On Thursday, March 28th, the 2013 legislative session came to an end when the House and Senate completed the 40th and final legislative day. This last day of session is known as “Sine Die,” a Latin term meaning, “without assigning a day for further meeting”. It has been a privilege to work for and represent you during this session at the State Capitol. I am now looking forward to being back in the district, seeing more of my constituents and getting back to the “citizen” (running my real estate business) part of being a citizen legislator.
Last week I told you about the Senate amending HB 349 (criminal justice reform) to include the language in a bill (HB 565) I sponsored. With the support of Rep. Rich Golick and Governor Deal the House agreed to the Senate amendment. The amendment will give inmates who receive their GED diploma 24 months from the time they are released from a penal institution to use the $500 HOPE GED voucher towards tuition cost in any eligible postsecondary institution. By extending this window from the time of their release it encourages them to make a positive step in the right direction thereby reducing recidivism and saving tax payer dollars. You can read more about this bill in last week’s Legislative Recap on my blog at www.votejoshclark.com
Georgia Realtors Association asked me carry a bill that would remove legislative red tape and help home owners facing foreclosure. As a Realtor myself who was familiar with the issue I was glad to help. I am happy to report that HB 83 passed out of the Senate before Sine Die and we have received assurances that the bill will be signed by the Governor. This bill fixes unintended consequences of legislation that was passed several years ago. When HB 83 is signed into law Realtors will no longer risk felony charges by simply carrying out their normal duties through assisting their clients in short sale transactions. This bill will help over 26,000 small businesses and countless more homeowners who are relying on their Realtor to assist them in avoiding foreclosure by pursuing a short sale.
One of the most important bills we passed this session was House Bill 106. This bill establishes the state budget for Fiscal Year 2014, running from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014. Totaling $19.92 billion in state funds, the final version of this budget closely mirrors Gov. Deal’s original budget proposal, but includes a number of changes made by the House that benefit education, healthcare, and economic development. Among additions made by the House are $38.3 million for Equalization Grants for education, $489,475 for continued expansion funding of all programs that provide physician residency training, $25.7 million for road projects throughout the state, and $4.3 million to help the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources retain experienced, certified personnel.
House Bills 142, another major legislative accomplishment from this session, would strengthen Georgia’s ethics laws by placing a $75 limit on each expenditure made by an individual lobbyist on an elected official. Food and beverages exceeding the $75 limit may be provided to legislators only at group events where all members of the General Assembly, all members of the state House or Senate, all members of a standing committee of either body, or all members of a longstanding caucus recognized by the House or Senate ethics committees are invited. The bill also bans gifts of tickets to athletic, sporting, recreational, musical concerts and other entertainment events from lobbyists to state officials, which is currently allowed. The only exception would be for events where all members of the General Assembly are invited. HB 142 also restores power to the Georgia Government and Campaign Finance Commission by giving it rule making authority. Further, the bill limits reimbursements to elected officials to actual and reasonable transportation, lodging, registration, food and beverage expenses that are related to conferences and meetings within the United States. Finally, HB 142 clarifies and broadens the definition of who must register as a lobbyist so that it applies to anyone who is compensated for or has their expenses reimbursed in an amount greater than $250 if attempting to influence legislation. It also removed all lobbyist registration fees. The commission is now empowered to set reasonable fees for the cost of the ID card.
House Bill 143 would further strengthen Georgia’s ethics laws by making common sense changes to the state’s campaign contribution disclosure requirements. This bill will require greater transparency in campaign finance by requiring disclosure of all contributions of more than $100 received during the month of January. This will ensure that all campaign contributions made just before the start of the annual legislative session are made public before that legislative session ends.
House Bill 372, the HOPE Grant Expansion also received final approval from the House and Senate this session. This bill returns the eligibility requirement for the HOPE Grant from a 3.0 grade-point average (GPA) to a 2.0 GPA. This will return the HOPE Grant requirements to what they were in 2011. Just as the HOPE Scholarship pays tuition for Georgians attending colleges and universities in the state, the HOPE Grant helps eligible Georgians pay for the costs of attending technical colleges in Georgia. We expect the change in the HOPE Grant’s GPA eligibility requirement to result in 3,500─5,000 new students at the state’s technical schools. This increased enrollment will help fill vacant employment positions throughout the state that require technical skills like plumbing, electrical contracting, and HVAC.
I am very disappointed to report that the gun bill which would have gone a long ways towards extending our 2nd amendment rights guaranteed to us under our constitution did not pass because of disagreements on campus carry and the Senate’s instance that those between the ages of 21-25 be required to complete a firearm training course in order to carry on campus. Other disappointing news was that the proposed ban in HB 246 on abortion coverage through state employee insurance plans did not pass. I am hopeful that this bill will pass next year. There were 366 patients who sought abortions in fiscal year 2011 through the state insurance plans. Governor Deal has promised to look into whether he can use regulatory powers through the Dept. of Community Health to ban abortion coverage, except in cases involving the life of the mother, through the State Health Benefit Plans. At this point it has not been confirmed that the Governor has the power to do so without legislative action.
Now that each of these bills has passed the Georgia General Assembly, they have gone to Governor Deal for consideration. As stipulated in our state constitution, the governor has 40 days to sign or veto the legislation. This means that any bill or resolution that the governor has not vetoed by Tuesday, May 7, 2013, will become state law with or without his signature.
With the future of these bills in the hands of the Governor, the General Assembly’s 2013 legislative session has adjourned sine die. Although session is over, I encourage you to continue contacting me with any questions or concerns that you might have regarding your state government. You’re my boss and I work for you. It’s a privilege to represent you in the Georgia General Assembly. You can reach my legislative assistant at my Capitol office (404) 656-0325 or call my cell (404) 723-8989.
Sincerely,Josh Clark State Representative District 98 612-H Coverdell Legislative Office Building 18 Capitol Square Atlanta, GA 30334 O. 404-656-0325 C. 404-723-8989 Assistant, ReJenia Ford ReJenia.Ford@house.ga.gov Assistant, Valerie Phipps-Jewell firstname.lastname@example.org