Below are the major bills that were passed in the 2015 General Assembly Legislative Session:
Senate Bill 1 / House Bill 429 - Autism Coverage
The top priority of the Senate Republican Caucus was adopted as part of House Bill 429 when the language of Senate Bill 1 was added to the bill. The bill requires insurers to cover children six years of age or younger who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
The maximum benefit cap for applied behavioral analysis coverage is set at $30,000, only $5,000 less than the Senate’s original position. Only employers with eleven or more employees are required to include coverage for autism spectrum disorders in their employees’ policies. There is an annual process for exemption if the benefit causes the cost of policies to increase more than 1 percent.
Senate Bill 2 - Dual Enrollment
Providing opportunities and breaking down bureaucratic barriers for high school students ready to take college-level courses.
Allows high school students to pursue schoolwork at an advanced pace by counting college coursework toward high school diplomas. For students who would rather enter the workforce than attend college, the bill seeks to offer those students specialized training to enter the workforce.
House Bill 91 - Georgia High School Graduation Test
Eliminates the Georgia High School Graduation Test and allows past students who failed the Graduation Test, but fulfilled all of the other requirements for graduation, to petition their local school board to obtain a degree from their high school. The Georgia High School Graduation Test is not administered to students who entered high school after July 1, 2011. An estimated 8,000 students could qualify to petition their school boards to receive diplomas under this bill.
Senate Bill 8 and Senate Resolution 7 - Protecting Sexually Exploited Children
This bill will continue and expand the protection of our children. It is designed to help children who have been sexually exploited. It also creates the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund Commission, toughens the penalties against those who capitalize on the sexual victimization of children and dedicates funding to help those child victims.
It will extend the timeframe within which a victim of “childhood sexual abuse” can take action against a perpetrator by setting the clock for the statute of limitations to begin at the age of 18 for a childhood sexual abuse victim. This allows those victims to bring civil claims against their perpetrators until they are 23 years old.
This will establish the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund and Commission to appropriate funds for the purposes of providing care, rehabilitative services, residential housing, health services and social services to sexually exploited children and to a person, entity, or program meeting criteria to be set by the Commission. This is to include funds to establish safe houses - funded by new $2,500 fines on convicted traffickers and an annual $5,000 fee on adult entertainment establishments. This provides for state regulation of certain adult entertainment businesses.
Senate Bill 34 / House Bill 72 - Extends the Good Samaritan Law to aiding persons in locked cars
Under Georgia’s existing “Good Samaritan” statute, any person who renders emergency care at the scene of an accident or emergency to the victim at no charge is not liable for any civil damages resulting from acts or omissions in rendering care. This bill extended Georgia’s Good Samaritan law to include the rescue or attempted rescue of an incapacitated or endangered individual from a locked motor vehicle.
Senate Bill 4 - Atlanta Beltline Bill
This encourages partnerships with private enterprises in continuing the construction of the Atlanta Beltline by making it easier and more efficient for those entities to enter into blighted areas. Built along 22 miles of abandoned rail lines, the Atlanta Beltline would connect 45 neighborhoods across the city with a network of trails, parks, and a light-rail system by 2030.
Senate Bill 5 - Savannah Harbor Expansion Project Funding
This will allow the State to accept federal money to begin construction on the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project by authorizing the Georgia Ports Authority to indemnify the United States in order to comply with terms and conditions to accept federal grants for the Project. The State is allowed to accept loans and grants from the United States government, and one of the terms and conditions for the Harbor Expansion Project requires Georgia to have a hold harmless/indemnification clause with the Corps of Engineers. The Corps of Engineers estimates a benefit-to-cost ratio of $5.50 for every $1.00 invested in the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.
House Bill 170 - Transportation Funding Act of 2015
It will provide additional revenue necessary for funding the maintenance of transportation components and networks. Reshapes the way the state funds transportation projects. It requires the Georgia Department of Transportation to annually submit a 10-year strategic plan outlining the use of department resources for the upcoming fiscal years.
It also eliminates the prepaid state tax on the sales of motor fuel; exempts sales of motor fuel entirely from state sales and use taxes. It will increase the rate and changes the method of computation of the excise tax on motor fuel set at $.26 cents per gallon. It requires local option sales and use taxes on motor fuel to be at the rate of 1 percent of the retail sales price of motor fuel which is not more than $3.00 per gallon.
Adds an annual highway impact fee for Georgia registered alternative fuel vehicles of $200 for non-commercial electric vehicles and $300 for commercial vehicles with fee amounts adjusted annually to compensate for inflation.
This requires innkeepers to charge a $5 per night fee to customers, excluding extended stay.
It also requires that vehicles weighing more than 15,500 lbs. pay an annual highway impact fee of $50.00 and vehicles weighing more than 26,000 lbs. paying an annual highway impact fee of $100.00.
It will authorize counties to impose a transportation special purpose local option sales and use tax, of up to 1 percent, subject to voter approval, the proceeds of which must be used for transportation purposes.
This eliminates the income tax credit for the purchase or lease of new, low and zero-emission vehicles; sunsets the current tax exemption for jet fuel from the 1 percent of the 4 percent state sales and use tax on June 30, 2015.
It will limit the Governor’s authority to suspend or modify the collection of any rate of state taxes on the sales of motor fuel and aviation gasoline and will require the General Assembly to ratify any suspension or modification.
This will provide new criteria for any preference given by the Board of the State Road and Toll way Authority to projects eligible to receive financial assistance from the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank.
Finally, it will create the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure to receive and report out tax reform legislation during the 2016 legislative session that will be considered in a separate legislative process.
Senate Bill 63 - Beer Jobs
This authorizes licensed brewers to apply for an annual permit to conduct brewery tours of the licensed premises, which may include free souvenirs (not to exceed 72 ounces) and free tastings on the premises (not to exceed 36 ounces).
Senate Bill 89 - Digital Classroom Act
This will encourage instructional material purchased by local boards of education be in digital or electronic format by 2020. Also encourages those local boards to provide a free laptop, tablet, or electronic device to students who do not provide their own device by 2020. Added by the House, the “Student Privacy, Accessibility, and Transparency Act” protects and places restrictions on the access to student data.
Senate Bill 133 & Senate Resolution 287 - Opportunity School District (OSD)
This establishes a statewide school district aimed at turning around chronically underperforming schools in Georgia. Four intervention models can be used in opportunity schools. The OSD will select up to 20 schools in any single academic year, not to exceed a total portfolio of 100 schools, based upon an analysis of performance over a three-year period, taking into consideration various factors. I added an amendment that has the Senate confirm the Governor’s appointment as head of the school district. The Act will only become effective only upon passage of a Constitutional Amendment (ordered by Senate Resolution 287).
SB 138 - Our comprehensive child welfare legislation
This is the compilation of legislative recommendations that came out of the Child Welfare Reform Council and also changes that were required of the Division by federal law. These changes came to the department after the agency legislation review process, hence the reason we needed to include them in this bill. $108M of federal Title IV-E funding was on the line! I served on this commission.
It will codify the existing executive order that provides that the DFCS director shall be appointed directly by the Governor, serve at the pleasure of the Governor, and report directly to the Governor. It adds language that allows appropriate care providers the appropriate access to the records relating to children in their care. It also adds language that supports bi-directional data sharing between state agencies in order for DFCS caseworkers to ascertain a complete picture of the services each child (and family) is receiving.
This also creates a more vertically integrated advisory board structure, clarifies the purpose, powers, and duties of existing county-level DFCS board in statute, creates district-level DFCS advisory boards to bring information from the county-level DFCS boards to DFCS district directors in order to improve communication, service delivery, and application of policy in each district, Creates a state-level DFCS advisory board with 20 members charged with reviewing and recommending proposed DFCS rules and regulations.
It will re-create a Child Abuse Registry that meets the constitutional requirements of due process. There are also several sections that are required by federal requirement in the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act” (Public Law 113-183). These changes are necessary to ensure the state doesn’t lose $108M in federal Title IV-E funding for DFCS.
HB 279 – A bill that increased the salaries of judges
I had to vote no because it also increased the salaries of DeKalb CEO (which one?) and Commissioners’ salaries as well.
HB 192 – Economic Development
I also voted no on this bill. It gives Economic Development authorities way too much latitude in defining a project.
Finally, I previously covered the DeKalb local legislation reforms plus the property tax value freeze until 2022.
Your comments are welcome.
Senator Fran Millar