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House votes on 12 bills and resolutions
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Last week in the House the focus on committee work continued. A few more items made it to the floor for consideration, and we voted on 12 bills and resolutions. All concerned fairly minor topics; a couple are of some interest.

HB 809 addresses a source of fraud against small and medium-sized businesses. Such businesses are being targeted with what are called "demand letters", in which they are accused of infringing on a patent, and told that they must either pay a license fee or be taken to court.

Fearing the expense of litigation, many targeted firms simply comply by sending a check. The fraud lies in the fact that the individual or firm sending a letter has made a baseless accusation, and may not even own the patent in question. This bill seeks to combat the problem by providing clearer links of these crimes to violations of existing law, and by establishing methods of recourse and restitution for victims. The bill passed unanimously.

HB 824 seeks to correct a problem with law governing state chartered banks and credit unions. A recent court decision established a precedent that transaction and service fees collected by such firms (for example, a stop payment fee) could be interpreted as interest. This doesn’t make sense from a business perspective, and is also out of step with federal law governing federally chartered institutions. The decision created an unfairly tilted playing field between the two types of banks. This bill solves the problem by reestablishing our state standard as the same as the federal one. It passed unanimously.

Now on to some new bills of interest. HB 749 is intended to combat a growing variety of crime known as "cargo theft". Apparently, criminal groups are targeting commercial cargo on the roads and rails in Georgia and certain other states, because jurisdictional concerns can essentially allow such thefts to fall through the cracks, and receive punishments that amount to the proverbial slap on the wrist. While this is a grave concern in the first place, Georgia’s role as a national and international commercial hub makes this problem a direct threat to prosperity. The bill would establish cargo theft as a specific offense, with increasingly severe penalties based on the value of goods stolen and whether they were controlled substances (drugs).

HB 760 would grant a restricted subpoena power to committees of the state House and Senate. It would allow committees, by majority vote, to issue a request for a subpoena of top managers of state agencies or departments (or for materials from those departments) to the presiding judge of the Superior Court of Fulton County. The judge would have discretion to grant or deny the request, based on his or her review of the situation. Currently, the House and Senate Ethics Committees have subpoena power. The author feels that other committees should have this power for circumstances where some arm of the state government is being uncooperative.

HB 762 would require an extra measure of caution by motorists passing a garbage truck with flashing lights, or whose workers are active around the truck. The motorist would need to shift to another lane, if available, or otherwise reduce speed. This would be similar to the standard that applies when passing an accident or emergency vehicle.

HB 785 seeks to create a self-employment training program available to those who are eligible for unemployment benefits.

Participants would be allowed to pursue training, paid for with funds they would otherwise have received as unemployment payments. The goal would be to prepare these individuals to start their own businesses, with allowable training being directed at entrepreneurship, business counseling and technical assistance.

Those wishing to be involved in the program would have to meet certain requirements, and the program would be limited to no more than 5 percent of people on the unemployment rolls (likely as a means of making this a "test" version of the program).

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