Week 11 of this legislative session began on Monday, March 22, 2021. With so few days remaining before we reach “Sine Die,” we and our colleagues spent many hours in the House Chamber last week reviewing, debating and voting on House and Senate legislation, including several measures that support educational opportunities, human trafficking victims and economic growth.
The House unanimously passed legislation last week to ensure that Georgia students with disabilities do not miss out on HOPE Scholarship opportunities and funding. Senate Bill 187 would allow the Georgia Student Finance Commission to waive certain eligibility requirements for the HOPE Scholarship for students with disabilities. This commission would consider these waivers on a case-by-case basis and only extend the time frame to students with disabilities that are diagnosed by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Currently, Georgia law only allows students with disabilities to use the HOPE Scholarship within a certain window of time that ranges from seven to 10 years, depending on when the student graduated. This time frame has created obstacles for some students with disabilities in recent years.
This legislation would allow more students with disabilities to keep their HOPE scholarship and earn a college degree in a time frame that better suits their needs. The General Assembly will study alternative education models that focus on dropout prevention, high school credit recovery and other education services of adult and incarcerated students over the next two years. SB 153 would allow the House and Senate to work with these crucial programs to create a sustainable, expandable model that would ensure that these programs can continue to provide pathways to academic success for Georgians.
Senate Bill 6, the “Tax Credit Return on Investment Act of 2021,” received passage in the House last week. It examines our state’s tax revenue structure, ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and efficiently. SB 6 would allow the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee to request economic analyses on existing or proposed tax incentives from the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts to determine the estimated fiscal impact of these incentives.
Additionally, this bill would create the “2021 Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians,” and this bipartisan group of state leaders and area experts would conduct a study of the state’s current revenue structure ahead of next year’s legislative session. This legislation also includes the “Georgia Economic Renewal Act of 2021,” which would establish and change several tax credits to support renewal and recovery efforts for Georgia’s economy, such as creating an additional tax credit for jobs created by a medical equipment and supplies manufacturer or a pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturer. It would also improve a tax credit to incentivize high-impact aerospace defense projects in the state and of special importance to us in South Georgia, it adds $100 million in funding for the Georgia Agribusiness and Rural Jobs Act.
During the last year, our museums, art and culture centers have had significant setbacks. SB 6 would create a temporary state and local sales tax exemption for admission sales to fine art organizations and museums of cultural significance in Georgia. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly every industry in Georgia has been affected, and our legislative leaders need to evaluate how this pandemic has affected state revenue, while also promoting job growth and creation.
The House also gave unanimous passage to Senate Bill 33 to allow victims of human trafficking to seek justice from those who have exploited them. SB 33 would establish a civil cause of action for victims of human trafficking against a perpetrator. This bill would allow victims to sue their perpetrator to recover damages and attorney’s fees within 10 years of the cause of action or within 10 years after the victim reaches the age of 18 if the victim was a minor at the time of the alleged violation.
Finally, the bill would allow the attorney general to seek a cause of action against human traffickers on behalf of the state under certain circumstances. This legislation is a continuation of the General Assembly’s efforts to eradicate human trafficking in our state and we are proud that this bill received final passage this week.
Before last week ended, we passed Senate Bill 195 to increase the responsibilities of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission. This legislation would allow the commission to review new treatment and delivery methods of low THC. SB 195 would allow local jurisdictions to use zoning powers to allow dispensary locations and allow licenses to be issued. Under this bill, licensed low THC oil producers could partner with universities and colleges to engage in joint medical research. The House has led the way in allowing and establishing a safe way for Georgians to access this alternative medical treatment, and this measure would allow Georgians to continue to benefit from these products.
Much has been in the media about Senate Bill 202, the “Election Integrity Act of 2021.” We invite everyone to go online and read the bill. You can go to the Georgia General Assembly website. We will be doing a full summary of the bill in the next few weeks.
But today we want to share a brief outline of the bill. Basically, it will make necessary changes to areas of our election process such as:
• Requiring two mandatory Saturday early voting dates and
• Allowing communities the option of voting on up to two Sundays during early voting;
• Requiring a driver’s license or state ID card number to request and submit an absentee ballot;
• Allowing the use of absentee ballot drop boxes, which currently are not in statute;
• Banning mobile polling locations and private funding for elections;
• Securing precinct areas against non-voting activities;
Requiring shorter timelines for processing absentee ballots and certifying election results;
• Requiring security paper to allow for authentication of ballots;
• Authorizing the State Election Board to make necessary changes and ensuring legislative review of emergency rules;
Here are other bills the House passed this week:
• House Resolution 406, would urge the Department of Public Health to authorize its regional health care coalitions to include long-term services and support system providers in their care networks for the Georgia Emergency Operations Plan;
• Senate Bill 28, would clarify certain portions of Georgia’s juvenile code, such as updating and clarifying the definitions of “sexual exploitation” and “temporary alternatives to foster care,” adding definitions for certain types of child abuse, as well as changing training requirements for juvenile court intake officers and the courts handling of juvenile cases;
• Senate Bill 32, provide that records of state and federal public employees that reveal the employee’s personal mobile or wireless telephone number are exempt from public disclosure, and publicly available rosters of licensees and applicants maintained by division directors of professional licensing boards would not include home addresses
• Senate Bill 75, would add the issuance of a civil or criminal stalking order as a permissible basis for a tenant to terminate a residential lease agreement;
• Senate Bill 80, the “Ensuring Transparency in Prior Authorization Act,” would apply review and standards for prior authorization requests for health care services and create guidelines for the insurance commissioner’s rulemaking in enforcing standards that apply to entities conducting utilization review;
• Senate Bill 86, would modify the elements that must be demonstrated by an individual seeking to become an equitable caregiver of a child;
• Senate Bill 119, would create exemptions for when burn permits are required for burning leaf piles, yard debris or hand-piled natural vegetation unless otherwise restricted by a local ordinance;
• Senate Bill 145, allow local jurisdictions to enact an ordinance that triggers a special election regarding whether the local jurisdiction should allow for applications for package stores selling distilled spirits, as well as reduce the percentage of registered voters in the county required to sign a petition to trigger this type of special election from 35% to 20%;
• Senate Bill 159, would allow and provide guidelines for local boards of education to use small motor vehicles, eight-passenger or less, to transport students;
• Senate Bill 165, would allow permitted vehicles to display either an amber strobe light or a specified emblem to indicate low-speed in certain instances;
• Senate Bill 185, would establish that all questions of law related to taxation decided by a court or the Georgia Tax Tribunal be made without deference to determinations or interpretations of the Georgia Department of Revenue;
• Senate Bill 193, would allow county property appraisers to elect whether or not to require decals for inspections on mobile homes;
• Senate Bill 218, would suspend the compensation of certain public officials when that official is suspended from their respective office due to a felony indictment;
• Senate Bill 234, the “Georgia Uniform Mediation Act,” would provide uniformity in the state’s laws that govern mediation, as well as its participants and the communications made within the mediation;
• Senate Bill 247, would allow agricultural commodity commissions to hold public hearings with public comments on marketing orders either wholly or partially online, and this bill would establish additional requirements regarding these marketing orders;
• Senate Resolution 134, would provide an amendment to the Georgia Constitution to provide that the compensation of certain public officials be suspended if they are suspended from their office due to a felony indictment; this would only become effective upon the public’s approval of a ballot referendum.
Please keep in mind all legislation must still be thoroughly reviewed, approved and signed by the Governor before they can become law.
When we return this week, we will complete our final two legislative days before we adjournment, which will mark the end of the 2021 legislative session. These two days will most certainly be some of our longest days on the House floor as we work to pass meaningful legislation before the clock runs out.
Your thoughts and questions regarding legislation remain a top priority to us even though this session is coming to an end. You may contact us at our Capitol offices;
Representative Darlene Taylor at (404) 656-7857 or you may reach her directly at email@example.com.;
Representative John LaHood (404) 656-0188 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.;
Representative Sam Watson at (404) 463-2246 and his email is email@example.com.
As always, thank you for allowing us to serve as your state representative.