Legislative Update — End of Session, 2014

On Thursday, March 20th, the 2014 legislative session came to an end when the House and Senate completed the 40th and final legislative day.  This last day of session is known as “Sine Die,” a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting.”  Being the final day of the legislative session, we worked late into the night to ensure the passage of important legislation related to issues like education, criminal justice and public safety.  There are several key legislative accomplishments that I want to bring to your attention.

One of the most important bills we passed this session was House Bill 744, which establishes the state budget for Fiscal Year 2015. As the only piece of legislation that we are constitutionally required to pass, the Fiscal Year 2015 budget will guide all state spending from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. Totaling $20.8 billion in state funds, the final version of this budget includes many of Governor Deal’s original budget recommendations like increased funding for education.  In fact, one of the most noteworthy features of the budget is a $314.3 million increase to Quality Basic Education (QBE), which will provide local school systems with the flexibility to eliminate teacher furlough days, increase instructional days and increase teacher salaries.  Increased funding was also designated for higher education, including $7.2 million for the creation of a new Zell Miller Grant for technical college students.

In addition to carrying through Governor Deal’s recommendations, my colleagues and I in the House also added additional priorities for the state budget, including $460,816 to increase the clothing allowance for foster care children by $100 per child.  Other additions to the budget began in conference committee between the Senate and House, including $1.5 million in funding for Meals on Wheels and senior center nutrition programs. Lastly, funding was added to launch enhanced services through our network of public health offices for training providers to recognize and correctly diagnose autism for early intervention. The nearly half a million that is appropriated in the budget shows a strategic, grassroots beginning to address what has become one of the most chronic health condition in children, affecting an estimated one out of every 88 children in the nation.

Also passed during our last week of session was Senate Bill 365, which is a continuation of a multi-year criminal justice reform effort in Georgia.  Similar to past years’ legislation, SB 365 includes several measures to help non-violent, first time offenders get back on their feet and become law abiding, working citizens.  One measure of this bill provides judges with the flexibility to issue limited driving permits to certain offenders for the purpose of attending court-ordered required programs, seeking employment, or going to work. Another measure in SB 365 calls for non-violent offenders to complete a Treatment Completion Certificate program, and would also require review hearings for juvenile offenders who are placed into foster care. The bill also provides improved liability protection to employers who hire former offenders who have successfully completed Department of Corrections pre-release programs. These programs will make offenders more marketable to employers, so that they are better prepared to make the transition to a productive life outside of prison.

Senate Bill 386 was also passed by the House last week in an effort to safeguard the citizens of Georgia.  SB 386 protects the identity and privacy of those who enter Georgia’s court system by prohibiting social security numbers, taxpayer identification numbers, and financial account numbers from being disclosed in court documents.  Senate Bill 386 clarifies that where Social Security numbers, taxpayer identification numbers, and/or financial account numbers are included, only the last four digits of any such number may be included in the filing.  If birthdates are included, only the year of an individual’s birth may be included, and if a minor is identified, only the initials of the minor may be included. Identity theft is an ever-growing problem so it is important that Georgians’ personal information is kept secure; SB 386 ensures that this information is kept private.

While safeguarding our citizens is important, we always strive to enact policies to protect our children as well and last week was no exception.  SB 358 received final passage by the House during the last week of session and will go to Governor Deal’s desk for his signature.  SB 358 would expand who can file a missing child report with the Missing Children Information Center to include individuals and institutions that are responsible for the care of foster children.  The Missing Children Information Center is responsible for filing all missing children reports submitted by local law enforcement agencies. However, the current code does not specify that a report can be filed by a foster parent or foster care agency.  Senate Bill 358 would allow a caretaker, governmental unit responsible for the child, or other person with legal custody of the child to file a missing child report. SB 358 ensures that the necessary steps are taken and the appropriate individuals are notified in the event that a foster child is missing.

Last week the House also gave final passage to Senate Resolution 415.   SR 415 calls for a state constitutional amendment that would cap the maximum rate for income tax that can be imposed in our state. SR 415 would prohibit any increase in the state’s 6 percent income tax. Before being adopted into the state’s constitution, a referendum will be called so that citizens can vote on the measure.  The citizens of Georgia will now have the chance to decide and weigh in at the polls in November on this issue that will affect our entire state.

Now that each of these bills has passed the Georgia General Assembly, they have gone to Governor Deal for consideration.  As stipulated in our state constitution, the governor has 40 days to sign or veto the legislation.  This means that any bill or resolution that the governor has not vetoed by Tuesday, April 29, 2014, will become state law.

With the future of these bills in the hands of the governor, the General Assembly’s 2014 legislative session has adjourned sine die. Although session is over, I hope that you will continue to contact me to express your ideas and opinions.  I am always happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have regarding legislation. I will be spending a lot more time in the district now, so feel free to contact me by phone or via my website. Or, if you reside within District 19, and have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Lauren Talley in State Representative Paulette Rakestraw Braddock’s Office, 404-656-0177.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

Best regards,

Rep. Paulette Rakestraw