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.

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