The 2015 legislative session has been rather…interesting. Between the slow start over what would actually happen with Transportation and the Budget to the abrupt ending which halted just about every piece of pending legislation that had a ‘NO’ vote attached to the transportation tax, most of us have been spending our days that it will just hurry up and be over. Despite that, however, the House has still managed to pass some pretty awful legislation. Trending in the ‘Top 10 Worst’ are 1) expanded powers for the Governor, 2) creation of new Commissions, and 3) strengthened mandates for individuals and small businesses.
10. The AMENDMENT presented by Rep. Ed Setzler to HB 429 – (Ron Stephens)
The bill makes sure that if you’re given a diagnosis of 2 years or less to live, your insurance company cannot deny you the use of a drug if your doctor deems it necessary and appropriate. The amendment disallows people from traveling to other states for the purpose of assisted suicide and then requesting the insurance company cover such costs.
So, in the same passage, we mandate that a company cannot deny coverage while also mandating a certain type of coverage that cannot be covered. Together these two concepts do not make sense. The amendment passed 105-61. The bill passed 170-0.
9. HB 418 – (Rep. Bert Reeves)
This bill disallows anyone in alternative sentencing programs (first offender, diversion, etc.) from serving on a grand jury as they would had they been convicted of a felony. Arguments in favor of the bill say it is a conflict of interest as these people may (if they live in the same county as their sentencing) be reporting to the District Attorney. On the contrary, these programs are supposed to be classified as ‘not a felony,’ so what is the purpose if we are still going to rescind rights? Further, these alternative sentencing programs are similar to those that have not yet been convicted. We are setting bad precedent.
HB 418 passed the House 139-40.
8. HB 416 – (Rep. Carl Rogers)
The “Consumer Information and Awareness Act” demonstrates just how cumbersome the legislature can be. This mandates that all health practitioners wear name badges of ‘sufficient size’ font. With little room for enforceability or true need, ‘common sense’ was cited with regard to how to determine ‘sufficient size.’ The problem? At some point, consumers assume a risk and if they are concerned about the legitimacy of their health care provider, perhaps they should find another one. HB 416 passed the House 151-21.
7. HR 395: (Rep. Gerald Greene)
In an effort to waste as much time and money as possible while documenting more ‘per diem’ days, a study committee was created to evaluate Georgia-Alabama relations to address regional issues. Somewhere, we must have outlawed telephones and emails if this is necessary. Passed 164-2.
6. HB 288: (Rep. Katie Dempsey)
This bill adds two members appointed by the Governor to the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, a council on which he already has 3 appointed members. Why don’t we just repeal the Board and have it directly under his discretion?
This bill passed the House 161-7.
5. HB 3 – (Rep. Barry Fleming)
This bill, revised from it’s original form with a $25,000 fine and a felony charge, now only makes it illegal to enter into a transaction with a student athlete which would damage their eligibility or revoke their scholarship eligibility. These contracts would otherwise be legal and are only prohibited under the regulation of the NCAA. The bill also tips the scales to the person on the other side of the transaction, not the student athlete – providing an unbalanced punishment. This isn’t how contractual agreements should be managed. HB 3 passed 145-27.
4. HB 296 – (Rep. Randy Nix – 69th)
This bill allows children classified as ‘refugees’ under federal law to qualify for ‘special needs’ scholarships if they have ‘limited proficiency’ in English. While this may not seem so bad on the surface, the precedent for classifying ‘limited proficiency in English’ as a special need is a very dangerous precedent – especially with concerns over immigration.
HB 296 passed the House 155-16.
3. HB 310: (Rep. Alan Powell)
Another change from the Office of the Governor is the creation of the Board of Community Supervision and the Department of Community Supervision. In a 119-page explanation of what the bill actually does, the bill includes language to expand executive power to “be liberally construed so that its purposes may be achieved” (huh?!), expands powers formerly held by the Department of Corrections, and creates a new layer of bureaucracy overseen by the executive branch, essentially creating a new police force.
HB 310 passed 164-5.
2. HB 315 – (Rep. Chad Nimmer)
The name change of Georgia’s Technical School System to ‘The Career College System of Georgia.’
Putting the enormous administrative costs and the burden on Technical Colleges to re-brand aside, we are still left with a lack of ‘need’ to actually do this. The technical colleges do not want it and the new name sounds like a headquarters for home economics. Students and employers alike thrive off of the name ‘technology’…an actual buzz word across industries.
This legislation, stemming from the Office of the Governor, seems to be more of a power grab to better position schools within the Board of Regents than anything that will benefit the students or the technical schools. HB 315 passed the House 122-40.
1. HB 170: (Rep. Jay Roberts) – The Transportation Tax
Each point from increasing the motor fuel tax to 29 cents per gallon and the diesel tax to 33 cents per gallon, to including the locals in the mess when they aren’t properly allocating funds to transportation, is bad news. This is one of Georgia’s largest tax increases in state history. It also raises the hotel/motel tax, which will negatively affect tourism, without substantial explanation or justification. The only positives coming from the bill are the repeal of the Delta tax credit and the electric car tax credit, both of which were addressed in standalone legislation.
A bill that divided not only the House, but also the Republican caucus has low-end estimates of $700 million in tax increases. Representatives from across the state have publicly condemned the action of ‘taxing first’ and assessing later. Supporters of the bill consistently struggle to distinguish between ‘need’ and ‘the end game,’ saying they simply couldn’t get there without taxing despite the overwhelming number of sales and income tax exemptions that could have been repealed. Their closing argument? You should have attended the meetings around the state in 2014. Unfortunately, these meetings were aimed at the ‘Why?’ not the ‘How?’
Not much commentary is appropriate or needed. #EverythingIsAwful. We’ve been told over and over that ‘they’ll fix it in the Senate,’ but that hasn’t exactly worked out well in the past and it isn’t an example of good governing.