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Posted: February 20, 2014 10:00 p.m.

A look at some House bills

Last week the House voted on 11 bills and resolutions in our weather-abbreviated floor time. Several items are worthy of note.

House Bill 645 seeks to standardize and clarify the increasing amounts of insurance business transacted via electronic means. The bill sets standards for providing documentation and information to customers electronically, while making it clear that those customers retain the right of not opting in to electronic notifications (primarily email) if they don’t wish to. While most firms already adhere to these standards, it is important to make sure that everyone is playing by the same rules. The bill passed unanimously.

House Bill 714 addresses a problem affecting our unemployment system. Current, longstanding law governing the system makes it clear that school workers such as cafeteria staff and bus drivers may not draw unemployment during the summer, because there is a clear expectation that they will return to work in the fall. However, in some parts of the state, school systems outsource these jobs to private employers. In these situations, the law denying summertime benefits does not apply. Some of these contract employers have discovered this fact, and have reduced what they are paying their employees, while at the same time encouraging those employees to collect unemployment benefits over the summer. In other words, they are gaming the system. This bill would broaden the definitions in the law so that the loophole is closed, and delay implementation until 2015 so that all affected parties can be properly informed and make changes – be they employers, school systems or workers. The bill also turned out to be our first seriously partisan measure of the session, seeing over an hour’s spirited debate. Opponents maintained that anyone voting for it lacked compassion, and that the solution should be to penalize the employers. Supporters pointed out that this was never the intent for the unemployment system in the first place, that it is inappropriate to have two groups of people doing the same kinds of jobs treated differently by the law, and that the loophole amounts to a specialized subsidy by the rest of the state. I agreed very strongly with the supporters, and the bill passed by an almost perfectly partisan 111-60 vote.

House Bill 877 is a further, more comprehensive step in giving local governments the flexibility to accommodate what are being called personal transportation vehicles (PTV’s). These are golf carts and other similar non-automotive vehicles. The bill would give cities and counties more tools and authority to establish plans, standards and permitting, all with an eye toward more extensive use of PTV’s. Georgia is the leading state in this area, which is perhaps no surprise, given that our state is the home of the three primary manufacturers of such vehicles (we manufacture 90 percent of North America’s supply and 80 percent of the world’s supply). This trend also makes sense in terms of convenience, efficiency and reduced pollution, so I was pleased to support the bill. It passed 165-1.

Now, for a new bill of interest. House referendum 1087 is another idea aimed at dealing with an old and very frustrating problem with state government. The problem is one in which fees dedicated to a certain purpose according to law (the old tire disposal fee, for example) often end up being diverted to the general fund and used for other purposes. This happens because the state legislature can always change previous regular laws. This resolution proposes an amendment to the state constitution that would create a special category of law to be used for dedicating special fees to their intended purpose. Such laws would require a two-thirds majority vote for passage in both chambers of the legislature, and their intent could only be altered, for a maximum temporary period of two years, if the state were in a circumstance of financial emergency, declared by the governor, and would again require two-thirds majority votes in both chambers. I’ll be curious to see if this measure makes any progress, as this problem certainly does need to be solved.

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

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