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Ethics, budget marked session
Officials also note other measures
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Forsyth County News

After 40 days, the 2013 Georgia General Assembly ended with the approval of a state budget and a measure reforming ethics, while guns still can’t be carried into churches and college campuses.

The legislative session wound down without much drama and with “fewer fireworks” than years past, said Charles Bullock, professor of legislative and Southern politics at the University of Georgia.

“As we traditionally have seen, the governor got most, if not everything that he wanted,” Bullock said.

That included ethics reform. The measure, House Bill 142, caps each gift to legislators from lobbyists at $75. It’s not as strong as the proposal supported by a majority of Georgia voters, but it’s a step in the right direction, Bullock said.

“They at least symbolically have something there so that legislators can tell folks back home that ... we passed an ethics bill and it’s going to change the landscape, to some extent,” he said.

“The reformers aren’t going to be happy. They’re going to say it hasn’t gone far enough.”

While some issues appeared to be in the spotlight this session, several bills now awaiting the governor’s signature flew under the radar.

For example, ignition interlock devices are in the future for those convicted of a second driving under the influence charge.

Other bills would: Allow gated senior living facilities with more than 100 residents to establish a voting precinct at the facility; create a special license plate for the Atlanta Braves Foundation; and require health insurance companies to include on their statements any rate increases that resulted from the Affordable Care Act.

But for all the bills that passed, there were plenty that didn’t, including controversial House Bill 512, which would have removed limits on where licensed gun owners could carry their weapons, including certain government buildings, bars and places of worship.

Many of the bills likely will be picked up again during the 2014 session.

“Lots of individuals have legislation,” Bullock said. “You can only get a certain number of items on the calendar. You’re sitting there chewing your nails hoping yours does get called up at 11:30 p.m. or 11:45 p.m.

“I’m sure there are some legislators that said, ‘Man, if we had another 15 minutes, I’d have gotten this particular bill.’ But it’s probably something that wasn’t of great statewide significance. It might have been quite important to them, their own political career or their district, but that’s the way it usually is. The curtain comes down before everyone manages to get his or her bill through.”

Not all legislation received attention

Beyond the budget, ethics and guns, members of Forsyth County’s seven-member state legislative delegation, all Republicans, were asked to share their thoughts on a significant piece of legislation from the session about which not many residents may be aware.

District 27 Sen. Jack Murphy

House Bill 188 — “Allows the veterans, if they’re in service and they have the equivalent of what Georgia requires or better, then they would make an application and show their experience to a board ... that would take a look at application and see if that person qualifies to be licensed in the state of Georgia without testing.

“Now it’s a veterans’ benefit bill and with all of the veterans that are now coming back from Afghanistan and other places around the world, and us downsizing most of the military, we need to fast forward as much as we can in getting these veterans into some capable jobs.

“These would be electricians, plumbers, HVAC people and jobs such as that — jobs where they have to be licensed — and they would have to meet or exceed Georgia’s requirements. This is a work force development bill, as well as a bill that’s benefiting veterans.

“I think it gives veterans an opportunity to fast track into getting out of service and getting a job that’s going to put them to work without them being on the unemployment rolls.”

District 51 Sen. Steve Gooch

House Bill 487 — “If you go to a lot of convenience stores around the communities, you’ll see a lot of video games in the back rooms and in some areas, there is some illegal gambling going on.

“So one measure that we passed was to bring the video gaming industry under the control of the Georgia Lottery Corporation and they will use their enforcement officers to go out and enforce that and make sure their games are in compliance with state law and that there’s no illegal gambling operations going on and that there’ll be some proceeds taken from those games that will go toward the HOPE scholarship — 10 percent of proceeds … the ones that are illegally operated will be shut down and they’ll be prosecuted.

“The Georgia Lottery enforcement officers will go out and verify machines once a year ... they’ll monitor the use of those games and they’ll know if they’re being used illegally or not for cash payouts. That’s a pretty big crackdown on a problem that we know we have across the state.”

District 9 Rep. Kevin Tanner

House Resolution 502 — “Basically [it] would allow the governor, the speaker of the house and the lieutenant governor to appoint a commission to study our mental health system in the state of Georgia … They would meet between the time they were appointed until the end of the year working hand in hand with the Department of Behavioral Health in revamping our mental health system in the state.

“So many times we hear of an incident where there’s been a mass or spree shooting, we hear from neighbors and friends of the person that say, ‘We knew there was an issue, but we just couldn’t do anything.’ And we’ve got to identify ways to revamp our mental health access here in the state and I’m excited to be involved in that, primarily for those who suffer from and need assistance in that area, but also to improve the safety in that area for our citizens.

“So I think it’s something we’ll hear more about as we move forward throughout the year ... and I would anticipate next year, there will be legislation moving forward on that issue. So that’s something that probably hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but that’s something I think is important to the state.”

District 22 Rep. Calvin Hill

House Bill 80 — “Bringing common sense back to the license tag process. Previously, if you sold a vehicle to another person — a casual sale — the car was valued at whatever the book value was, which was the higher of either an approved book value, which is an established manual, or the actual sale.

“Many times, cars were way undervalued, especially in casual sales, where it may be a car to fix up ... so the value might be below 50 percent of what a book value might be and there was no real way to account for that.

“So now the local tax person has the ability to use common sense, something very rare in government, and really look at the value, so a person could appeal the value and the county tax assessor can look at it and ... change the valuation and therefor the ad valorem taxes based on that and I think that’s a really good thing. Because I know personally I’ve had a lot of complaints from people.”

District 24 Rep. Mark Hamilton

Senate Bill 168 — “In many sealed bid situations, both the state and local governments say that the business cannot quote on a piece of business that is larger than their largest bid ever. What we’re saying to businesses is we don’t want you to grow. So we changed that so that … a bidder cannot be disqualified or eliminated from the bid process if they meet all three criteria.

“It has to be within 30 percent larger than their largest contract, they have to be able to provide a surety bond for the entire project and they have to be able to demonstrate or show that the work that they’re performing, that they’ve had similar experience ... the point was if they can do those three things, then there’s no reason they should be disqualified or eliminated from the bid process.

“We’re going to open up more competition in the bid process, which hopefully will mean a better and more efficient bidding process and an ultimate contract that saves taxpayer dollars and creates a better job creation environment because you have more people bidding on that business.”

District 25 Rep. Mike Dudgeon

House Bill 78 — “It’s basically tightening the laws around the people who abuse the elderly, especially at a nursing home or other sort of care setting .

“You have people who exploit the seniors to get their money or resources or, in worst case and very unusual cases, sexual exploitation type things … this law just tightens up the definitions of abuse so that it’s easier to prosecute those that are preying on the elderly.

“That’s a good thing to do and so it was a bipartisan bill that passed almost unanimously ... these are the kinds of things where you get complaints from the district attorney’s office and so forth that they have some bad situations, but are having a difficulty prosecuting even though everybody knows that it’s a problem, so sometimes you’ve got to clean up laws so that it becomes clear.

“We did a similar thing with a human sex trafficking law last year that just sort of tightened up the language to give the district attorneys the tools to be able to prosecute these kinds of things.”

District 26 Rep. Geoff Duncan

Senate Bill 136 — “It lowered the [boating under the influence] rate to .08 and in addition it increased the age of kids that needed to wear life vests to 12 and under.

“I thought that it’s such a responsible piece of legislation that came forward for our community because of the tragedies that we’ve seen happen on [Lake Lanier] in recent years that almost always seemed to have had an alcohol component built into the storyline. And our drivers are held to a .08 limit so our boaters should be too.

“The life vest part is very interesting to me because … an exponentially higher rate of fatalities are happening with kids that are 11 and 12 years old and currently the law does not require them to have life vests on. And the Department of Natural Resources’ explanation to us is that these 11-and-12-year-old kids are much more active on the boating surfaces … so when something happens, either some sort of a sudden stop or turn, these kids are exiting the boat platform and the unfortunate part is they’re often hitting their heads on their way out of the boat.

“What goes from a very bad situation, which a life vest keeps them afloat, they’re now under the water, and so this bill allows us to better protect [them].”