From the desk of Representative Jeff Jones
Fifth Week of Session – Ending February 13, 2015
We returned to Capitol Hill on Monday, February 9 for the fifth week of the 2015 legislative session. Bills are beginning to make their way out of committee to receive a vote from the entire House of Representatives.
Before I talk about other legislation and activity at the Capitol, I want to comment on a couple of pieces of key legislation:
Transportation Funding Act of 2015 (HB170)
While there are portions of this bill that are positive, there are many parts of this bill that continue to be troubling. Despite claims otherwise, I see this bill, as currently crafted, to be a tax increase to the people of Georgia and specifically to the taxpayers of Glynn, McIntosh and Long Counties. I have received Resolutions opposing passage of HB170 from the Glynn County Board of Commissioners, the City of Brunswick, and the Glynn County Board of Education. I have also heard from McIntosh County and Long County officials also expressing real concern about the negative impact that passage of this bill will have on local communities and our local taxpayers.
As part of my effort to understand and educate myself about this bill, I attended a two hour hearing of the full Transportation Committee late last week. I did not learn anything new in that hearing that changed my concerns about this bill.
I simply cannot support passage of this bill in its current form. Of course, I cannot speak for other State Representatives, but this is the same sense get from speaking to other members in the House.
Several of us are working on ideas for alternative transportation funding sources that will mitigate, if not eliminate, the negative impact to the vast majority of Georgia’s citizens. I will keep you posted on further developments.
Marsh Buffer Bill
The issue of setting and enforcing an appropriate marsh buffer is of significant importance to Coastal Georgia for many reasons. Briefly, the 25 foot marsh buffer rule that has been in effect for a number of years was deemed unenforceable as law by EPD Director, Jud Turner and the Attorney General in April, 2014. Since that date, the whole marsh buffer issue has been up in the air.
Senator Ben Watson of the Savannah area, has drafted a Marsh Buffer bill that I do not believe has been dropped.
NOTE: As an important note, the term “dropped” means that a bill draft has been submitted as an official bill which then begins the official process of Sub-Committee and/or full Committee review. If a bill makes it out of Committee, then begins the process of bringing the bill the either the Senate or House floor (depending on where the bill originated) for discussion and a possible vote.
While Sen. Watson’s bill has some very good portions, I am not sure that this draft of the Marsh Buffer bill clearly defines the rules of how the 25 ft. buffer rule is to be interpreted and enforced, or how exceptions or variances are to be handled or processed. The challenge is to balance both private property rights with the goal of properly protecting our beautiful coastal marshes and the coast itself. I personally believe that we can satisfy both of these interests.
There are several Coastal Representatives, myself included, that are working on this issue and a House version of the bill. I will keep you posted on progress.
I voted YES on each of the following bills and am in favor, at this point, of the Opportunity School District discussed below.
Solar Free Market Financing Act
We kicked off our fifth week of session by passing the Solar Power Free Market Financing Act, or House Bill 57. This legislation, which was passed unanimously by our body, will make it easier and more affordable for Georgians to put solar panels on their rooftops by allowing individuals to fund solar power installations through third-party financing plans. With the option to finance, more homeowners and small business owners can avoid financial barriers and pay for the use of these systems over time. If approved by the Senate and Governor Deal, this measure will provide our citizens with more energy options and the opportunity to take advantage of this innovative technology, while ultimately lowering their power bills.
Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency Act
The House also passed a measure this week to improve the quality of life for Georgia’s rapidly expanding aging population. House Bill 86 creates the Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency, which will take on the responsibility of improving services, and ensuring that services are properly and effectively administered to meet the needs of older adults and people with disabilities. The bill would move the current Division of Aging Services out of the Department of Human Services, which is responsible for many other initiatives. Creating this new agency would also allow the state to better focus on its services for those individuals dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia, which affects numerous individuals and families across the state. This important bill ensures that our seniors receive the full care and attention that they deserve, and I look forward to seeing this legislation make its way through the Senate.
Bill Allowing Some Students to Be Granted High School Diplomas
We also continued to focus much of our attention this week on Georgia’s education system and its students. As I have written in previous weeks, education is a top priority in the General Assembly, and the unanimous passage of House Bill 91 in the House this week further speaks to that point. This legislation would make it easier for some deserving students to obtain high school diplomas. HB91 retroactively allows former high school students who failed the Georgia High School Graduation Test, an assessment that was phased out in the 2011-2012 school year, the chance to receive a diploma. Although the graduation test has not been used as a graduation standard for several years, it still remains a barrier for some who attended high school when graduation was partly contingent on the passage of this exam. HB91 allows those students who met all other requirements for graduation to petition their local school board where they were last enrolled to obtain a degree from their high school. HB91 will tremendously benefit these individuals by giving them the option to pursue post secondary education and thus helping them succeed in Georgia’s workforce. I hope that this legislation can help many citizens across the state obtain the degree that they have rightfully earned.
Just as HB91 opens doors of opportunity for former high school students, legislation introduced in the Senate this week is aimed at providing improvement opportunities for schools in Georgia.
Opportunity School Districts – Constitutional Amendment Discussion
This week Governor Deal, along with Senator Butch Miller, introduced a senate resolution to create “Opportunity School Districts.” This model of education, which has proven to be successful in several states, allows the state to temporarily step in to assist chronically failing schools. Under the governor’s proposal, a school is considered to be chronically failing if it scored below 60 on the College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI), the Georgia Department of Education’s accountability measure, for three consecutive years. If deemed an Opportunity School District, the state would then temporarily assume supervision, management, and oversight of that school. This measure, which would require a constitutional amendment and referendum from Georgia voters, would ensure that all children have access to the outstanding education that they deserve. I am eager to learn more about the governor’s proposal and the ways that we can address the critical problem of underperforming schools in our state.
Finally this week, we passed an adjournment calendar that sets the legislative schedule through the remainder of the 2015 legislative session. Based on this adjournment resolution, the 40th legislative day, marking the conclusion of session, will be on April 2. I hope that you will contact me before that day to provide feedback and way in which I can better serve you and your family. Please stop by and visit if you are in Atlanta or call my office at the State Capitol. The phone number is (404) 656-0126.
Thank you for your prayers and your continued support.
Brunswick, GA 31525