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New year brings new laws
One measure deals with lobbyists, ethics
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Forsyth County News

Among the new state laws taking effect today is House Bill 142, which sets limits on how much money lobbyists can spend attempting to influence legislation in Georgia.

The measure was a direct result of non-binding state ballot questions, where the majority of both Democrat and Republican voters wanted to see tighter rules on ethics.

The resulting legislation includes provisions relating to lawmakers’ campaign disclosure reports, public office filings, lobbyist registration requirements and spending caps.

While it unanimously passed in both the state House of Representatives and Senate, District 24 state Rep. Mark Hamilton said there are some questions that need clarification.

“There are some things that are pretty specific and clear, and there are some that are a little grayer,” he said.

Clarification likely will come through the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, either by making rules, or through rulings on violations to the law, which would set precedent for future violations.

Hamilton said while he plans to “continue to do things as I always have,” he’s going to be just a little more cautious as the rules become clearer.

“My biggest concern is for the ‘gotcha’ moment,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything we’ve done in the past we need to necessarily be concerned with, other than the $75 cap on meals and that type of thing. And those are pretty straight forward.”

Another measure, House Bill 479, deals specifically with Forsyth County. It essentially changes the way compensation for local school board members is calculated.

The board chair will receive $750 a month and the other four members will each get $700.

Board member Ann Crow said the money works out about the same, it’s just a monthly salary instead of having to log meetings and events.

“We had to put down every meeting and that’s how the salary was actually figured,” she said. “So the gross amount is the same, it’s just saving time and money in how it was handled in the accounting offices at the school system. It’s actually just a simplification.”

Another new law impacts Georgia’s 6,000 child care facilities, where all employees hired on or after today must undergo national fingerprint-based background checks. Current employees must all be checked by 2017 under the measure.

Bobby Cagle, commissioner of Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, said in a statement that he expects “around 20,000 of the 60,000 child care employees in Georgia to have background checks in the first year.”

“With a 30 percent turnover rate in the child care industry each year, we anticipate having everyone checked by 2017,” he said.

The law received overwhelming support, with 154 state representatives supporting the measure, and just 18 dissenting. Among those with a “nay” vote was District 25 Rep. Mike Dudgeon of south Forsyth.

Dudgeon said he agreed with most of the bill, but “there were some details I felt were too burdensome on the centers.”

“In the past few years in the General Assembly, there have been multiple bills expanding fingerprint requirements and I thought the specific language here a bit too burdensome,” he said.

District 26 state Rep. Geoff Duncan of Forsyth County also voted against the measure. While the bill looked positive on the surface, he said it forces centers to pay for “what is essentially an unfunded mandate.

“In my opinion, the best free-markets approach to this issue is for business owners to decide if they want to require the fingerprint checks and then promote this service to both its current and potential clients as a means to separate itself from the competition,” he said.

“As a father of three boys, I understand that the safety of my children is paramount, but I don't think that safety can truly be obtained through additional layers of bureaucracy.”

State laws aren’t the only ones going into effect this month, as there are also some new federal laws, particularly with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

The bill phased out 100-watt incandescent bulbs in 2012, and 75-watt incandescent bulbs last year.

Beginning in 2014, production on the more popular 40-watt and 60-watt bulbs will cease. Stores can sell what supply of the bulbs remains, though that likely will be in short supply.

The law was designed to encourage more energy-efficient options that use 25 to 30 percent less energy. By 2020, bulbs must be up to 70 percent more efficient, a requirement some already meet.