgia President Michael Adams, Educator James Robert Chambers Jr., the UGA Swimming and Diving team and others. A full legislative portfolio for Spencer can be found here.
Spencer also supported other important legislation that passed this session and awaits the signature of the Governor. Principle among these was the Budget. While it was not perfect, the General Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2014 funded Quality Basic Education Equalization for the first time and restored sparsity grants for education. It also funded elder protective services and child protective services at higher levels than in the Governor’s budget. While it did not address the continued $1 billion deficit in education funding, it took some steps in the right direction.
The HOPE Grant program received much-needed reform that Spencer supported. Representative Stacey Evans proposed House Bill 372 that lowered the GPA requirement for retaining the HOPE Grant at Technical Schools to 2.0. This reform will allow for more students at schools with historically high job placement rates to receive the funding they need to graduate, find a job and become productive members of our community.
Fiscal Responsibility was also an important part of legislation Spencer supported. House Bill 454 created a process to review tax expenditures for their economic usefulness to ensure that all money Georgia spends is spent to benefit Georgians and not wasted. This bill was sponsored by Republican Representative Chuck Martin of Alpharetta and passed through Spencer’s Fiscal and Budget Oversight Committee. This committee will be responsible for reviewing these tax breaks in the next session and on a regular basis. Alan Essig, the director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, wrote about the need for more effective tax expenditure oversight here.
Ethics reform was one of the more publicized issues in the 2013 session. House Speaker David Ralston sponsored legislation that limits elected officials to $75 per gift from lobbyists. Although this legislation did not address all issues related to ethics, the lobbyist gift cap is the first step in the right direction.
Finally, some of the more positive developments from the session came from legislation that did not pass. House Bill 512, the Safe Carry Protection Act, would have allowed for firearms to be carried in churches, bars and on college campuses. This legislation was opposed by the Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, Hank Huckaby. Spencer voted against this legislation and it failed to pass both houses before the end of the session.
We thank you for following all of the action under the Gold Dome during the 2013 session. Stay tuned for information regarding community events and legislative updates as we prepare for the 2014 session. It has been an honor to serve you in the General Assembly. Thank you and have a great week!