Legislative Update Week 11, March 27, 2015

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From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones

Legislative Update Week 11, March 27, 2015 - Crunch Time!

Dear Friends,

We returned to Atlanta and reconvened the House of Representatives on Monday, March 23, 2015.  This is quite literally crunch time as legislators in both the House and Senate work to get legislation they have sponsored pushed through the process and on to the floor of the House and/or Senate for a vote. 

It’s interesting to see the types of bills that come before the General Assembly anywhere from mundane, but necessary, laws to bring Georgia tax code in line with Federal tax code, to a bill allowing the non-traditional zero-emission Tesla automobile to be sold in Georgia not following the traditional auto manufacturer-franchised dealer network (current Georgia law prevents vehicles from being sold “direct to the public” from the manufacturer.)   I sit on the Motor Vehicles Committee that heard that bill, and I voted to pass it out of committee. The “Tesla” bill, like many others, may or may not make it through the Senate, and may or may not be signed into law.  Again, just another example of the type of bills that are considered.

Opportunity School District (SR287 and SB133)

Two very important bills passed the House this past week - Senate Resolution 287, which would allow Georgians to vote on the creation of an “Opportunity School District” (OSD) in the State of Georgia, and its companion legislation, SB 133, were originally proposed by Governor Nathan Deal as part of his comprehensive plan to boost student achievement and create more educational opportunities for Georgia students.  I voted in favor of both  bills. Many of you may remember that I campaigned in favor of “School Choice” because I believe parents and students should be afforded every possible opportunity for the kids to have a quality education.

Here are some facts that I considered in voting in favor of these two measures, and that I believe are important in your consideration:

  1. Over 6% of Georgia schools are chronically failing (meaning having received failing grades for over three years).
  2. Kids in these failing schools have a greater than 50% chance of dropping out of school. (Gov. Deal said, “We will continue to see these high school drop-outs be a supply chain to the state’s prison system. We need to be willing, as a state, to help those who need help.”)
  3. There are NO FAILING schools in Glynn, McIntosh or Long Counties, meaning that none of the schools in District 167 will be subject to takeover by the OSD.
  4. Opponents of Georgia’s Charter School legislation, which passed a number of years ago, said that passing the Charter School legislation would ruin local school districts – this simply did not happen.  The same thing is true for OSD – it WILL NOT take away local control of schools as long as school districts take care of business and make sure that schools under their control are successful.
  5. A Constitutional Amendment is required to enable the OSD because Georgia’s Constitution otherwise prevents anyone other than a local school board from talking control of a local school.

Remember, passing this legislation – SR287 – as happened in the House and Senate, only means that voters in Georgia will be given the opportunity, in November 2016, to vote on this measure.  If passed, the measure will allow the state to step in and intervene in chronically failing public schools giving the opportunity school district authority to assume all operational and managerial responsibility for failing public elementary and secondary schools.

This means that you, as a voter in Georgia, will have a voice in deciding if the Opportunity School District model should be practiced here in Georgia.  In making that choice, I hope that you will study the Opportunity School Districts that have been implemented in other states. In doing so, you will see that these programs have a proven history of success in expanding educational success and opportunities for all students.

In addition to SR 287, SB 133 is the enabling legislation that will establish the Opportunity School District upon ratification of the constitutional amendment set forth by SR 287. The Opportunity School District will provide oversight to schools that are defined as persistently failing, or as scoring below 60 on the College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI), for three consecutive years. The CCRPI is the Georgia Department of Education’s official measurement of accountability.

The jurisdiction of the school district would fall under the control of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, and the Opportunity School District superintendent would be appointed by the Governor and subject to Senate confirmation. The superintendent would be charged with developing operational procedures for the Opportunity School District and providing an annual report of progress and to the Georgia General Assembly.

In order to ensure areas needing improvement are addressed appropriately, the Opportunity School District would only select 20 affiliated in any single academic year, and the total number of selected schools would not exceed a total of 100 schools at any given time. Schools would remain a part of the Opportunity School District for at least five years, but not more than 10 years. The process for school selection would include opportunities for parent and community feedback through public hearings, but final selection is at the sole discretion of the Opportunity School District superintendent. Finally, before a school’s oversight is transferred to the Opportunity School District, the superintendent must meet with the administration to discuss the school’s evaluation and options for improvement. By creating an Opportunity School District in Georgia through this process, we could give every child in this state the quality education they deserve.

Granting Students High School Diplomas (SB2)

Another piece of legislation passed this week, Senate Bill 2, also opens doors of opportunity for Georgia students.  SB 2 passed unanimously and allows local boards of education to award high school diplomas to students who have completed 9th and 10th grade requirements, and are dually enrolled in qualified post secondary educational programs.  In order to receive a high school degree under SB 2, the student must have completed state required 9th and 10th grade courses in the core subjects of English, math, science, and social studies, as well as one health and physical education class. Additionally, test scores associated with the courses must meet the required scores by the post secondary institution. Lastly, the student must have also completed either an associate degree program, a technical college diploma program, or at least two technical college certificates of credit programs in one specific career pathway.  I’m proud that this legislation will allow students to be dually enrolled in high school and post secondary programs and graduate at an accelerated pace with a set of skills that prepare them for the workforce.

Protecting Law Enforcement Animals (SB72

In addition, this week, we passed legislation designed to enhance the protection of  that support our men and women in uniform. Senate Bill 72, also known as “Tanja’s Law,” revises the penalties for harming a law enforcement animal in the performance of its duties by creating tiers of offenses based on the offender’s actions. Previously, a person intentionally causing serious or debilitating injury was automatically guilty of a felony. SB 72 clarifies the crime into four separate tiers, so that an individual may be charged according to the severity of his or her crime. This bill makes the harming of a law enforcement animal a high and aggravated misdemeanor with fines ranging between $5,000 and $50,000 with accompanying prison terms ranging from 12 months to 5 years. In addition, the offender must pay restitution to cover the necessary costs of veterinary treatment or the full cost of replacing the animal and its handlers. These animals often times put their own lives at risk for our officers, and SB 72 will allow justice to be served.

Speed Trap Laws – Closing Loop Holes (SB134)

Another bill passed this week, Senate Bill 134, also takes measures to ensure justice is delivered fairly to the citizens of this state.  SB 134 attempts to provide certain checks and balances for Georgia law enforcement by closing a loop hole in Georgia’s anti speed trap law.  Under current law, drivers can fight tickets in speed traps if the law enforcement agency derives more than 40% of their budget from speeding fines; however, current law has an exception that does not count tickets for speeding more than 17 miles per hour above the limit SB 134 eliminates an exclusion of tickets written for speeds 20 mph over the limit so that citizens can more easily challenge tickets from speed traps. While speeding is a dangerous offense, law enforcement agencies should not create speed traps to generate their revenue. 

Medical Marijuana (HB1)

I wrote on this measure in weeks past, but very importantly, the Senate passed HB1 this past week.  To summarize, House Bill 1 decriminalizes the use of medical cannabis oil in Georgia in an effort to improve the lives of hundreds of Georgians. After the Senate passage of HB 1, Governor Deal issued an executive order instructing state agencies to prepare for the implementation of this legislation and stated that he would sign HB 1 into law soon.  HB 1 will provide immunity for the possession of cannabis oil for individuals with certain medical conditions who have obtained cannabis oil legally in another state.  Qualifying conditions under HB 1 include cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, mitochondrial disease, and sickle cell disease. Now that this legislation has been passed by both chambers, it will soon be signed into law by Governor Deal, and Georgia’s medical refugees can come back home to Georgia. I was proud to see the House and Senate chambers work together and come to a compromise to pass legislation that will help a great number of Georgians.

Autism (SB1)

This week, we also saw the House, and Senate come together, as an announcement was made on a compromise on Senate Bill 1 to address the growing number of children with autism in Georgia. In a press conference held on Thursday, House Insurance Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) and Senate Insurance and Labor Chairman Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) revealed a two-pronged plan that will allow dozens of Georgia children to receive necessary treatment for autism.  First, the plan includes legislation that requires insurance companies to cover autism treatment for children six years of age or younger.  The measure, includes language from Senate Bill 1 and will be added to House Bill 429 and most likely voted upon next week.  The second element to the House and Senate compromise is a new piece of legislation that will be considered during the 2016 legislative session.  This bill would create a November 2016 referendum, so that voters could decide on a fractional state sales tax that would fund autism treatment for all children under the age of 18.  Between these two measures, I am hopeful that we can begin to address the growing autism epidemic.

Miscellaneous Resolutions (HR612, HR743, HR744)

Finally, during this busy week, we passed a series of resolutions creating study committees to review various issues affecting our state. House Resolutions 612, 743, and 744 establish house study committees to discuss fibroids education and awareness; annexation, deannexation, and incorporation; and the use of drones. All of these committees will meet throughout the remainder of the year, so that they can prepare any necessary legislation for the 2016 legislative session.  Although the 2015 legislative session will soon be ending, these committees are a testament to the work that we will be doing during the interim months.

Final Week of Legislative Session

This week is the final week of the 2015 legislative session. On Thursday, April 2, 2015, we will adjourn “Sine Die,” which is Latin for “without assigning a day for further meeting.” In this crucial last week, I hope that you will contact me with your questions and concerns.  Your comments help guide my decisions at the Georgia State Capitol, and I always enjoy speaking with you. You can reach me at my state capitol office at 404-656-0126 or through email at jeff.jones@house.ga.gov.  Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative. 

Sincerely yours,

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Representative Jeff Jones
Georgia State House
District 167


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