This week during the 2012 Legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly, major milestones were accomplished, including the busiest day of the session thus far for legislators.
The day, referred to as “Crossover Day,” is the 30th day of session and is significant because bills which were not passed by one chamber officially have died for the session and will not have the possibility of becoming law. Crossover Day is the last day that a bill must pass either the House or Senate and must “cross over” from one chamber to the other in order to be considered for potential passage into law. With 10 Legislative session days left, the pace under the Gold Dome has increased considerably. Now that Crossover Day is complete, the House will focus on debating Senate legislation through the same committee process and journey that bills sponsored by members of the House took.
In session for two days this week —Monday and Wednesday (Crossover Day) — our week was full of activity and the majority of our time was spent on the House floor debating legislation. On Monday, the House passed 39 pieces of legislation, in addition to long hours spent in committee meetings to give the last opportunity for potential legislation to pass out of our House committees for possible consideration and passage by the full House on Crossover Day.
Wednesday began with 34 pieces of legislation to be debated, with more legislation added to our calendar during the day. After a long day under the Gold Dome, my colleagues and I in the House ended session a little after 10 p.m.
Below is a highlight of some of the highly debated and significant legislation passed this week. There were a number of other bills that passed this week that are important to this state. However, due to the fact that we are limited in space, we could not discuss them all. If you would like to see other legislation that passed, go to www.house.ga.gov and click on the clerk’s office/legislation at the top of that page, followed by House calendars on the left side of the page.
The most important piece of legislation passed this week was the state budget. House Bill 742, which passed 151-21, includes a $19.2 billion budget covering fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1 of this year. Many times you will hear this budget referred to as the “big budget,” and it will now move to the Senate for consideration.
I sponsored several pieces of legislation, all of which unanimously passed the House this week. The first two bills relate to a necessity of life — food. The supply of food to those who are experiencing a time of need, and for places in our state to have the ability to help hunger relief, are vital. HB 318 extends the sales-tax exemption for food that has been prepared and is donated to a qualified food bank. HB 334 renews the sales-tax exemption for food, beverages and ingredients by qualified food banks in our state. Lastly, HB 1027 would change many provisions relating to the tax credit for film or video production in Georgia, such as: the requirement of a Georgia logo be inserted before the credits, footage shot outside Georgia will not be eligible for the tax credit and companies receiving the credit must register with the Secretary of State’s office and withhold income taxes on wages paid to employees. The goal is to encourage tourism and the recording of films throughout our state.
Listening to constituents is one of the key roles of legislators, as we are your voice at the Capitol. We have heard from many citizens who would prefer that drug-testing requirements be applied to people that receive public assistance. Many people are required to submit to drug testing for employment, and some people feel the same requirement should be placed on people who receive public assistance. In an effort to curb the abuse of illegal substances in our state and to identify and try to help drug users, we passed HB 861 with a vote of 114-59. There was a great amount of debate on the House floor when we considered this legislation, which would require that recipients and applicants of public aid be required to pass drug tests before receiving payments. This would apply to the people receiving or applying for the state-administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. The goal is to encourage a drug-free lifestyle while at the same time helping the families that are struggling in our state so that they can get back on their feet.
Another concern my colleagues and I have heard is that grandparents do not have rights in Georgia to see their grandchildren. HB 1198 passed unanimously and would give grandparents the right to appeal to a court for grandparent visitation rights. This would apply in cases where the court finds the child would be harmed without visitation rights of the grandparents.
Metal theft has been an ongoing issue, and legislators from all across the state have heard from businesses and individuals which have been the victims of metal theft, with losses such as air conditioning units and vehicles. HB 872, which passed 168-2, places additional requirements on secondary metal recyclers, such as: The payment to the seller of the scrap metal must be made in the form of a check or electronic funds transfer; the recycler must keep and record more specific information, such as serial numbers or titles for scrap vehicles; if copper is taken illegally, the proceedings will be forfeited; and secondary metal recyclers must register with the sheriff of each county. The goal is to deter people from stealing and taking the stolen property to metal recyclers by not allowing quick cash as a form of payment, by requiring more personal information to be given by the seller and to provide for a means of tracking the property back to the person who sold it to ensure that illegal activity was not involved.
In an effort to ensure that all levels of government remain open and transparent, the House passed HB 397 154-5. This legislation would substantially revise Georgia’s Open Meetings Act and Open Records Act. The major changes include: Requiring that every meeting be disclosed to the public at least one week in advance; increasing the penalties on those who break the law; allowing easier civil sanctions against the violators; and allowing the government to charge a fee for obtaining records. Another highly debated piece of legislation was HB 1114, which passed 124-45. This bill would prohibit assisted suicide in Georgia. This legislation protects the sanctity of life by making it a felony to assist and take specific actions to help someone else take their life. This legislation would not apply to the typical end-of-life medical decisions.
The General Assembly will continue its work at the State Capitol on Monday, March 12 for our 31st day of session. I will continue to keep all of you informed throughout the 2012 session. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, ideas, thoughts or concerns.
If you would like to reach me, call me at 404-656-5099; write me at: State Rep. Ron Stephens, 226 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334; or e-mail me at email@example.com.