Legislative Updates

Provided throughout the legislative session for the Atlanta Jewish Community
By Rusty Paul, Legislative Counsel, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta

Legislative Update
Week Ending February 21, 2020

 

The tension between the House and the Governor’s office stepped up a degree or two this week when the House scrambled many of his proposed cuts and omitted some of his additions when it approved a highly amended supplemental budget.

The supplemental – or mid-term adjustment – is the first of two budgets the legislature passes each session.  The supplemental budget makes changes to the current year’s spending plan, but it serves as a precursor to the FY 21 or “big budget” that the House appropriators now take up.

The House restored cuts in public health, mental health, agriculture and the accountability courts designed to help drug offenders find treatment and avoid incarceration.

The $28.1 billion big budget as proposed by the Governor includes $400 million in additional cuts, but includes his promised pay hikes for teachers and state employee earning less than $40,000.  So far, the appropriations disagreements have been largely conducted behind closed doors, avoiding a public war of words; however, both sides make their differences clear in private conversations.

Holocaust Commission – The Senate passed Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick’s bill to house the State Commission on the Holocaust within the university system, transferring it from the Department of Community Services which charged the Commission a $40,000 annual fees to cover administrative costs.

Within the university system, the Commission will be attached to Kennesaw State University which houses a World War II and Holocaust themed museum.   The Governor’s budget placed funds for the Commission within the university budget and this bill simply aligns state law with the budget.

Rep. Deborah Silcox has an identical bill in the House, which is expected to be passed soon.   At some point the two bills will become one.   This is a non-controversial move which should be resolved shortly.

Anti-BDS Legislation – Georgia was among the first states to pass Israeli anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions legislations a few years ago.   A recent lawsuit threatens to undo that statute, so Rep. Debora Silcox introduced a bill this week to fix some of the problems addressed by the lawsuit.

The suit stems from a speaker invited to speak at Georgia Southern University and, to receive the $1,000 honorarium, but she was required to sign an affidavit affirming that she did not engage in BDS activity.   An avid BDS supporter, she filed suit challenging the law on First Amendment grounds, asserting that requirement violates her right to free speech.

Working with the American Jewish Committee and our team, Rep. Silcox’s bill, once introduced, will redraft the anti-BDS law to focus more on corporate activity and sidestep the First Amendment issues raised in the lawsuit.

Non-Profit Protections – SB 373 adds protections to board members of non-profit organizations by extending standards of behavior to these groups that exist for for-profit corporations.  In suits alleging negligence or malfeasance, so long as the board acts in good faith and/or on the advice of competent professional counsel, the board is protected from culpability.

ALEF Tax Credits – Rep. John Carson, sponsor of last year’s legislation raising the amount of Student Scholarship Organization tax credits has now introduced legislation to remove the ten-year cap and make these credits permanent.

Under the current law, SSOs, such as ALEF, must return to the legislature every ten years to persuade the General Assembly to renew the credits. This bill, if successful, would eliminate that requirement.

Prospects for this bill, however, may be difficult in the present environment.  State revenues are flattening, and legislators are worried that too many tax credit programs have failed to deliver on their promised benefits.  Further, the need to cut popular programs in this year’s budget is making legislators wary about further steps that may impact revenues.

HB 230 – State law requires corporations be operated for the optimum benefit of their shareholders, which is typically interpreted as maximizing the business’ profits.  HB 230 creates a new type of business corporation that can be operated to achieve desired social goals.    Authored by Rep. Scott Holcomb, the bill passed the House last year and is also in the Senate Judiciary Committee awaiting action.

HB 421 – A Federation priority is ensuring adequate summer school vacation so students can attend one of the day camps offered.  The current vacation schedule often does not allow enough time for these pupils to participate, so we have joined a coalition of groups pressing for a slightly later start of the fall school so students may attend camps, obtain meaningful summer employment and enjoy other traditional summer vacation activities.  HB 421 by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) would require public schools to resume no earlier than the second full week of August.   It is currently in the House Education Committee, where is faces strong opposition from public school officials across Georgia.

SB 35 – prohibits sex offenders from residing near their victims or their immediate family.

SB 325 – Extends the statute of limitations for prosecution of crimes related to trafficking persons for labor or sexual servitude.

SB 331 – Criminalizes situations where minors knowingly possess images of naked or nearly naked, suggestively or inappropriately posed children.

HB 855 – requires the State Department of Education to establish criteria for children in foster care to receive special education and related services.

SB 335 – strengthens child protection laws, particularly those involving foster children provides for additional training for foster parent and allows the Department of Human Services to contract with private child placement agencies to assist in casework management to ensure adequate oversight of  families with potentially endangered children.

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