Probation, insurance bills vetoed by governor

by Sarah Fay Campbell

A controversial bill involving private probation services was among measures vetoed this week by Gov. Nathan Deal.

The probation bill, House Bill 837, was one of 10 bills Deal vetoed on Tuesday.

HB 837 deals with misdemeanor probation, which is often managed by private companies.

In his veto statement, Deal says that “there is language in this legislation that would exempt certain key information about private probation services from the Georgia Open Records Act.”

Deal said he favors “more transparency over private probation services and therefore I am not in favor of this information being exempt from the Georgia Open Records Act.”

Deal stated there is a case being considered by the Supreme Court of Georgia that would address the role of private probation services. “While the current law pertaining to private probation services remains in effect, this legislation seeks to have a preemptive impact on any decision in that appeal.”

The bill would have allowed the companies that monitor people on probation for minor crimes the ability to ask judges to extend the sentences of those who don't pay the cost of the monitoring, according to Morris News Service. Private firms now supervise an estimated 80 percent of those convicted of misdemeanors who can't cough up their full fines while they're in court. Georgia has the country's highest rate of people on probation, according to the Georgia Center for Human Rights. Last week, the Department of Audits and Accounts issued a report listing multiple weaknesses in the private probation monitoring system.

In a press release, the bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, and Judge Linda Cowen, president of the Council of State Court Judges, said that "those paid to fight this bill are falsely contending that it seeks to hide information from the public. After reading the bill, perhaps the critics who claim that it tries to conceal information will learn that the bill in no way restricts access to any information currently available to the public. Ironically, they will also learn, that additional transparency provisions were added to HB 837.”

The court ruling under appeal “could render misdemeanor probation unenforceable in Georgia,” according to the release. "If HB 837 does not become law, misdemeanor probation may no longer be enforceable, and we will have a disaster in our justice system."

Senate Bill 281 would have required the State Health Benefit Plan include a high-deductible health insurance option.

"The Department of Community Health has announced the plan to procure additional product offerings for the state health insurance plan, which closely mirrors the general intent of this legislation,” Deal said in his veto statement. "I agree with the author of this legislation that the state health insurance plan should include additional options, particularly options that are consumer-driven. However, to avoid any problem with the new product offerings not specifically conforming to the rather specific requirements set out in this legislation, out of an abundance of caution, I hereby veto SB 281.”

HB 729 would have tweaked the state’s Title Ad Valorem Tax law as it deals with vehicle trade-in values. One change would have allowed a lease finance company to be eligible for a trade-in reduction at the end of a leased term, and that significantly changes the trade-in definition, Deal said in his veto statement. "I am vetoing this legislation because I believe it is too soon to implement a law that adversely affects revenue, thus, leaving the state of Georgia TAVT taxpayers in a more unstable position."

HB 670 would create a statewide registry of business trade names to be housed and maintained by the Georgia Superior Court Clerks’ Cooperative Authority. Deal said in his statement that the legislation “would effectively increase taxes on small businesses by raising trade name registration fees and would add new fees for canceling or reregistering existing trade names. I also have significant concerns about the language in the bill which attempts to dedicate these fees for a specific purpose.”

SB 326 would give members of various state boards such as the State Transportation Board, State Board of Education and Board of Natural Resources an increase of 67 percent in their daily per-diem, which is currently set at $105.



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