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Posted: January 25, 2014 10:00 p.m.

A view from the House

Budget tweaked; bill would speed some criminal apprehensions

During the second week of the legislative session, the House focused its efforts on budget work as part of the emphasis on an expedited session. Initial, informational hearings on the state’s finances, which normally don’t start until the second week of the session, were completed last week. Thus the nitty-gritty of appropriations work was already underway, somewhat to the exclusion of other legislating. This allowed the House to compose and consider the first component of our budget work on Friday. This was the "little" budget, as the update to the current fiscal year budget is known.

These updates are necessary halfway through a fiscal year primarily because enrollment numbers in education and health- related programs have grown. This year is no exception. With the economy slowly improving, roughly $300 million in additional revenues is available, which is a bit more than the enrollment increases call for. Otherwise the bill makes fairly minor adjustments in several areas, simply to reflect minor trends of the past six months, or for other practical reasons. It saw, as is customary, over an hour for presentation, followed by a question-and-answer time.

Some in the press have leveled the charge that early passage amounted to an abdication of responsibility. I find that charge excessive, given that budget adjustment bills are not about changes of policy, and reflect adjustment numbers whose trends are fairly obvious even a month or two in advance. The combination of advancing the budget hearings and temporarily restraining attention on other legislative themes makes a very adequate explanation for early passage. I supported the budget, and it passed 163 to 1.

Now I’ll turn to my customary business of discussing interesting new bills and resolutions, as I normally do for the first few weeks of the session. I must include the qualifier that "interesting" doesn’t necessarily mean I support the legislation.

HB 696 seeks to mandate faster apprehension of suspects for certain violent crimes. Specifically, when a warrant is for murder, armed robbery, rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated sexual battery, aggravated child molestation, or child molestation, and the accused has previously been arrested for at least two felony offenses, then the law officer charged with a warrant would be compelled to make a good-faith effort to serve that warrant within 12 hours. The author has offered the bill in response to a real-life situation in which a suspect went on committing other crimes, and could have been apprehended sooner.

HB 699 seeks to provide some flexibility in laws governing the use of electronic devices (phones, tablets, etc.) that can provide location information. The proliferation of devices that can access GPS data has created a greater need for legal guidelines. The bill starts by reinforcing the general requirement that government must obtain a search warrant in order to acquire location data from a privately owned electronic device. Then, however, it goes on to set out some exceptions. A warrant would not be required if: the device in question has been reported stolen; the device is conveying a request for emergency assistance; the owner has provided consent for acquiring the location data; or a life-threatening situation exists. I can certainly see how some of these situations might call for an exception, but I also suspect the bill will need work in committee to refine its language.

HB 712 reflects a concern about federal overreach. It specifically prohibits any arm of the state or a local government from participating in an investigation, prosecution, or detention of a person initiated under the federal National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012, if that action could potentially violate provisions of the federal or state constitutions, or any law of Georgia. Apparently, the NDAA for that year contains provisions, ostensibly intended for the war on terror, that some observers feel are a dangerous extension of federal police powers.

Doug Holt (R-Social Circle) can be reached at 404-656-0152 or Doug@DougHolt.org.

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