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March 29 – MIDNIGHT – It’s a Wrap! 2018 Session of General Assembly Ends; Pensions, Voting Machines, Voting Days and Runaway Creek in the 11th Hour

Category: Georgia Business News

Hidden Predator Bill dies in Last Hour of the Session

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

March 29, 2018 – For the uninitiated, it was a heck of a way to govern.

The final few hours of the 40th Day got underway at 7:30 p.m., saw a long list of bills crammed through with little discussion, and some important bills were killed by the clock.

The evening session began with a visit by Governor Nathan Deal, whose 8th and final session of the General Assembly as Governor will end at midnight tonight.  Deal is term-limited, and will be Governor through December.

“The Georgia economy has grown every month during the eight years he has been Governor, as well as state productivity,” said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in welcoming him for remarks. “We have worked through some big issues,” Deal said to the Senators, including fully funding QBE for the first time since its inception in 1985, the formula used to end money for public education revenue back to local school systems. Deal also oversaw the approval of the largest state tax cut in Georgia’s history.  

“And, if you can’t get re-elected on the things we did this year, you probably don’t need to be here in the first place,” he joked with Senators, in concluding his remarks.   

The legislation sought by the City of Savannah, to allow cities and municipalities to hire professional realtors to sell surplus property, passed the Senate and House, as amended.  The House added county governments to the language. The bill was part of the City’s 2018 Legislative Priorities, proposed by Alderman at Large Brian Foster, who states that he believe that local staffs, while well intended, do not have the professional knowledge to assess what land owned by the City is worth. It is a change statewide.

HB 787 was back from the Senate tonight with amendments.  The bill would change funding for Charter Schools, increase their accountability, and allow charter schools to receive regional funding. It passed. 

HB 840 – Passed in the Senate which will allow military families serving in combat zones to not be penalized for failing to pay business and occupation taxes and would allow them to pay the taxes within 60 days of their return from active duty.

HB 214 passed in the Senate 48 – 0, which defines captive insurance companies and provides for the formation of captive insurance companies.

HB 189, the Contract Cancellation Act, passed 34 – 13.

Sen. Lester Jackson’s bill to rename Runaway Negro Creek in the Skidaway Island area of Chatham County, got attached to HB 685, and will come up for a vote late in the evening in House. It later failed.  

HB 992 required a conference committee be appointed, as the Senate did not agree to accept the latest round of amendments to the bill from the House.

Sen. Lester Jackson successfully attached his bill to create a Georgia Commission on African American History to HB 783 in the Senate, sending the bill back to the House in the final hours, where that bill died. The goal of the bill was to study the feasibility of building a major museum in Georgia to “discover, document, preserve, collect, and promote Georgia’s African American heritage with a primary focus on educating the citizens of this state about the significance of the African American experience in Georgia,” which goes back over 500 years, to when slaves came into Georgia with Spanish explorers in the 1500’s.

HB 867, sponsored by Rep. Bill Hitchens, who represents West Chatham and Effingham counties, provides for training of Georgia Peace Officers, creating a Standards and Training Council.  The bill also provides for assistance with traumatic experiences. A last minute amendment added 911 dispatchers to those who can access help after a traumatic episode. It passed. 

SB 330 – The Quality Basic Education Act, passed the House and Senate unanimously, but the House updated some language regarding Future Farmers of America. The amendment passed the Senate.

SB 131 passed. 

The House has agreed to amendments by the Senate on HB 344, HB 494, HB 760, HB 995, but disagreed to the Senate amendments on HB 605. A conference committee will have to be created.

HB 906 passed. 

On SB 321, SB 458, SB 406 and SB 330, the Senate agreed to the House substitutions on all four bills.

SB 194 passed. 

On HB 339, the House Free Speech Zones bill, the Senate approved House substitutes to the bill, after Senate amendments.

SB 331 passed 50 – 4. Senate agrees to House substitute.

SB 427 - The Conference Report on SB 402 – the “Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act” was received in the Senate at 10:00 p.m. The bill is aimed at investing in highways, bridges, ferries and local governments for deployment of broadband services “and other emerging communications technologies throughout the state,” and to establish fees regarding the use of poles in state rights-of-way.  It passed. 

The Speaker of the House David Ralston came to talk with the Senate at 10:05 p.m., not a normal procedure, to bid ‘best wishes’ to Lt. Gov. Cagle, in his last day of bring President of the Senate.  

At 10:10, the Conference Report on HB 930, one of the most important bills of the session, was received in the Senate. The bill creates a 13-county regional transportation board, to be known as the “ATL” Authority – the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority – and allows the voters in each county to vote on whether to levy a 1 cent sales tax fee to fund expansion of public transportation.   It passed. 

Senate approved House amendments to SB 376 by 51 – 0.

Senate passed HB 85 by a vote of 43 – 1

HB 329 – Final amendments from the House on the ‘Hands Free’ driving bill passed in the Senate. Those cited for texting, etc. can show the court that they have purchased a hands-free device, on their first offense.  Hands free driving goes into effect as of July 1.

HB 657, as amended by the House, passes. The bill was filed by members of the Chatham County delegation to make it a felony to provide a gun to a convicted felon, who is not able to lawfully purchase a gun. It passed 49 – 1.

HB 65 – The Senate agreed to House amendments 38 – 14.

SB 263 – The bill that would allow the newly created City of Eagles Landing to de-annex a portion of the City of Stockbridge came back to the Senate, after more than a month of discussion, with amendments from the House. Sen. Jackson offered a language amendment, as well. The bill will allow the citizens in the areas affected to vote on the change during the November General Election, and the new amendments will resolve the issue of Stockbridge’s existing bonds. Opponents allege that Stockbridge will possibly lose its more affluent areas and tax base, but be stuck with existing bonds.  But Cagle ruled the amendments out of order.

Sen. Emanuel Jones, who represents the majority of the City of Stockbridge, implored the body not to pass the bill, saying “the bill never should have been allowed to be introduced. This bill will drive this city into ruin” … and “every city in this state will be impacted,” according to the bond counsel for Stockbridge, he said, “because this action has never been undertaken before.”

He termed the bill “divisive and racist,” and urged Gov. Deal to veto the bill if the Senate passes it. “I don’t know why this legislation has made it this far in this session,” he added, and said that he has not received “a single letter from the Eagles Landing area that support this.”   It passed 33 to 19, mostly along party lines.

The Last Hour

HB 605, the ‘Hidden Predator Bill,’ was received in the Senate at 10:47 p.m., not in time for the Senate’s two-hour rule, ruled Lt. Gov. Cagle. A motion was made to wave that rule, but it failed 19 – 20.  And then a motion for reconsideration failed 36 – 27, as they gathered Senators back into the Chamber. It kills the bill for the year, a piece of legislation opposed by the Boys Scouts and the Catholic Church, according to Atlanta-area media companies reporting on the bill over the past year.  (See story on afternoon session when an amended version of the bill passed the Senate and was sent over to the House.)

HR 993 passed, which is a constitutional amendment, which if adopted by a referendum question on the November ballot will create a statewide small business court. The bill was an initiative of the Small Business organization known as the NFIB, passing 46 – 7.  

SB 315 – The Senate agreed to the House substitutions, passing 42 – 7.

HB 695 was moved off the table at 11:22 p.m., creating special license plates for Georgia Forestry; it  passed 47 – 0.

A motion was made that the Senate disagree with the House amendments to SB 430. Dekalb County Commissioners granted themselves a 60% raise recently. The amended bill would roll it back to a 10% raise.  Proponents said that they are a ‘duly-elected government,’ and the Commissioners vote should be honored; and the bill had already failed in the Senate earlier in the session. The amendment failed 32 – 19.

HB 930 – Motion made to accept the Conference Committee report on the ATL Regional Transit bill, creating a 13-county, unified region, and a 1 cents sales tax SPLOST, but not to be levied on the sale of jet fuel.  It passed 48 – 6.

HB 898 – Agree to House Amendment to Senate substitution, the police vehicle bill. Passed 51 – 0.

HB 978 was moved to the table, adopting the committee substitute, on a school bus safety bill.  Passed.

HB 951 – Rural Prosperity bill, as amended passed 47 – 2.

SB 478 was brought up for a vote at 11:53 p.m. to agree to the House substitute. 45 - 2

SB 402 – Conference committee report adopted 50 – 2.

SB 332 – 43 – 1 passes, agreeing to House substituted bill.

SB 385 - Recede from Disagreement passed 46 -5, allowing a surcharge to be imposed for solid waste disposal facilities.  

SB 485 – The City of Atlanta, independent school district homestead exemption passed 53 – 1.

At midnight, all other bills up in the air died for this session. At 12:11 a.m., negotiations were ongoing up on the platform, as Lt. Gov. Cagle, who was calling over to the House, which was still in session.  But at 12:12, paper flew in the air, as is the tradition, and it was declared “Sine Die.”

Significant bills that died were a new voting machine system for the state, the possible elimination of voting on Sunday, and increasing the pensions of members of the General Assembly.

Sen. Jackson’s efforts to create a commission to study a museum for African American history and preservation, died in the House during that body’s Thursday night session.

During the last hours, senate also honored three members who are giving up their seats to run for higher office:  David Shafer, running for Lt. Governor; Josh McKoon, running for Secretary of State; and Sen. Michael Williams, running for Governor.

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