Week Ahead: Ethics, juvenile-justice reform come up for consideration

By Walter C. Jones 
Morris News Service
ATLANTA – Two major pieces of legislation come to the House floor this week, ethics and juvenile-justice reforms.
Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, sponsored changes that prohibit individual lawmakers from accepting any gifts from lobbyists other than non-air-fare travel expenses on official business. It also expands who must register as a lobbyist while reducing the registration fee.
The juvenile-justice revisions will be less controversial than the ethics package. The juvenile law rewrite has been in the works for years, and agreement has finally been reached by advocates on all sides. It would change where most troubled children are held, from state custody to county supervision.
Later in the week, the House will vote on the annual update of the tax law, complicated this time because the federal tax law it matches technically expired for a couple of days as part of the "fiscal cliff" on Jan. 1.
Federal affairs will again be an issue on Friday, which is the date the sequestration law takes effect to withhold spending across the board.
House Minority Leader Larry O'Neal, R-Bonaire, said the leadership decided not to delay the legislative schedule while Congress sorts out what programs will be cut.
"We've resolved we're going to go about our business no matter what happens," he said. "It will be up to the governor to change it after we've gone and maybe call a special session. Nobody's willing to just sit on our hands and wait on the federal government."
About half of the state budget comes from federal funds, so the impact on state programs could be significant.
The Senate starts the week with several routine bills, like three from Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, that modify technical aspects of laws dealing the interest rate on tax refunds, the duties of landowners toward trespassers and the due date for mini warehouse rent.
Committees will be busy racing to consider bills in time for them to reach the House and Senate floor before the March 7 deadline in which they'll be dead for the year otherwise. One committee just starting to work is the conference committee working out differences between the version of the mid-year budget adjustment passed by the House and the Senate's version.
"The changes made in the Senate, I don't think anybody anticipated," O'Neal said. "There may actually be some conference work there."
The House Appropriations subcommittees will also be working on next year's budget but won't be ready in time for a vote this week.
Among other bills committees will consider this week is Senate Bill 76 by Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah. It would create a multi-agency Returning Veterans Task Force to ensure former warriors have easy access to education, welfare and other government services.
House committees will consider bills to make roofing a licensed profession, block welfare-benefit cards from being used in certain stores and prohibit government computers from being used to track legislation.
Rep. Earnest Smith, D-Augusta, gets a hearing but not a vote Monday on his House Bill 33, the Jeremy Griner Act, which would increase the mandatory imprisonment for a first drunk-driving conviction from 10 days to 30.
Rep. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, gets a Tuesday hearing on HB 267 to keep Georgia Power from earning a profit on cost overruns during expansion of Plant Vogtle. Also that day, Rep. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, presents HB 36 in the House Game, Fish & Parks Committee to make drum a species considered game fish. And former Public Safety Commission Bill Hitchens, now a GOP representative from Rincon, presents his bill to increase from 10 passengers to 15 the threshold for exempting vehicles from the seat-belt requirement, leaving only the largest buses without them.


More Local

250 students affected

Homelessness ‘vicious cycle that’s going to continue’

The economy has bounced back from the lows of a few years ago. The housing market is healthy, and the jobless rate has improved. But, for so ... Read More


Annual Sunrise on the Square Road Race a success

The annual Sunrise on the Square included ideal weather and a first-time winner who actually pushed his baby in a stroller. The race, hosted ... Read More


HealthSouth facility scheduled to open Dec. 2

Progress for HealthSouth’s new facility is on track for a Dec. 2 opening, which will add to the town’s growing collection of hea ... Read More


Subsidized medical center proposed for Senoia

Palmetto Health Council is applying for a grant to bring a subsidized medical clinic to Coweta, proposed for the Senoia area. The non-profit ... Read More


Economic Impact

Ports hit new record

The Georgia Ports Authority moved more than 3 million 20-foot equivalent container units in fiscal year 2014 – and set a new record fo ... Read More

Maternity home on zoning board’s agenda

Decisions on a proposed “maternity home” for pregnant teens, expanded outdoor seating for a proposed downtown restaurant, and al ... Read More