How the major issues played out in this legislative session

[private]When she was still a member of the Legislature, Simone Bell made this pithy observation about an upcoming session: “People keep asking me how the session’s going to be. It’s going to suck.”

Bell resigned her legislative seat a few months after making that statement to become the regional director for Lambda Legal, a gay rights organization.

Ironically, her organization turned out to be one of the big winners in the 2016 session as it lobbied against passage of a “religious freedom” bill that would have allowed private organizations to  deny  services to gays.

Lawmakers passed the controversial measure, HB 757, but Gov. Nathan Deal brought nationwide attention to the state when he vetoed it.

On the most controversial issue of the session, then, gay rights advocates were the winners and religious conservatives were the losers.

Here’s a look at how some of the other major issues played out this year. Most of these bills are still awaiting either a signature or a veto from Deal.

Abortions

Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) secured passage of a bill (SB 308) that would create a grant program for pregnancy centers that try to persuade pregnant women not to get abortions. HB 555, which passed, would require juvenile courts to report how many orders were issued authorizing an abortion without a notification of the girl’s parents.

Banking and financial industry

The annual housekeeping bill for the state banking department (HB 811) was passed. SB 282, which would require Georgia’s banks to provide financial services to persons and businesses that sell firearms, was folded into another firearms bill and passed.

Casinos and gambling

None of the legislation involving the legalization of casinos or pari-mutuel wagering was able to gain traction.

Courts

HB 927 will expand the state Supreme Court by two additional justices, both whom will be appointed by Deal, and reclassify the types of cases that go to the Supreme Court or the Georgia Court of Appeals. SB 255 extensively revises the state’s garnishment laws. HB 920 restricts civil lawsuits against “passive investors” in nursing homes and intermediate care homes. These bills passed.

HR 1363 creates a legislative committee with subpoena powers to investigate the Judicial Qualifications Commission; HR 1113 is a constitutional amendment that would restructure the Judicial Qualification Commission, the agency that investigates complaints against judges; and HB 808 is the enabling legislation for HR 1113. They all passed.

Also passed was HB 941, which will restrict the access that law enforcement officers have to grand juries considering possible criminal charges against the officer.

Rep. Jason Spencer’s attempt to make it more difficult to file lawsuits over the damages caused by the launch of spacecraft in Georgia (HB 734) failed to get off the launching pad.

Education

Sen. Lindsey Tippins was able to cut down on testing of public school students and teachers with the passage of SB 364.

Elections and ethics

Local elected officials achieved their long-sought goal of getting forgiveness on ethics commission fines for not filing campaign disclosure reports with the adoption of HB 370.

Environment

Legislators stopped, at least temporarily, the plans to build two major pipelines across Georgia.

HB 1036 would put a 16-month moratorium on acquiring land for the petroleum pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan. After the bill passed, Kinder Morgan said it was suspending the Palmetto Pipeline. Lawmakers also stripped out state property easements necessary for the Sabal Train natural gas pipeline before passing SR 954.

Government operations

HB 952, which passed, will authorize the governor to review any actions or rules passed by any of the state’s professional licensing boards.

HB 885, which also passed, will bring the Fulton County health board under the purview of the state Department of Public Health and provides that the county’s health director would report to the state.

The Senate passed but the House did not vote on SB 375, which would have established a uniform process for the incorporation of new cities. HR 502 would have stopped the diversion of special purpose fees into the state’s general treasury, but it was pulled from the House calendar before it could come up for a vote.

Healthcare

Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) tried to expand the state’s medical cannabis law with HB 722, but could not overcome the opposition of Deal and law enforcement interests.

HB 919, which authorizes state tax income credits for contributions to not-for-profit hospitals, passed as part of another bill (SB 258) and could provide up to $180 million in credits over a three-year period.

HB 684 would have allowed dental hygienists to clean teeth in safety-net clinics, nursing homes, health centers and school health clinics without a dentist present. The bill failed to get a vote in the House.

HB 509 creates a Georgia Palliative Care and Quality of Life Advisory Council as part of the Department of Community Health.

SB 302 will require health insurance carriers to post on their websites a current and accurate directory of the healthcare providers in each network plan.

Immigrants

Three anti-immigrant bills failed to secure passage this year – they would have prohibited the issuance of driver’s licenses to immigrants who reside in Georgia through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, made English the state’s official language, and prohibited local governments from appointing undocumented immigrants to a council or committee.

Insurance

HB 818 is the annual housekeeping bill for the workers’ compensation board and upgrades some of the benefits. HB 193 prevents life insurance companies from retaliating against agents who counsel policyholders about alternatives to letting their life insurance policies lapse. Both bills passed.

Public Safety

Legislators weaponized Georgia’s public college campuses with the passage of HB 859, which allows students to carry firearms, and HB 792, which legalizes the use of tasers, stun guns and other electroshock weapons on campus.

HB 779 regulates the use of drones and related unmanned aircraft. HB 727 places more restrictions on the sale and ignition of fireworks. SR 558, a constitutional amendment, would require the excise taxes collected on fireworks to be used only for “ trauma care, fire services, and local public safety purposes.” They all passed.

SB 367 is the latest set of recommendations from Gov. Nathan Deal’s criminal justice reform commission. HB 874 will impose stronger penalties for gang-related crimes. Both bills passed.

SB 304 will require police departments to clear up a backlog of unprocessed rape kits. It was pushed by Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta) and passed despite attempts by Unterman to block it in the Senate.

State symbols

SB 168, originally introduced by Rep. Joe Wilkinson, designates the “adoptable” dog as the official state dog. It passed.

Taxes

HB 951 will exempt the sale of Super Bowl tickets and tickets to other major sporting events from the state sales tax. HB 768, the ABLE Act, would authorize contributions to tax-exempt savings accounts to help pay the qualified expenses of persons with disabilities. Both bills passed.

Transportation

SB 369 authorizes Atlanta to call a referendum for a half-cent sales tax to fund MARTA expansion. Fulton County can call a separate sales tax referendum and use the revenues for non-transit projects.

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: General Assembly , major issues