2018 Georgia General Assembly — Week Twelve Update

On Tuesday, March 27, we reconvened at the Capitol for the 12th and final week of the 2018 legislative session, and on Thursday, March 29, the House and Senate completed Legislative Day 40 and adjourned Sine Die. Legislative Day 40 is commonly referred to under the Gold Dome as “Sine Die,” a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting.” During this busy week, my colleagues and I worked late into the night to ensure that quality legislation was passed this session to benefit our state and its citizens.

The House kicked off our last week of session by unanimously passing two adjoining bipartisan measures, Senate Bill 127 and Senate Resolution 146, legislation that would acknowledge and protect several specific victims’ rights. SB 127 would provide a process for victims to be heard by the court when the victim’s constitutional rights to participation and information have been denied. Under SB 127, if the victim of a crime makes a written request to the prosecuting attorney to be notified of all proceedings, has provided appropriate contact information and asserts that no notification has been provided, the victim can file a motion to the court to be heard on the matter within 20 days after the claimed violation. Further, SR 146, also known as Marsy’s Law, is the companion legislation to SB 127 and would place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to provide victims explicit rights in Georgia’s Constitution. If the amendment is approved by Georgia voters, our state’s Constitution would grant victims several rights, including: reasonable, accurate and timely notice of any court proceedings or schedule changes involving the alleged crime; reasonable and timely notice of the arrest, release or escape of the accused; inclusion in any court proceedings; the opportunity to be heard in any proceedings involving the release, plea or sentencing of the accused; and to be informed of his or her rights. Most states have already adopted similar constitutional amendments, and if SR 146 is approved by voters, Georgia’s Constitution would be amended to include specific language to protect the rights of crime victims.

In addition to approving Marsy’s Law on Tuesday, the House also passed Senate Bill 154 to hold those in positions of authority accountable for sexual assault by defining sexual assault in the first and second degree. Under SB 154, anyone who engages in sexual contact with a victim under their care or supervision would be guilty of sexual assault in the second degree and would be required to serve a prison sentence of one to five years and fined a maximum of $25,000; however, they would not be required to register as a sex offender unless they are convicted of a second or subsequent offense. Anyone who engages in sexually explicit conduct with a victim under their care or supervision would be guilty of sexual assault in the first degree and would be required to serve a prison sentence of one to 25 years, fined a maximum of $100,000 and must register as a sex offender. Furthermore, SB 154 provides exceptions to these sentencing requirements for offenders who commit sexual assault in either degree if the offender did not have supervisory or disciplinary authority over the victim at the time of the offense or if the victim is younger than 16-years-old; if the victim is between 14 and 16-years-old and the offender is 18-years-old or younger; and if the victim is at least 16-years-old and the offender is younger than 21-years-old. This measure would apply to employees and agents of any school, community supervision office, probation office, law enforcement agency, hospital, correctional facility, juvenile detention facility, disability services facility or child welfare and youth services facility, as well as to psychotherapy counselors and practitioners and employees, agents and volunteers of licensed facilities that provide drug and alcohol treatment, senior living care or hospice services. SB 154 would broaden Georgia law to hold those in positions of trust and authority criminally responsible for taking advantage of and violating Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens.

Over the past several years, the Georgia General Assembly, under the leadership of Governor Nathan Deal, has passed significant criminal justice reform measures that have truly changed lives, and this week, the House unanimously passed the last criminal justice bill under Gov. Deal’s administration. Senate Bill 407 consists of several recommendations from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, and this comprehensive measure notably includes updates to Georgia’s bail system, such as authorizing courts of inquiry to set bail for city ordinance violations; prohibiting courts from imposing excessive bail; requiring courts to only impose conditions reasonably necessary to ensure court attendance and protect public safety; and requiring courts to consider the accused’s financial resources, earnings and other economic factors when determining bail. In cases involving local ordinance violations, the court would be authorized to allow the defendant to satisfy any fines or fees through community service, and courts could waive, modify or convert fines and fees if the court finds that the defendant has a significant financial hardship. Additionally, under SB 407, the Judicial Council of Georgia would develop a uniform misdemeanor citation and complaint form for use by law enforcement officials, and the bill would allow misdemeanors to be prosecuted by accusation, citation or citation and arrest. SB 407 would also expand the list of misdemeanor crimes an officer can arrest by citation, and prior to the offender’s release, the officer would be required to review the accused’s criminal record and ensure the accused’s fingerprints are obtained. Moreover, SB 407 would authorize accountability court judges to order the Department of Driver Services to reinstate or revoke driver’s licenses or limited permits as a reward or sanction for actions in the accountability court, and the court would be permitted to grant petitions for early termination of probation that the state does not oppose within 90 days of receiving the petition. Also, the bill would cap supervision fees collected on pay-only probation at the rate in the private probation company’s contract, and the court would provide probationers who fail to report a 10-day grace period from the time the officer mails a letter to the probationer, as long as the probationer reports. Further, SB 407 includes several provisions regarding firearm theft and those prohibited from possessing a firearm, and the bill would authorize the Department of Community Health to share information on the prescription drug monitoring program database with federal agents and would allow for disclosure to out-of-state prescription drug monitoring programs operated by governmental entities. Finally, SB 407 would allow Technical College System police officers to arrest for offenses committed on or within 500 feet of a Technical College System property. The bill includes several other criminal justice reforms, such as provisions for courts to implement electronic filing and payment systems and protections for first offenders’ records. Gov. Deal’s highly successful criminal justice reforms serve as a model that other states have emulated, and SB 407 is yet another effort to refine and improve Georgia’s criminal justice system for the good of our state’s citizens.

My House colleagues and I also passed a bill this week that would update Georgia’s child support laws to mirror federal regulatory changes that went into effect on Jan. 20, 2017. Under Senate Bill 427, courts would be required to consider an obligor’s, or an individual that owes child support, earnings, income, ability to pay child support and the basic needs of the recipients of such support when making a final determination of child support. Additionally, if a parent fails to produce reliable evidence of their earnings, their income for the current year may be assigned by the court based off the parent’s ability to earn and other economic factors. Furthermore, if the parent is incarcerated, their income may be assigned based off their actual income and assets available, not off their pre-incarceration wages. SB 427 would also prohibit a court from treating incarceration as willful or voluntary unemployment or underemployed when setting a child support amount. Further, SB 427 provides that a child’s enrollment in a public health care program, such as Medicaid or PeachCare for Kids, may satisfy the health care requirement for providing for the child’s health care needs in a child support order; however, such enrollment would not prevent a court from ordering parents to insure their child. This measure would bring Georgia into compliance with new federal child support regulations for the good of our state’s children, as well as their parents.

This week, the House approved of a measure that would help equip Georgia’s students for their professional careers. Senate Bill 401 would require postsecondary institutions that provide dual credit courses to provide enrollment and student record data to the Office of Student Achievement and to the statewide longitudinal data system. In addition, under SB 401, the Office of Student Achievement would collect and monitor enrollment and student record data for dual credit courses and would annually measure and evaluate the dual enrollment program. The bill would also require middle school students to be provided with counseling and information to assist them in evaluating their career orientated aptitudes, and all students would develop a graduation plan with their parents or guardians based on their academic skills, career orientated aptitudes and career interests before the end of eighth grade. Further, beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, guidance, advisement and counseling for high school students would include career oriented aptitude and career interest guidance. SB 401 would also require the Department of Education to review each school counselor’s role, workload and program service delivery in grades six through 12, and the department would report its findings to the State Board of Education and the Georgia General Assembly, including recommendations for counselor improvements to ensure student success in academic skills, career orientated aptitudes and career interests. Lastly, SB 401 includes provisions that would help prepare students in kindergarten through ninth grade to address sexual abuse and assault, as well as allow funding for students taking dual credit courses at eligible postsecondary institutions that utilize nonstandard term systems, such as Georgia Military College. The provisions in this bill would tremendously help our students to explore their strengths, skills and career aptitudes as they move through middle and high school and beyond.

In an effort to expedite statewide deployment of broadband services and other emerging communications technologies, the House passed House Resolution 1698 and Senate Bill 426 this week. HR 1698 urges the House Rural Development Council (RDC), which was established during the 2017 legislative session to examine how to best spur economic growth throughout rural Georgia, to explore ways to streamline and make equitable the use of public rights-of-way while preserving local control of and fair compensation for such rights-of-way. Further, the resolution urges the RDC to examine new pole rates, rentals and pole ownership to level the playing field among current and future communications services providers. In their study of how to best manage public rights-of-way, the resolution encourages the RDC to solicit input from the Georgia Department of Transportation, local governments, communications services providers and other relevant parties. Additionally, SB 426 would authorize electric membership corporations (EMC) to supply and operate broadband services in rural counties with a population of 50,000 or less if the EMC secures a certificate of authority from the Public Service Commission. Access to broadband services and other emerging communications technologies is essential for communities to grow and thrive, and these measures aim to expand to such critical services to every corner of our state, and especially rural Georgia.

Over the past several weeks, I have updated you on the status of various bills as they have moved through the legislative process, and I am proud to announce that on Thursday, March 29, my House colleagues and I gave final passage to two very important bills with significant statewide implications. Senate Bill 402 contains numerous technical changes to facilitate broadband expansion in rural areas. These technical changes include facilitating grant programs for rural broadband and creating a certification process for cities and counties to be designated “Broadband-Ready Communities.” House Bill 930 would create a new regional governance and funding structure for transit in the metropolitan Atlanta region. HB 930 intends to improve the coordination, integration and efficiency of transit in the metropolitan Atlanta region and promote a seamless and high-quality transit system for the 13-county metropolitan Atlanta region. These bills were both major House priorities this session, and I hope that Gov. Deal will favorably consider these bills that will greatly impact the state as a whole for the better

Finally, before we adjourned sine die for the year, the House fulfilled our only legislative responsibility as outlined in Georgia’s Constitution. On Thursday, March 29, we gave final passage to the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY 2019) budget, House Bill 684, by adopting a conference committee report. Amongst many, many important budgetary appropriations, the final FY 2019 budget includes an additional $166.7 million for local school systems, $16 million for school security and $100 million in bonds for transit. These additional education dollars would fully fund Georgia’s Quality Basic Education formula, which provides k-12 school funding, after over a decade of austerity cuts. This final, comprehensive budget would provide for the wide-ranging needs of our state’s and its citizens, and I am proud that the Georgia General Assembly fulfilled its constitutional responsibility by giving final passage to the FY 2019 budget.

Although the Georgia General Assembly has adjourned sine die and the 2018 legislative session has officially come to an end, I hope that you will continue to contact me if you have any questions regarding your state government, potential new state laws or if you have any suggestions for future legislation. Over the next 40 days, Gov. Deal will review and sign or veto measures that received final House and Senate passage this session. Any bill the governor signs will become law, and any legislation not signed or vetoed within this 40-day period will automatically become law as well. My House colleagues and I have worked diligently this session on behalf of our constituents, and we are proud of the legislation we have crafted and passed for the good of our state. While the session is over, I will continue to serve you and your family as our district’s state representative. Please feel free to reach out to me or my assistant, Kayla Bancroft, anytime at Capitol office at 404-656-0178, or by email at paulette.rakestraw@house.ga.gov.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.