LETTER FROM GEORGIA
REPRESENTATIVE ROGER BRUCE
It has been my honor to serve you during the 2018 session of the Georgia General Assembly. We addressed many issues ranging from transportation, healthcare, education, public safety, justice reform and many other topics. In this newsletter it is my intent to touch on the Bills that were most important. If you have questions about any of this information please feel free to give me a call for more details. If your community or organization is hosting a meeting that you would like for me to attend please feel free to contact my office to make arrangements.
It is important to note that most of these Bills are on the governor's desk waiting for signature. He has up to 40 days following the end of the session to take action on these Bills.
Bills I Sponsored or Supported
HB869 / HB870 - Will allow Fulton County residents to vote in a November referendum to remove the annexation restriction on Fulton Industrial Boulevard. Now that all of Fulton County has been incorporated into cities (except this area) the business owners and residents have asked to have the restriction lifted so that they too can receive the benefits of being part of a city. Several hearings were held on this issue before House and Senate committees. Business owners met with the governor's staff to voice their desire to become part of the City of South Fulton and a yes vote allows this to happen.
HB1063 - Clarifies the City of South Fulton's charter as it relates to the duties of the City Manager and the City Council. It is normal that any new city will have changes to its charter to provide clarity or to improve service to citizens. I am certain that as the city grows and procedures are put into practice we may discover the need to make changes.
HB21 -would create the Division of Supplier Diversity to look at disparities in the awarding of state contracts. It would also establish
policies for including minority and woman owned businesses in the state procurement process.
HB22 - Would allow residents to vote at any precinct in their county on election day. With todays technology you should be able to go to any precinct, give them your address and have the poll worker give you a ballot that matches your address. If passed this would allow counties that have the technology and the desire to do this the ability to go forward with implementation.
HB1030 - Will allow residents of the City of Douglasville to vote in the November election on a referendum that would allow the city
to excursive the authority granted in the Economic Development Act. I would suggest you contact your local city council person or the mayor for more details on this Bill.
HB696 - provides an incentive a major technology company to locate a large data center in Douglas County. This will establish job opportunities and revenue to Douglass County. This Bill was requested by the local leadership of the county.
HB 683 - Budget
The final budget fully-funded the QBE formula for the first time since 2002. There was initially a $167 million gap between the appropriated funds and the necessary funds under the QBE formula, but in the final budget, Governor Deal altered the revenue estimates wiping out the funding gap. Fully-funding QBE has long been a Democratic value, and this is a significant victory for our public schools.
HB 930 - Transit
A comprehensive metro-Atlanta transit bill successfully made its way through both chambers. HB 930 consolidates the various transit authorities into the Atlanta-region Transit Link ("ATL") Authority attached administratively to the GRTA. The thirteen metro counties currently under the jurisdiction of the GRTA may opt into the system, and Gwinnett county may have a vote as early as this year on the necessary taxes. In addition to the funding mechanisms included in HB 930, $100 million in bonds was included in the final budget for transit purposes.
HB 159 - Adoption
The first major victory came in HB 159. This bill carried over from 2017 and modernized the adoption procedures throughout the State. The changes sought to make the process more clear and efficient for everyone involved. The discriminatory language included in previous versions of the bill was not part of the final version, however it did reappear in SB 375, which passed the Senate this year. That bill did not receive any hearings in the House leaving the adoption reforms intact.
HB 669 - Medicaid Expansion
The Caucus' number one priority this session was Medicaid Expansion. HB 669 would have authorized the necessary appropriations to fund Medicaid expansion and receive the matching funds from the federal government. This has been and will continue to be a priority for the Caucus as Medicaid expansion is the best solution for rural development. Expanding Medicaid will keep rural hospitals open by resulting in $1.3 billion annually in new economic activity and creating an estimated 70,000 jobs in rural Georgia. The 2016 uninsured rate in Georgia was 12.9%, the fifth highest in the United States. This rate could be cut nearly in half just by expanding Medicaid. The 240,000 Georgians caught in the coverage gap would have become eligible for Medicaid had this bill passed. Unfortunately, no action was taken on HB 669 prior to Crossover Day. However, due to the persistent efforts of the Caucus, partner organizations, and, most importantly, the people, HB 669 received a hearing in the Health Appropriations Subcommittee prior to Sine Die. This hearing was a significant step in bridging the coverage gap in 2019. Medicaid Expansion will continue to be our number priority until 600,000 Georgians have the healthcare they deserve.
HB 673 - Distracted Driving
Stemming from multiple meetings in 2017, a distracted driving bill was passed this session. HB 673 prohibits holding a mobile device while driving a vehicle. HB 673 does not prohibit the use of GPS services, smart watches, or earpieces. Other carveouts were made for those performing official duties mostly centered around first responders as well as for emergency calls. The fines for first offenses were reduced in the final version to only $50 with gradual increases for subsequent offenses.
SB 402 - Broadband
A significant focus of this legislative session was on rural development and specifically rural broadband. The Achieving Connectivity Everywhere ("ACE") Act (SB 402) gives the authority to GDOT in consultation with GTA the authority to develop and implement a plan for the future use of right-of-ways relevant to broadband deployment. The OneGeorgia Authority is authorized to distribute funding for the deployment of broadband services. The conference committee report for SB 402 was adopted by both chambers on Sine Die.
HB 332/HR 238 - Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act
A victory for conservation efforts throughout the state, the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act creates the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund which will make available grants and loans for the conservation of land and water. HR 238 is a constitutional amendment that will be voted on in November 2018 which allocates up to 80 percent of the state's sales and use taxes from sporting goods stores. This will create the mechanism to fund the Trust Fund. Both HB 332 and HR 238 were passed on Sine Die.
SB 127/SR 146 - Marsy's Law
If approved in November, Marsy's Law will enumerate constitutional rights for victims of a crime. These rights would include the right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay, to be heard at scheduled court proceedings, and the right to timely notice of the arrest, release, or escape of the accused. Similar protections have been passed in Illinois, Ohio, and California. Both SB 127 and SR 146 reached final passage on Sine Die, and the constitutional amendment will be on the ballot in November.
HR 993 - Business Courts
HR 993 is a proposed constitutional amendment establishing a statewide business court. If approved in November, the amendment would give the statewide court judicial power of the state. However, superior courts may still create business court divisions for their own circuits. Business courts have been used already in Fulton County, and they have gained usage throughout the country. Proponents of business courts argue that these courts allow for complicated business cases to be heard in a more efficient manner by judges accustomed to these types of cases. The ballot language will be voted on in November after HR 993 passed both chambers on Sine Die.
SB 263 - Stockbridge/Eagle's Landing (Caucus Position)
The Caucus took a position against SB 263, which was the companion to SB 262. These two concerning pieces of legislation that would allow for the de-annexation of portions of the City of Stockbridge and the creation of the City of Eagles Landing if passed by referendum. This would be done without giving the entire City of Stockbridge a vote on the matter. Only those living within the borders of the proposed city would be allowed to vote in the referendum. The current citizens of Stockbridge may collectively vote against the creation of Eagles Landing yet still be forced to leave their city of choice. In addition, if the City of Eagles Landing is approved, Stockbridge will be left with all of their outstanding debt and less than half of their previous revenue. SB 263 passed on Sine Die and now heads to the Governor's Desk for signature. We will continue to support the residents of Stockbridge and speak against this unprecedented action.
SB 363 and SB 403 - Voting Rights (Caucus Positions)
The Caucus also took positions against two attacks on voting rights. SB 363 would have required counties to choose only one Saturday or one Sunday for early weekend voting. This would have effectively eliminated Sunday voting throughout the State. In addition, the bill would have moved the closing time from 8pm to 7pm for Atlanta's municipal elections. Each of these changes sought to restrict access to the polls when the people deserve a greater voice in our elections. This bill did not pass through the Rules Committee and never made it to the floor. SB 403 would have sought to update our outdated and unsecure voting systems but did not mandate systems in line with best practices for voting machines. Because of this, the Caucus stood firm against this form of the bill. By the time it reached the floor, SB 403 had been amended to only call for a commission on the subject. However, the makeup of the commission would have likely skewed the report in favor of vulnerable and unverifiable systems. The Caucus voted against this bill on the floor, but it did in fact pass the House. The Senate disagreed with the changes causing the bill to fail.
B 452 - Immigrant Detention (Caucus Position)
The final Caucus position was against SB 452. This bill would have required local peace officers to detain any individual they determined to be in the country illegally. This unfunded mandate would have resulted in the detention of even suspected illegal immigrants giving unprecedented authority to these local authorities. The determination of legal status should be left to the immigration judges. In addition, the final version of the bill included bail bond provisions that would have overturned the reforms instituted in the City of Atlanta. These provisions would have increased and exacerbated wealth-based detention by imposing financial conditions even on those charged with minor offenses. SB 452 was on the floor calendar for Sine Die, but it was never called for a vote.
HB 482 - Vouchers
Midway through the session on Crossover Day, a school voucher bill made its way to the House floor for a vote. HB 482 would have created "Educational Scholarship Accounts" allowing for parents to take money from the public schools for use in private education in certain circumstances. These programs have been shown to increase both racial and socio-economic stratification regardless of their scope while reducing the funds available for public education. HB 482 failed on Crossover Day, and it was not incorporated into any other legislation.
SB 336 - Fingerprinting/Biometric Security
HB 623 also failed on Crossover Day, but it was unfortunately added to SB 336 later in the session. This legislation authorized the giving of full fingerprint records to the FBI for employees working in positions which required criminal background checks. The sharing of full fingerprint records (rather than fingerprint minutia) is not in line with best security practices, and the sharing of this information with the FBI would be done without any oversight. HB 623 was defeated on Crossover Day, but a limited version of this bill was included in SB 336. The new language only applied to a few agencies, but the language still allowed for the unrestricted sharing of fingerprints to the FBI. Unfortunately, SB 336 passed both chambers on Sine Die.
SB 315 - Unauthorized Computer Access
In response to the increased risk to computer systems, Senate Bill 315 would criminalize unauthorized computer access. This bill went through many revisions as the original version of this bill would have criminalized violations of a website's terms of service as well as security threat research. Amendments were offered to cover these concerns by making the bill only applicable to those with malicious intent. This amendment was rejected in place of a variety of carveouts. The final version of the bill did not adequately protect security threat research and so-called "white hat hackers." The bill would discourage threat researchers from coming forward when vulnerabilities were discovered when we should be encouraging this activity. SB 315 passed both chambers without these protections.