The papers went flying and the confetti showered on the Chamber as the gavel promptly fell at midnight on Thursday, signifying the conclusion of the 2016 legislative session.
We worked right up until midnight Tuesday and Thursday spending every available moment to debate legislation. This week alone, we passed over 80 bills. To put that number in perspective the Senate has introduced 441 bills for the current biennium.
One of the many pieces of legislation that passed through the Senate and worked its way through the House was a bill I sponsored to reestablish the Board of Commissioners of Newton County. Senate Bill 423 was passed by the Senate earlier this month and passed the House this week. The Senate agreed to minor changes to the bill on Thursday and it now sits on the Governor’s desk.
We passed several bills which would benefit our state’s high school students, as well as National Guard members seeking higher education. We passed HB 959 which reforms our state’s education system by exempting students enrolled in dual-enrollment programs with universities or in Advanced Placement courses from taking an End of Course Test in that specific subject matter. This is done in an effort to remove duplicate testing from the curriculum and to encourage students to challenge themselves academically by taking these more specialized courses. Another measure passed was HB 879 which rewards high achieving high school students by creating a special seal for the high school diplomas’ for those who demonstrate proficiency in language in addition to English. Students can qualify based on their GPA or performance on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate testing in the foreign language.
We have extended educational support to Georgia’s men and women in uniform by passing House Bill 1072. This bill allows active members of the Georgia National Guard to be eligible to receive service cancellable educational loans, as long as they are currently receiving HOPE scholarship funds. This bill will make it easier for those who serve our country to obtain a higher education.
We also passed legislation furthering the Second Amendment rights of Georgians. HB 1060 clarifies regulations relating to gun possession, licensing and immunity. The bill adds to the definitions of gun possession in a place of worship, school safety zones and law enforcement. The bill would also allow the state of Georgia to recognize an out-of-state carry license for 90 days and restricts financial discrimination against firearm dealers. A separate measure, HB 792, would allow students over the age of 18 and currently enrolled in a public college or university to carry a Taser or stun gun on school property for the purposes of self-defense.
When a bill passes out of the Senate and goes to the House for consideration, there is a possibility that changes will be made to the bill. If any changes are made, the bill must come back to the Senate for approval. If the Senate does not agree to the changes and House does not change their position, a conference committee is created to iron out the details and come to an arrangement that both chambers can agree on. This is what happened with Senate Bill 199, a bill I sponsored that adjusts some of the guidelines and definitions involving displaying campaign material at or near a polling location.
During the conference committee for SB 199, the members decided to add language from HB 980, HB 772 and HB 73. The language added for HB 980 changes qualifying dates for municipal nonpartisan elections from the last Monday in August to the third Monday in August. It also specifies what to do if no one qualifies for candidacy. Current law provides that early voting is to be conducted on during normal business hours on weekdays and on the second Saturday before a primary or general election. The language from HB 772 specifies what to do in the event that a legal or public holiday falls on the second Saturday, or on the Thursday or Friday before or the Sunday or Monday following the second Saturday. HB 73 establishes residency requirements for candidates seeking a city or county office. The conference committee report for HB 199 was adopted by the Senate in the late hours of day 40.
Other important bills passed this week include:
House Bill 216 would allow firefighters diagnosed with cancer caused by their work as a firefighter to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
House Bill 798 allows students who did not graduate from an eligible high school or home study program to receive the scholarships by meeting minimum standardized testing scores and other academic requirements.
House Bill 802 would raise the amount married joint filers can deduct for contributions to a 529 college savings plan. This bill would raise the limit from $2,000 per beneficiary to $4,000.
House Bill 690 would allow law enforcement officers to earn five years of creditable service towards their retirement for prior work as an employee of a local government. The bill provides requirements for this service to count including being a member of the Employees’ Retirement System for at least 10 years and holding a position with the authority to enforce laws.
While the session may be over, I still hope to continue the communication with my community that has served me so well over these last few months. It continues to be an honor to be your senator and I thank you all for your continued support. If I can ever be of service, my office can still be contacted even when we’re not in session. Once again, I want to express my sincere gratitude for the support I have received from District 17 and am humbled to represent you at the state Capitol.
Sen. Rick Jeffares serves as Chairman of the Regulated Industries Committee. He represents the 17th Senate District which includes portions of Henry, Rockdale and Newton counties. He may be reached by phone at 404.463.1376 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.