This is the second of a two-part series on what passed the General Assembly in 2016.
House Bill 801 - Revision of the HOPE Scholarship Requirements and Definitions
Under this bill, beginning in the 2017-18 school year, the cumulative grade point average for the HOPE scholarship will include weighted grades for certain science, technology, engineering, and math college courses chosen by the Board of Regents in consultation with the Technical College System of Georgia. This will include a 0.5 point increase on the student’s final grade if that grade is a B, C, or D.
House Bill 859 - Carrying of Concealed Handguns on Certain Property of Public Postsecondary Educational Institutions
This bill permits holders of a Georgia weapons carry license to carry a concealed handgun in and on any building or property owned or leased by a public postsecondary educational institution in Georgia. Under this bill, this privilege would not extend to buildings or property used for athletic sporting events or to student housing (including sorority and fraternity houses). I voted NO.
House Bill 727 - Regulation of Sale and Use of Fireworks
This bill creates new restrictions on locations where consumer fireworks may not be used. It revises permitted times during which consumer fireworks may be ignited, including by special use permit – 9:00pm except January 1st and July 4th.
House Bill 1036 - Moratorium on Eminent Domain Powers of Pipeline Companies
This bill provides for a moratorium on the exercise of eminent domain powers of pipeline companies through June 30, 2017, and creates the State Commission on Petroleum Pipelines.
House Bill 757 - “Free Exercise Protection Act”
Bill was vetoed by the Governor - Individuals who are ministers, clerics, or religious practitioners who are authorized or ordained to solemnize marriages, perform rites, or administer sacraments to the usages of a denomination are free to solemnize any marriage, perform any rite, or administer any sacrament or decline to do so, in their discretion.
A faith-based organization is not required to rent, lease, or otherwise grant permission for property to be used by another person for an event which is objectionable to such faith-based organization. No faith-based organization is required to provide social, educational, or charitable services that violate such organization’s sincerely held religious belief, as demonstrated by practice, expression, or clearly articulated tenet of faith.
However, this section does permit the government to enforce the terms of a grant, contract, or other agreement voluntarily entered into by such faith-based organization.
Faith-based organizations, except as otherwise provided in the Georgia Constitution, U.S. Constitution, or federal law, will not be required to hire or retain as an employee any person whose religious beliefs or practices or lack of either are not in accord with the organization’s sincerely held religious belief as demonstrated by practice, expression, or clearly articulated tenet of faith. A refusal by an individual covered by these provisions will not give rise to a civil claim or cause of action against such person or result in any state action to penalize, withhold benefits from, or discriminate against such individual on the basis of that refusal.
The bill also sets forth a standard of judicial review in instances in which a person claims a burden on the free exercise of religion. A government cannot substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a law, rule, regulation, ordinance, or resolution of general applicability unless the government can demonstrate that the application of that burden to the person is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest. However, the bill’s provisions cannot be construed to:
• Permit invidious discrimination on any grounds prohibited by federal or state law;
• Apply to penological rules, regulations, conditions, or policies established by a penal institution relating to safety, security, order, and discipline;
• Create any rights by an employee against an employer, if such employer is not a government; or
• Afford any protection or relief to a public officer or employee who fails or refuses to perform his or her official duties; provided that this provision will not prohibit a person from holding any public office or trust on account of religious opinions.
No business or industry can be required by ordinance or resolution of any county, municipality, or consolidated government to operate on Saturday or Sunday.
House Bill 779 - Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems; Georgia Unmanned Vehicle Systems Commission - Drones
This bill places limits on the regulation of unmanned aircraft systems by local governments. It also includes language from SB 325, which creates the Georgia Unmanned Vehicle Systems Commission. This Commission will analyze various issues related to unmanned vehicles (such as aerial drones, aquatic drones, or driverless cars).
Senate Bill 269 - Sanctuary Policies
As a condition of funding, state agencies that provide funding to local governments are mandated by this legislation to require each jurisdiction to certify that they are not enforcing any sanctuary policy. Under current law, state agencies providing funding are only authorized and not mandated to require such certification. The certification is carried out and verified through the immigration compliance reports currently submitted by each state and local government to the Department of Audits. These reports must now contain a certificate of compliance indicating that the local government is in compliance with the provisions of this legislation.