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Key tourism legislation passes
Legislative update
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The Georgia General Assembly officially wrapped up the 2013 legislative session at midnight Thursday, March 28, when we adjourned “Sine Die!”  
The last week of session and the final day were long, productive and full of lively debate. Many of the bills voted on by the House last week included motions to insist, motions to agree and motions to disagree.  These actions are taken when legislation is changed by the Senate, or vice versa.
There was a significant amount of deliberation and agreement, with many bills passing both chambers. For those bills that did not pass, the process begins again during next year’s legislative session. For the legislation that passed both the House and Senate this session, the final fate lies in the hands of Gov. Deal, who can either sign the passed legislation into law, let the legislation become law without his signature or veto the legislation and prevent it from becoming law.
The most significant piece of legislation passed was the state budget.  The fiscal year 2014 budget, House Bill 106, was in conference committee last week, and an agreement was reached on the $19.9 billion state budget Thursday. The House passed the budget conference committee report around 8 p.m. Thursday with only one dissenting vote, while the Senate unanimously passed it the same day.   
In an effort to stop those individuals in our state illegally from taking advantage of public benefits designed for our citizens and legal immigrants, legislation was passed to address this issue. Senate Bill 160 prevents illegal immigrants from obtaining public benefits, such as state driver’s licenses, grants and/or retirement benefits. The bill was amended by the House on March 25, and a conference committee was appointed with both House and Senate members. This legislation, similar to HB 125, was agreed upon by the committee and adopted by both chambers, with the House passing the committee report, 113-53, on Thursday. Under the legislation, a foreign passport will not be able to be used as identification to obtain public benefits unless the passport indicates the individual’s legality.
This legislation also requires county, state and government agencies with more than two employees to use the free E-Verify system for all contractors to verify legal immigrants. This bill went to Gov. Deal for his consideration into law.
The gun debate is in full force in states across our country. With school shootings last year, the dispute has been whether to make gun regulations more or less stringent for legal gun owners. Legislation addressing and defending our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in Georgia did not pass through conference committee this session. Two bills, HB 512 and Senate Bill 101, passed each respective chamber. However, the committee was not able to forge an agreement prior to midnight Thursday. The main disagreement concerned the provision on campus-carry and whether or not to allow licensed gun owners to carry their concealed firearms while on campus at our state universities and technical colleges. I expect to see additional gun legislation debated again during the next legislative session.
Legislation I sponsored this session went to the governor’s desk, awaiting his action. I sponsored HB 318, which makes changes to the Georgia Tourism Development Act. I have spent the past eight years working on this legislation, which creates incentives that will help build new tourism attractions or expand existing tourism attractions in Georgia. With the creation of the Invest Georgia Fund and the Invest Georgia Board, this legislation will foster investment of early stage and growth-stage businesses through venture capital investment.  
Also passed was another bill I sponsored, HB 193, which extends an expired sales-tax exemption for federally qualified health-care centers, volunteer-health clients, Goodwill, food banks and food donated for hunger and disaster relief.  
I sponsored SB 177 in the House, authored by Sen. Ginn of Danielsville. The bill passed with only one dissenting vote. This legislation will change the membership of the Georgia Tourism Foundation so there will be at least nine members (no more than 20), with two members each appointed by the both the chairman of the Senate and House Economic Development and Tourism committees, three members by the Board of Economic Development and the remainder appointed by the governor.
Ethics legislation also passed both chambers and went to the governor for his signature. During the final weekly update wrap-up, I will discuss this passed legislation in detail.  
With the conclusion of the 2013 Legislative Session, next week will be my final weekly update highlighting the major accomplishments for this session, as well as some of the legislation already signed into law.  I look forward to getting back to our district and encourage you to contact me with your ideas and opinions, or if I can be of service to you in any way.
If you would like to reach me, please call me at 404-656-5099; write me at: State Rep. Ron Stephens, 226 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334;  or email me at

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