COLUMN: 2019 Legislative Session – the Highs & Lows of Final Passage

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The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of the author and not those of The Georgia Virtue.

Over the last three months, I’ve worked on policy analysis for a few state representatives and I read every bill they voted on on the House floor (and then some). It’s a gut-wrenching, soul crushing thing to watch every year and an idealist like me sees little need for 95% of the things that are passed. As you look through some of these bills, I’m sure you’ll see why.

All in all, lawmakers in the House cast a whopping 392 votes, the Senate voted 395 times, and together the two chambers filed almost 1,000 pieces of legislation, without counting non-binding resolutions.

This is my annual analysis of the best of the best and the worst of the worst.

Best bills that passed

  • In-state cultivation of marijuana for low-THC cannabis oil — HB 324 – Micah Gravley
    • When I say ‘best,’ it’s only best because I’m grateful the families in need of oil will be able to access it here in the state of Georgia, but overall, the bill is a regulatory nightmare, ripe with limitations and provisions that Republicans should never support. Nevertheless, I’m pleased with those in need will be able to obtain the oil legally.
  • A requirement for recess for grades K-5 in Georgia public schools – HB 83 – Demetrius Douglas
    • This was a local control issue for some, but I believe local control applies to implementation, while the state – which has a constitutional duty to provide education – is responsible for curriculum. Students are required to have 30 mins of activity every day, with some exceptions
  • Training requirements for public employees in charge of public funds – HB 196 – Tommy Benton
  • Rape kit retention policies increased – HB 282 – Scott Holcomb
    • Law enforcement agencies have to keep kits until cases are solved.
  • Prohibition of shackling female inmates who are pregnant – HB 345 – Sharon Cooper
    • This was unanimous in the House and only Randy Robertson opposed it in the Senate. The measure prohibits the shackling of female inmates in prisons and jails during delivery, and sets restrictions on how they can be shackled in the third trimester.
  • Permission to sue the government – HB 311 – Andy Welch
    • This bill allows citizens to bring court cases against local and state government for constitutional concerns, something not currently permitted under the state constitution.
  • A stop gap for the retirement system – SB 117 – Ellis Black
    • People who bought out retirement were not previously required to pay full actuarial costs, leaving the state with an annual $20 million price tag. This resolves that going forward.

Worst bills that passed

  • School Safety Bill – SB 15 – John Albers
    • This bill started bad and only go worse. Initially, it was to implement school safety plans for public and private schools and provide tax credits for those who helped. It ended with a mandatory reporting requirement for principals relating to criminal and violent activity in schools, meaning principals will be required to contact law enforcement when there is suspicion of a crime. In the old days, school systems and parents handled punishment, instead of creating criminal records for more minors.
  • Hemp Cultivation – SB 213 – John Corbett
    • Aside from being one of the most restrictive laws in the nation, the measure is overly regulatory, expensive, and requires that growers surrender their 4th Amendment rights in order to grow a plant that is cultivated for industrial use.
  • Patients First Act – SB 106 – Brian Kemp/Blake Tillery
    • This bill is step 1 of Medicaid Expansion disguised as something ‘flexible.’ This gives a $1 million slush fund to a consultant to tell Georgia what plan will fit best. It also requires they come back to the legislature for review, but when was the last time the legislature did away with a program after it was implemented? It’s here to stay, and only growing. Just wait.
  • The legislature also imposed new licensing requirements for Genetic Counselors, Massage Therapists, Telemedicine, and Structural Engineers who want to do business in Georgia. New Licensing:
  • Monument Protections – SB 77 – Jeff Mullis
    • This bill did not deal solely with Confederate monuments, but monuments everywhere from every era. I opposed the measure because it prohibits local governments from moving any kind of monument if they see fit. It also allows ANYONE to sue someone for damages done to a monument, not just the government entity that’s the owner. Ex: Someone tips over your MLK monument in the center of town, the city can sue the offender, as can every person in the community.
  • Joshua’s Law extension – HB 226 – Dominic LaRiccia
    • This is a fee imposed on traffic tickets and other offenses was set to expire this year and it is used to subsidize driver’s ed programs. of fee on traffic tickets for driver’s ed
  • Hospital bed tax extension – HB 321 – Jodi Lott (and all of Kemp’s floor leaders)
    • Republicans used to oppose this bill. Brett Harrell campaigned for the seat he currently has on this issue alone, vowing to oppose it. It passed with only a handful of NOs in the House & Senate and was extended for 5 years instead of the usual 3.
  • Landlord-regulation – HB 346 – Sharon Cooper
    • This is a lengthy discussion, but the law will change how landlords and tenants conduct business with each other and prevents landlords from taking action against tenants in certain circumstances. I wrote about it extensively here.
  • Outdoor Stewardship Act – HB 382 – Jon Burns
    • This one is only on here because it bothers me. It was a Constitutional Amendment (#1) passed by voters in November. After it passed, they came back and amended who can apply for the grants under the provision of the constitutional amendment. That’s a shady way to do business, if you ask me.
  • Voting Machines – HB 316 — Barry Fleming
    • Non-partisan, unaffiliated experts have offered testimony on how unsecure the systems the state of Georgia is seeking to obtain are in practicality. The maintenance of the systems long-term is going to exceed what the state is being honest about and rural counties will, as usual, suffer the most.
    • I also didn’t care for the fact that Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger sent out the RFP for the bid on machines before Kemp even signed the bill into law. If Democrats had done that, the GOP would be outraged.
  • Elimination of financial audit requirements for some cities – HB 456 – Jan Tankersley
    • This bill increases the audit requirement from $300k to $550k annually for municipalities, meaning fewer cities will have to obtain audits under the law. Unfortunately, Rep. Tankersley is unaware of just how poorly smaller rural towns are run and how imperative audits are to transparency and accountability.
  • Private permitting for inspection services – HB 493 – Kevin Tanner
    • This bill allows people to use private services for permitting if the governmental entity that is supposed to conduct inspections is not efficient, but they still require you pay the regulatory fees to the government, even though they aren’t providing the service.
  • Scooter regulation – HB 454 – Kevin Tanner
    • This bill gives local governments the authority to regulate and require registration of scooters.
  • Private storage facility regulation – SB 97 – Jesse Stone
    • This bill dictates what prices and fees private companies can assess to customers. Great work, Republicans.
  • 5% pay raise across the board for all local level constitutional officers – SB 171 – Larry Walker
    • As if rural Georgia wasn’t already struggling to pay their bills, let’s increase the salaries across the board.

Most expensive bill that passed

  • Heartbeat bill banning abortions after 6 weeks – HB 481 – Ed Setzler
    • Whether your support the bill or your oppose it, there’s no arguing that the law will be challenged in court. And it’s going to be expensive.
    • The final version provides an exception up to 20 weeks in cases of rape/incest if a police report is filed, there is a medical emergency defined by the doctor (life of mother), or the pregnancy is not “medically futile.” It also allows court ordered child support upon detection of a heartbeat, a tax credit for pregnancies even if there is a miscarriage, and criminalizes the act of having an abortion.

Bad bills that failed

  • Regulating legal recourse of property owners – HB 545 – Tom McCall
    • This bill would have harmed private property owners and small agriculture operations in the name of big business. I wrote about it extensively in an opinion piece.
  • Transit Overhaul – HB 511 – Kevin Tanner
    • The bill was supposed to provide flexibility to the private sector to step in where the state is failing on transit, but by the time session was coming to an end, lawmakers added language for the jet fuel tax exemption, and a ride-share excise tax among other things. The bill needed to die.
  • Hate crimes legislation – HB 426 – Chuck Efstration
    • I’ve long been opposed to making stricter punishments for those who are in protected classes. A crime is a crime and making people more equal than others under the law is wrong.
  • Homeschool-DFCS regulation – HB 530 – Bill Hitchens
    • The bill ultimately passed, but without the harmful language that would have launched DFCS investigations into families who homeschool. The reforms for the better are only due to the advocacy of the homeschool lobby who showed up and spoke out. I still consider this a ‘kill.’
  • Dual Enrollment Overhaul – HB 444 – Bert Reeves
    • The bill sought to change the funding formula for free college for kids in high school and increase hours available for dual enrollment in higher grades while eliminating dual enrollment for 9th grades and limiting the opportunity for 10th graders. This is actually driving up the cost of education because you’re allowing all of these high school students to attend for free. The public schools they attend are getting the FTE money for them and the college/tech school is getting the tuition coverage and this would just approve more hours.

Good bills that failed

  • Auditing of tax credits for benefit – SB 119 – John Albers
  • Private property rights for aesthetics – HB 302 – Vance Smith
    • This bill would have prohibited local governments from dictating things like housing material, paint colors, and window types by regulation for homeowners and builders
  • Treating all students equally – SB 161 – Lindsey Tippins
    • This bill addresses GPA calculations. Currently, students in high school taking AP are given an additional half point on GPA for B, C and F’s but A students don’t get extra points on their GPA. This bill would have allowed exceling students to be rewarded as well.
  • Ballot access and private prisons were both barred from getting a committee hearing

A few others that didn’t pass thanks to the public outrage:

  • Cagle’s Law to make Georgia a one-party consent state – SB 59 – Jeff Mullis
  • School year start date legislation to make it a state decision
  • The infamous trucking regulation bill to ban recreational driving of 18-wheelers
  • Vouchers for private schools. Despite being resurrected after failing in the Senate, the public education lobby was able to once again defeat initiatives to have the money stay with the child.
  • The legislature also passed a number of broadband-related issues, but given the strict regulatory nature of the bills that only opens marketplaces in select places, only time will tell if those bills should be ranked ‘good’ or ‘bad.’

This list certainly isn’t all inclusive, but with nearly 1,000 bills introduced, how could it be?

All of the bills that gained final passage now head to Governor Kemp’s desk for signature. Any bill that did not pass by Day 40 can be brought up again in 2020. So rest easy and unclutch your wallets…for now.

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast.'

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