2018 Georgia General Assembly Session — Week Four Update

We returned to the Gold Dome on Monday, January 29 for the fourth week of the 2018 legislative session. This week, House committees continued to hold hearings to review and discuss bill proposals, and the House convened Monday through Thursday to take up important issues and pass meaningful legislation for the good of every Georgian.

Arguably the biggest news of the week was the House’s unanimous passage of House Bill 159, legislation that would completely overhaul Georgia’s current adoption laws. This bill, which also passed the House unanimously during the 2017 legislative session, has since been a top priority to me and my House colleagues. In a previous update, I wrote to tell you that the Senate passed their version of the adoption bill and made several changes to the original House version of the legislation. This week, the House collaborated with the Senate and the governor’s office to reach a compromise on HB 159, and after much deliberation, the House approved several of the Senate’s amendments and made a few additional changes to the legislation.

Among the major changes, the newest version of the adoption bill would update Georgia’s revocation period from a 10 days to four days. In Georgia, birth mothers currently have 10 days to revoke the surrender of their child. This 10-day revocation period is one of most rigorous revocation policies in the nation, and the new version of HB 159 seeks to strike the right balance between the rights of birth mother and the adoptive parents by shortening this revocation period. Additionally, the House version of the adoption bill would allow birth mothers to receive reasonable living expenses in both private and agency adoptions. Under current law, only birth mothers in agency adoptions are allowed reasonable living expenses, but this change would create a level playing field and give all birth mothers equal access to reasonable living expenses, regardless of which type of adoption they go through. This is the law in most states in the country. Lastly, the bill includes several safeguards on temporary powers of attorney. The updated adoption bill is now back in the Senate, and I look forward to the Senate’s swift action in passing the adoption bill and sending this crucial measure to Governor Nathan Deal’s desk for final approval.

The House also took up several other pieces of important legislation this week. One such measure was House Bill 661, which passed unanimously in our chamber and would change the process for filing and removing tax liens against real estate. HB 661 would update legislation that Gov. Deal signed into Georgia law last year, which created a more efficient and transparent method for filing tax liens with the Department of Revenue. HB 661 would keep the efficiencies of the original legislation, but would simply remove the current provision regarding statewide liens and revert back to county specific liens. This bill would also require every tax lien against realty to be filed with the superior court clerk in the county where the real estate is located. HB 661 would not only simplify the process for filing and removing tax liens, but it would also increase transparency for taxpayers by moving the Department of Revenue’s process to electronic-based transactions and away from paper-based transactions.

The House passed another measure this week aimed at modifying portions of Georgia’s tax laws. House Bill 694 passed unanimously and would update the way motor fuel distributors and wholesalers submit their monthly motor fuel tax reports to the Department of Revenue. Current law requires motor fuel distributers to file these reports electronically if they owe the department $500 or more, but the new measure would require all monthly reports to be submitted electronically, regardless of the distributor’s tax liability. This measure would modernize and streamline the filing process for our state’s oil distributors.

Also this week, the House passed a measure to provide more law enforcement officers with important state retirement benefits. House Bill 135 would expand the term “law enforcement officer” to include Department of Driver Services (DDS) investigators. Under HB 135, these investigators would qualify to receive up to an additional five years of creditable service in the state’s Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) for prior law enforcement service. DDS investigators would only be eligible for this benefit if they are not receiving retirement benefits from a local government for that same service and if they have been a member of the retirement system for at least ten years. The governor signed a measure into law in 2016 that allowed all other law enforcement officers to obtain creditable service through the ERS, but the measure inadvertently omitted 16 investigators employed by DDS. HB 135 would correct this oversight by ensuring that those officers who are investigating fraudulent licenses are eligible to receive creditable retirement benefits.

Lastly, my House colleagues and I passed a measure this week in support of Georgia’s official state insect, the honey bee. House Bill 671, which passed unanimously, would create a specialty license plate to promote the conservation and protection of the honey bee, and the license plate would display an image of a honey bee and include the phrase “Save the Honey Bee.” These license plates would be available for purchase, and all proceeds collected from the license plate sales would be distributed to the Georgia Beekeepers Association. These funds would be used to raise awareness about honey bee conservation and would fund and support several associated programs, including beekeeper education and training, prison beekeeping, grants to beekeeping nonprofit organizations and beekeeping research facilities in our state. Georgia is the third largest producer of bees and the tenth largest producer of honey in the nation. The honey bee is absolutely essential in sustaining our state’s ecosystems, and this measure would help to ensure that our state insect and the beekeeping industry are preserved for future Georgians.

We are well into the 2018 session, and on Monday, February 5, the General Assembly will reconvene for legislative Day 15 and legislative week five. My colleagues and I will be busier day by day as we get closer to legislative Day 28, or “Cross Over Day,” so we will be hard at work next week reviewing bill proposals in our respective committees and taking up legislation in the House chamber. As we continue to progress through the session, I encourage you to contact me to discuss your thoughts and opinions. I greatly value any feedback I receive from my constituents, and your input truly helps guide the decisions I make under the Gold Dome. My Capitol office number is 404-656-0178, and my email address is paulette.rakestraw@house.ga.gov. Please contact me or my assistant, Kayla Bancroft, anytime.