Legislative session nears close

by Sarah Fay Campbell

Two weeks remain in the 2014 session of the Georgia General Assembly.

March 3 was the 30th day of the 40-day legislative session. The 30th day, known as Crossover Day, is the last day in which a bill can pass the House or Senate, giving it a chance of becoming law by the end of the session.

A large number of bills were approved in each chamber on the 30th day. The 2014 session comes to a close on March 30.

The Senate’s calendar for Crossover Day wasn’t as full as the House’s, but it was notably busy.

State Senator Mike Crane, R-Newnan, was involved in an extensive debate over a bill prohibiting the State Health Benefit Plan from providing coverage for abortions, except in the case of an emergency.

Crane was a sponsor of a similar bill last year. The 2013 bill didn’t make it through the legislative process, but Gov. Nathan Deal decided to take administrative action to prevent the insurance plan for state workers from paying for abortions.

In addition to busy committee meeting schedules, Crane expects discussion involving deepening of the Port of Savannah. Promised funding for the project wasn’t included in President Obama’s budget. Deal spoke of plans to begin the project with state funds, but federal government has since disallowed the state’s project initiative.

“I think we’re going to see some activity that leads us to a way to begin,” Crane said. “[The current delay] is one of the dangers of being beholden to the federal government. It impacts the state in negative ways.”

But, according to Deal, the project is simply too important to Georgia’s economy for the federal government to withdraw from action.

A few bills have passed through both House and Senate. Many bills change through the process, often requiring reconciliation before reaching a finalized version.

House Bill 176, known as the “Mobile Broadband infrastructure Leads to Development (BILD) Act,” has passed through both the House and Senate.

The bill streamlines and standardizes processes related to the application for and approval of wireless facilities, better known as cell phone towers. The bill is intended to allow construction of new towers.

The Senate approved a version of the state budget for Fiscal year 2015. The budget now moves to a conference committee allowing House and Senate members to merge the two versions.

Other notable bills that have passed one chamber:

• House Bill 459 involves drivers on multilane highways. The bill proposes a crime is committed by a driver who does not yield to another driver moving to pass. The bill received Senate committee approval on March 6.

• HB 742 adds a seventh judge to the Coweta Judicial Circuit. It passed the Senate committee on March 7.

• HB 707 prevents government employees from taking actions related to the implementation of Obamacare. A related bill is HB 990, which requires legislative approval to expand Medicaid eligibility. Expansion is currently the prerogative of the governor. Both bills passed the House on Crossover Day.

• Senate Bill 23 prohibits law enforcement agencies from requiring a waiting period before filing a missing persons report. The Bill also defines a “medically endangered” person and adds the identification as one that can trigger a “Mattie’s Call.”

• SB 281 requires the state to offer at least one high deductible medical insurance plan with a health savings account option for state workers.

• HB 251 prohibits the sale of “electronic cigarettes” to those under 18. It also restricts the sale of other nicotine products, such as nicotine gum.

• HB 449 limits release of 911 recordings containing “speech in distress” or cries of a caller who died during the call or the speech or cries of a minor.

• HB 803 requires law enforcement agencies have written policies regarding how officers interact with pets. The bill passed a Senate committee on March 6.

• HB 827 allows learner’s license holders to begin driving at 5 a.m. instead of 6 a.m.

• HB 965 and 966 relate to drug overdoses. HB 965 gives amnesty from prosecution for drug possession to those seeking medical care for someone having an overdose. HB 966 aims to increase access to opioid antagonists such as Naloxone for those at risk of overdose of an opioid drug, including heroin or narcotic pain pills. HB 965 has received committee approval.

• HB 778 exempts from regulation non-profits selling food on their own property or on property of another non-profit organization.

• HB 863 makes changes to state animal cruelty laws, increasing punishment for aggravated cruelty, and adding “torture” of an animal not resulting in death or disability to the definition of cruelty.

• HB 826 gives schools ability to allow designated persons to carry weapons. It passed a Senate committee on March 5.

• HB 770 creates the crime of home invasion. It passed committee on March 6.

• SB 98 adds foster parents and care agencies to the list of those who can report a missing child.

• HB 958 tweaks Georgia’s tax credit for film and video projects, and establishes sales tax holidays for back-to-school shopping and Energy Star appliances.

• HB 153 allows imposition of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes of less than one cent.

• HB 257 discontinues tax credits for low emission and zero emissions vehicles, while HB 348 creates a credit for purchase of medium and heavy duty alternative fuel vehicles.

• HB 729 makes changes to the Title Ad Valorem Tax law by altering the tax that has to be paid on vehicles brought into the state from 6.75 percent (and 7 percent in 2015) to 4 percent.

• HB 1052 creates the crime of second degree murder, which is defined as causing the death of another while committing cruelty to children in the second degree.

• HB 772 implements drug testing for food stamp recipients. A similar bill was passed last year, but is currently delayed in court.

• HB 885 creates a research program allowing the use of cannabis-derived cannabidiol oil. Sponsor Allen Peake, R-Macon, has been tweaking the bill to gain access to marijuana for the program.

Several bills did not continue past Crossover Day including reform of state civil forfeiture rules, “religious liberty” bills introduced in the House and Senate, a bill to require “ignition interlock” devices for first-time DUI offenders with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 or greater, and a bill that would allow seatbelt use to be considered in civil cases over damages from automobile crashes.

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