On Monday, March 6, 2017 we reconvened both the Georgia House and Senate at the State Capitol in Atlanta to begin the 9th Week (legislative days 29 - 31) of the 2017 session. The last time you heard from me in my “weekly” newsletters was at the conclusion of week 6, for week ending February 17; so I am behind by three weeks in updating you on Legislative activities. But not-to-worry, I am not going to cover every nitty-gritty detail for the past three weeks. It would likely put you to sleep.
In these past three weeks, leading up to Day 28 or “Crossover Day” on March 3, 2017, I and many other House and Senate members worked long hours to perfect sponsored legislation, to get the bills voted favorably out of sub-committee and full committee by testifying on our sponsored legislation, then work to get them on the Rules Calendar to be voted on and passed out of the full House, in my case. The legislative goal is to get all of this done by Crossover Day.
Highway 17 widening project, Glynn County:
a meeting was held in Glynn County on March 9 hosted by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) as GDOT finalizes plans to widen Highway 17 from Yacht Road to intersection of Highway 99.
Many citizens object to the GDOT’s plan which entails installing a raised median the full length of the project with very limited turn access as the roadway is widened to four lanes. In some cases, this means residents will need to turn right out of their neighbors, and drive two miles to the first turn opening to make a U-Turn to be able to go in the direction they originally intended. In many other cases, shoppers who wish to visit one of the many businesses that have operated for years along the roadway, will not be able to turn into the business without driving well beyond the business, then making a U-Turn to get back to the business.
For the past couple of years, I have been working with area residents and GDOT engineers in support of an alternative plan which entails adding a CENTER TURN lane the majority length of the project, perhaps selectively building a RAISED MEDIAN in stretches of the roadway where it will not adversely affect residents or businesses.
At this point, GDOT is not in favor of the alternate center turn lane plan. Interested citizens can voice their concerns and ideas to GDOT by the DEADLINE of March 23, 2017:
At the bottom, select “Glynn County” and hit GO;
At the bottom, select “SR 25/US 17 WIDENING AND IMPROVEMENT PROJECT"
Finally, select “Comment”.
2) Mail your comment to:
Mr. Eric Duff, GDOT
600 W Peachtree St. NW, 16th Fl
Atlanta, GA 30308
Since it has been three weeks, I am going to cover the most significant legislation. Here’s a link that will take you directly to web pages listing every bill and resolution filed in the Georgia General Assembly. This link will work for the entire 2017-18 session. As you look through the list, be aware of the comments at the bottom of each bill listing – if there is no mention that the bill passed, or is currently being considered by the other legislative body, then the bill is DEAD for the 2017 session.
Authored Legislation for 2017-2018 Session
Coal Ash – Protecting Georgia Citizens and Our Water
I introduced two pieces of legislation HB387 and HB388 both specifically intended to help manage the safe handling of Coal Ash in Georgia. In total, I provided about 6 hours of testimony before two different Natural Resources & Environment sub-committees (two times on each bill) to explain the problem and how these two bills worked to mitigate or solve the problems. Neither bill was granted a vote.
In a final full Natural Resources & Environment non-voting committee hearing, I offered an 11th hour compromise, just two days before Crossover Day, to simply require a 30 day advance notice to area citizens before a Municipal Solid Waste landfill made a decision to accept coal ash, and before Georgia Power began the release of toxic coal ash water into area streams, rivers and lakes so the impacted public could react appropriately.
Neither bill was allowed committee voting hearings so neither bill had a chance to reach the House floor for a vote.
HB13 Out of Pocket Schools Supplies Tax Credit proposes to give teachers a $250 tax credit instead of the current $250 tax deduction for out-of-pocket classroom supplies. The bill was granted one non-voting hearing and no more so never had an opportunity to receive a vote by House members.
HB66 Cash Wire Transfer proposes to charge a fee for cash wire transactions that originate in Georgia and terminate elsewhere, targeting Georgia’s huge, multi-billion underground or cash economy. This hidden economy consists of human traffickers, gamblers, drug dealers and employees paid in cash for their work. The effort could easily raise $100 million for the state of Georgia – without a tax increase. The bill was never granted a single hearing so never had an opportunity to receive a vote by House members. I will continue to work to promote this legislation to at least be granted a hearing so it can be discussed publicly.
Sponsored Legislation for 2017-2018 Session
This link will take you to a page listing all legislation that I have co-sponsored this session. Some I felt was important enough that I wanted to be listed as a sponsor; in other cases, the author asked me to be a co-sponsor.
It is important to be knowledgeable and selective of legislation I put my name on.
Both this past week and in the upcoming week, House committees shifted their focus to hearing testimony of legislation passed out of the Senate. It will be extremely hectic during the remaining eight days of the 40 day 2017 session as we work our way to the end of the session.
HB65 – Expansion of the Use of Medical Cannabis (I voted YES)
One of the most monumental bills that passed out of the House by a significant margin this week was House Bill 65, a bill that would bring medical relief to many more suffering Georgians. HB65 would expand upon Georgia’s current medical cannabis law by adding eight qualifying medical conditions to those that can register and use medical cannabis through Georgia’s Low THC Oil Patient Registry. Under HB65, individuals with the following conditions would be able to apply for the registry: Tourette’s syndrome; autism spectrum disorder; Epidermolysis Bullosa; Alzheimer’s disease; HIV; AIDS; peripheral neuropathy; and those who are in a hospice program.
HB338 – Supporting Low Performing Schools (I voted YES)
The General Assembly has proven its commitment to improving educational opportunities for Georgia’s students year after year through wide-ranging public policy. House Bill 338 seeks to improve Georgia’s struggling and lowest performing public schools by creating an alternative support and assistance system that falls under the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) intervention power.
The turnaround system would be led by a Chief Turnaround Officer (CTO) who would be appointed by the SBOE and would be a Department of Education employee with a minimum of 10 years of experience in K-12 education and experience in a principal position or higher in a public school system for at least three years. The CTO would manage and oversee the turnaround schools and recommend turnaround coaches, or individuals experienced in improving failing schools, who would assist in creating initiatives to address and work towards solutions to personal and community conditions, including poverty, wellness, transportation and adult educational opportunities. There are a great many details that I have not covered here. This legislation will greatly benefit our students attending under-performing public schools across our state and also allow us to understand the root of the issues plaguing so many of our young learners, and I look forward to seeing the long-term positive effects of this legislation.
HB146, by Rep. Micah Gravley (R-Douglasville), and carried in the Senate by Sen. John Albers (R-Alpharetta) received passage this week by the senate. (I voted YES on the House version) It now heads to the Governor. This bill requires fire departments to insure firefighters so they are covered for cancer that resulted from their work in the field. It also requires further disability coverage to be provided. HB 146 passed 52-0. This version replaces and improves on a similar effort passes last year that would have required these medical conditions be covered by Workers Compensation.
HB427 - Rural Health Care Initiatives (I voted YES)
This session, my colleagues and I have focused a great deal of our attention to supporting our state’s rural hospitals and health care needs, and this week, we demonstrated our support for these areas by overwhelmingly passing legislation to would expand the current service cancelable loan program for physicians and practitioners in underserved areas. House Bill 427 would expand the program by making loans available to dentists, physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses who have completed their medical or health care education and would allow those loans to be repaid by those health care practitioners agreeing to provide health care services in rural areas. This legislation seeks to address the shortage of physicians and other health care practitioners in under-served rural Georgia and reflects a statewide push to solve this issue, as the bill’s intent is to attract quality providers to areas in dire need of medical assistance. I am a co-sponsor of this bill.
HB329 “FLAT TAX BILL” (I voted YES)
This bill proposes to eliminate the bracketed tax rate model used in Georgia and replacing it with a flat 5.4 percent rate for all income levels. I voted YES for a fairer, flatter, and smaller state income tax. While I would like to see this eliminated altogether, this is the first time in many years that the state has cut the income tax.
HB204 (aka, Truth In Tax Billing). (I voted NO)
This bill proposes to prevent cities and counties from adding non-tax related items (garbage collection for example) from being included in the property tax bill. Adding these items to the property tax bill increases the collection rate for these ancillary items by a huge percentage increasing the efficiency of collection of payment for the ancillary items. Removing these items from the bill will reduce the collection rate for the important ancillary services, resulting in an increase in the cost of these services for everyone. A problem has occurred in some communities where payments on the combined bill were not applied to the property tax amount due first, but instead were applied to the ancillary items. These errors resulted in wrong foreclosures for what appeared to be a failure to pay property taxes.
I proposed to the author that the bill be changed to simply make it illegal to foreclose on a property for failure to pay the ancillary items. The requirement would be that the taxing authority would have to conduct an audit of the unpaid tax bills to be sure that all payments made would be first applied to the property tax. Proponents insist that the passage of this bill achieves a victory for property tax owners. In my mind, it hampers collection of fess for necessary services by decreasing the collection rate resulting in higher costs for everyone. This bill passed 111-61.
HB217 Education Tax Credits (I voted YES)
The bill proposes to increase amount of the aggregate cap on qualified education tax credit contributions by raising the cap for 2018 from $58 million to $65 million and adding that in 2019 and beyond the cap will increase by 10 percent per year if the program is fully subscribed during the previous year; the program may never exceed $100 million. This bill will provide education opportunities for students who are stuck in lower performing schools. A primary reason I voted for this legislation is that I believe tax payers have a right to say where their tax money can be spent for education.
HB271 Modifying the Shore Protection Act Shoreline Jurisdictional Line Change (I ultimately voted YES)
This bill, brought by the Coastal Resources Division of the Department of Natural Resources, seeks to change the 1979 “20 ft. tree rule” that has been used to define under what circumstances a property owner must seek a permit from the Shore Protection Committee before making alterations between the JD Line and the actual water of the ocean. The old 20 ft. tree rule simply no longer makes sense because so many of the trees are gone either due to age, disease, storm damage or having been cut down. This fact has caused great difficulty for property owners and the State.
The new rule, which I actively worked to improve and modify so that our fragile and important shoreline remain protected, ended up proposing the following rules for measuring the JD Line:
Private Property – the JD line shall be the most landward of:
(i) 25 feet landward of the ordinary high water mark;
(ii) 25 feet landward of the landward toe of the most landward sand dunes; or
(iii) 25 feet landward of the crest of a visible and functional structure associated with a shoreline stabilization activity; and 34 (B)(i)
State Property – The JD Line shall be the most landward of the following,
(I) 25 feet landward of the landward toe of the most landward sand dunes; or
(II) 25 feet landward of the crest of a visible and functional structure associated with a shoreline stabilization activity; or
(ii) in the absence of any such sand dunes or structure, 100 feet from the ordinary high water mark."
I was not happy with the final negotiated jurisdictional lines, but I and other House members were powerless to affect changes other than the final JD lines shown above.
HB280 Campus Carry and Safety Firearms (I voted YES)
The legislation proposes to allow licensed holders to keep their weapon on their person while in or on any building or real property owned by or leased to any technical school, vocational school, college, university, or other institution of post-secondary education. This exception does not apply to buildings or property used for athletic events or student housing, which includes sorority and fraternity houses. The exception also excludes preschool space that is advertised on site that such preschool is designated for operations licensed or regulated under the Department of Early Learning.
Let me share some eye opening statistics reported by the FBI regarding deaths occurring from firearms in mass shootings:
14.3 = number of deaths, on average, in mass shootings when everyone in the victim group is unarmed.
2.3 = number of deaths, on average, in mass shootings when at least one person in the victim group is armed.
It is because of statistics like this this that I support and voted for HB280.
HB243 Hourly Employee Wage Related Changes (I voted YES)
There has been a move to legally require employers to guarantee hourly employees pay if their schedules are changed without a lengthy advance notice. The bills proposes to preempt local government mandates requiring additional pay to employees based on normal schedule changes It passed by a vote of 115-55.
HB37 Preventing Sanctuary Campuses in Georgia (I voted YES)
Provides that the state will withhold state funding and state-administered federal funding for scholarships, leans, grants, etc from private post-secondary institutions who adopt and enforce any “sanctuary policy.” Sanctuary campuses refer to those colleges and universities that have indicated their intention prohibit or restrict employees from assisting state and federal law enforcement officials with the reporting of immigration status information. Institutions – such as Agnes Scott College– have indicated they will support students granted temporary residency under former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) should the program be terminated under the Trump Administration. It is estimated that the DACA program has granted deportation deferrals to 23,177 persons in Georgia. This bill passed 112-74 and I voted YES.
HB159 Adoption Reform Bill (I voted YES)
This legislation would modernize and reform Georgia’s adoption laws based on best practices and the best interests of the child, birth parents and adoptive parents. HB 159 would reduce the minimum age of a single petitioner from 25 to 21, allowing judges to use discretion to decide on a case-by-case basis if an adoption is in the best interest of the child. Secondly, HB 159 would provide a narrow exception to the requirement that the petitioner must be 10 years older than the adoptive child in relative and stepparent adoptions.
HB224 Military Student School Flexibility (I voted YES)
This allows military students the ability to attend any school within their school system beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. This legislation defines a "military student" as any student whose parent is a military service member who lives on or off a military base. Local boards of education shall develop a streamlined process to allow for smooth transitions between schools for military students.
HB134 Providing for Single county T-SPLOSTs (I voted YES)
Reforms for counties that are not part of mass transportation regional systems. Specifically, this bill removes references to 'Mass transportation regional system participant' – as the term applies to Atlanta and the city of Fulton County – to allow single county T-SPLOSTs to fund state transportation projects. Further, this legislation allows for more than one single county T-SPLOST to be levied at the same time as long as the total amount does not exceed one percent. HB134 prohibits a regional T-SPLOST and a single county T-SPLOST from being on the ballot at the same time. Finally, this bill incorporates the provisions of HB 215 – sponsored by Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-80) – to allow qualified municipalities to issue general obligation debts relating to a T-SPLOST just as counties do.
Staying In Touch
As always you are welcome to visit me at our capitol office, which is located at Suite 501 in the CLOB (Cloverdale Legislative Office Bldg.). You may call my capitol office at 404-656-086 (note the new number); additionally, I can be reached via email at [email protected]. I encourage you to reach out to me and share your thoughts and opinions as the 2017 legislative session progresses.
Now that session is underway, I want you to know that I will be working diligently on behalf of our entire district while at the Capitol. I hope you will take the opportunity to review updates like this to stay informed on legislative matters that affect our district and state. Our House website: www.house.ga.gov has a number of tools to help you stay up-to-date on what’s going on at the Capitol: you can watch a live-stream of the House proceedings, and or archived committee meetings and review legislation we are considering.
As always, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve as your state representative.
Rep. Jeff Jones