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March 27 – 1:00 p.m. - Senate Plows Through Long List of Bills on Second to Last Day of General Assembly

By Lou Phelps, Coastal Empire News

March 27, 2018 – 1:00 p.m. - The Georgia General Session is currently in its second to last day session with a number of bills and funding initiatives that affect Savannah on the line, including legislation carried by members of the Chatham County delegation.

Senator Ben Watson said that he is following a number of bills closely, including SB 403, that will determine the State of Georgia’s direction on voting machines.

Neither the Governor’s 2019 budget, not the 2018 Amended Budget have been approved yet, either. Both have significant funds for Savannah, including money sought for the Harbor deepening, engineering work at the trade center for possible expansion of that facility, and money to renovate Herty Hall at Savannah State University.

SB 363 is set to come up, opposed by Democrats, that would limit early voting days, allowing a county to run early voting on only one Saturday or Sunday for each election. There has been a Democratic ‘turn out the vote’ effort for a number of years to help black voters get to the polls known as “souls to the polls,” when black churches insure that its members have a ride to the polls to vote.  But, it is also viewed as a ‘workers’ bill, as many people in Georgia work six days a week, making voting difficult.  Weekend voting flexibility helps voter turnout percentages, it has been found.  

The controversial HB 624 is on today’s calendar that would increase the lifetime pensions of all State Reps and State Senators.

And, HB 787, that would change funding for Charter Schools and increase their accountability, is also scheduled for a vote.

In the Senate’s morning session, that ended at 1:00 p.m., the Senate engrossed 24 bills, over the objections of a number of Democrats. Many of bills were regarding taxation, including HB 238, HB332, HB 697, HB 59, HB 827, HB 871, HB 973, HB 929, HB 658, and HB 357. The motion to engross passed by a vote of 37-15.

Also engrossed were HB 61, HB 811, HB 749, HB 723, HB 849, HB 664, HB 827, HB 191, HB 729, HB 999, and HB 657. 

“We’re engrossing over 24 bills so they can’t be improved or worked on today; it’s not just tax bills.  These include two gun bills, bills that were put in at the last moment that we’ve had no opportunity to discuss. A bill to address bump stocks, didn’t get a hearing, and others” said the Senate Minority Leader.  “At least allow us to discuss it,” he added.  But, the second group of bills were engrossed by a vote of 34 – 18.

HB 815 passed Tuesday, creating specialty license plates to recognize the Masonic Temple, carried by Sen. John Alpers, creates a license plate for the Georgia Masonic Charities, with $10 to go to the children’s home in Macon supported by Georgia’s Masons. 54-0

HB 834, as amended, passed 54 – 0 creating the ability of a victim of family violence to be able to end a lease or rental agreement, clarifying landlord/tenant procedures in ending a lease, where there has been a civil or criminal order in a domestic violence case.  “The victim can give the landlord 14-days notice so that he or she can move, and take their family to a safer location,” explained Sen. Jesse Stone, who carried the bill in the Senate.

HB 818, carried by Sen. Jeff Mullis, requires insurance companies to be required to send payments by various methods to healthcare providers, as they agree to accept, versus being forced to only agree to be paid by virtual credit cards. The bill states that healthcare providers can required to be paid by check, for example, versus the insurance company stating that they will only send payments by virtual credit cards, which carry a fee charged to the medical provider – thereby increasing their operating costs and reducing their profits.  Enforcement would be overseen by the Dept. of Community Health.

Sen. Michael Williams rose to speak for the bill, saying said that the number one issue he has learned that matters in his role as a State Senator is money. “We pass laws and we make people give this state money, and then we spend it, but do we really know where this money goes?”  He used his support of the bill, however, to report on a recent audit of various State of Georgia departments for 2016 and 2017, that identified “significant deficiencies,” he said, including the Dept. of Community Health. The bill was also stated to be “business friendly.”  The bill passed 49 – 0 .

HB 301 – Creates an income tax credit for preceptors – those teaching licensed healthcare providers - carried in the senate by Sen Renee Unterman, as amended.  There is a five-year sunset on the bill, a process being done in many states, where legislatures agree to look at all tax bills every five years, for example.  

Sen. Williams rose again to speak in favor of the bill, but used his remarks to again read from the findings of recent audits of state departments.  “This bill is so that nurses can come out from underneath the ineptness that the Secretary of State has had over the past umpteenth years,” he said.  “In 2016, they audited the Secretary of State’s office – five or six audits – underscoring why these nurses need to get out from underneath Secretary of State’s office.  The SOS did not adhere to relevant requirements to document funds,” he said.  The bill passed 49 – 3.

HB 808 – passed 54 – 0.

HR 1103 – Authorizes conveyance of state owned real property, including in Chatham County, by the State Properties Commission, including two large parcels in Fulton County that is owned in part by the City of Atlanta, up to 1,500 ft. and above that is owned by the State of Georgia.  The bill affected 15 acres of air rights above a 20-acre parcel, and a sale of five acres in what is known as “the gulch” area. An Atlanta area Senator rose to speak against the bill, saying that one of the parcels “really makes sense for that for Atlanta, that Marta needs for an intermodal facility. These two critical pieces of property that will be tied up for 20 years, and the other that would be sold.  It passed 52 – 1.

The senate broke for lunch at 1:00 p.m. until 2:15 p.m., for the arrival of Gov. Zell Miller’s body that was transported from a church service to the State Capital, where he will lay in state through Wednesday. The Senators went to Washington Street steps of the Capital to receive his body.


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