The General Assembly completed a full five days of session this week, which concluded on Friday with its 24th legislative session day. Several key pieces of legislation were debated and discussed on the House floor. The highlight this week was the passage of a solution to continue the HOPE Scholarship program and also legislation to address illegal immigration within our state.
The HOPE Scholarship and Grant Program in Georgia has been a topic highly discussed this session, and all of the conversations were focused on how to save the program. More than 1 million students in Georgia have benefited from this program, and we want to ensure it continues to be available.
HOPE stands for Helping Outstanding Students Educationally, and the program, started by Zell Miller in 1993, is entirely funded by the lottery program in Georgia. For years this program has provided free public college tuition to students maintaining a 3.0 grade point average or better.
With lottery revenues declining, the General Assembly has been faced with the grim reality that the program was in jeopardy as the cost of the program would be exceeding the revenue obtained through the lottery system. In order to save the HOPE program, an overhaul was necessary and ultimately the best solution. HB 326 passed the House 152-22 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Some significant changes would be made to the HOPE program with this legislation, such as: covering about 90 percent of tuition costs; eliminating the payment for books, fees and remedial classes; and limiting bonuses to lottery officials. New to the HOPE program would be a low interest loan program for students unable to maintain the required grade point average and also the creation of the Zell Miller Scholarship.
This scholarship would be available those students who excel academically. Students eligible for this must have at least a 3.7 grade point average when graduating from high school, must score a 26 on the ACT or a combined 1,200 or better on the math and reading portions of the SAT. Those obtaining and keeping this scholarship must continue to maintain a 3.3 grade point average in college.
As this legislation makes it way over to the Senate, the purpose is to save the HOPE program and ensure that our young adults can continue to benefit and excel educationally from the program.
Immigration is a topic discussed not only in our state, but throughout the country. We live in a wonderful country and welcome people to our country and our state, legally. The issue arises of how to address the people that are here illegally.
This week, the House passed HB 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011. After three hours of debate, this legislation passed the House 113-56. This is a reform to the current immigration law in Georgia and would also make for additional protections to ensure people in our state are here legally.
Some features of the bill include: making it a felony to present false documentation; allowing law enforcement to check the immigration status of any person being investigated for a crime; requiring employers with more than four employees use the federal E-Verify database to check the immigration status of new hires; and penalizing people who harbor or transport illegal immigrants. The goal of this legislation is to discourage illegal immigrants in our state.
Other pieces of legislation also passed this week in the House. HB 279 passed the House 129-43 and would change the age requirement for the use of child safety restraints. Currently the age is 6 years old; however, this bill would increase the age to 8 years old and would allow an exception for children 4 feet, 9 inches or taller.
HB 214 passed Friday by a vote of 151-9. It would establish the Department of Public Health and would reassign the functions of the division of Public Health of the Department of Community Health to the new department.
Also passed on Friday was HB 290, and it passed the House unanimously. The House Committee on Information and Audits discovered the fraudulent use of state purchasing cards, and this legislation would address and correct the issue by expanding the provisions to include all state entities and state authorities.
The members of the General Assembly will continued at the State Capitol Monday for the 25th day of session. I will continue to keep all of you informed throughout the 2011 legislative session.
Stephens, R-Savannah, serves the 164th District, which includes South Bryan, and can be reached at email@example.com.