The House again saw only a handful of bills during our third week, but that situation won’t last long, since the committees have begun to pump out a steady stream of new legislation. Our main work was getting out the “little budget,” as the bill to adjust the current, fiscal year 2013 budget is called. This bill makes adjustments to reflect the actual rate at which revenue is coming in, and is also used to alter priorities on some programs. Revenue is off very slightly from projections (by less than 1 percent), so that part of the adjustment was fairly minimal. Nonetheless, K-12 education needed roughly $160 million to handle enrollment growth, and various health care programs (primarily Medicaid) required about $240 million extra, so cuts were necessary to accommodate those changes. The House honored the governor’s request that K-12 education not share in the cuts, so most other areas of the budget saw 2 to 3 percent reductions. No one was surprised to see another tight budget, and thus little comment was made. I supported the bill, and it passed by 145 to 18.
Now I’ll turn to discussion of some interesting new bills. As I mentioned in a previous column, the freshmen have been busy introducing ideas they are eager to pursue. The “old dogs” haven’t been idle either. To date, more than 200 new bills have been launched in the House. As we look at some of them, please remember that while I find a bill interesting enough to report to you, that doesn’t mean I support it. These ideas are often a surprising measure of our times.
HB 1, entitled the Georgia Uniform Civil Forfeiture Procedure Act, looks to be a rewrite of our state’s code governing the confiscation of assets by the authorities. I’m aware that one difficulty of our present law on this topic is that it is scattered in many parts of the state code, making research and review more difficult and expensive than necessary. Thus consolidation and clarification would be laudable goals for the bill, though we will need to see what other objects the authors may have had in this rewrite.
HB 9 would change the age range for mandatory school attendance from 6–16 to 5–17. While this seems a simple change on the surface, it would have far reaching ramifications. As with many education initiatives, this bill will likely spark some intense debate.
HB 21 seeks to create “post-adoption contracts,” in which adopting parents, the child’s birth relatives and the adopted child could agree to conditions for continuing contact between the child and his or her birth relatives. Consent of children 14 or older will be necessary for the validity of such agreements. The provisions of the bill would give wide latitude to the court supervising the adoption over the creation, modification or termination of such contracts.
HB 23 is a direct response to the carbon monoxide episode at Finch Elementary in Atlanta. The bill would mandate use of carbon monoxide detectors by all public and private schools in the state. While there is no question that a serious safety concern is at issue, a debate will likely emerge as to whether it is appropriate to deal with the problem by setting a solution in the comparative stone of law, versus having it dealt with more flexibly by rulemaking at an agency level.
It was a busy week with visitors coming to Atlanta. Monday was 4-H day, and Terri Kimble and Ray Cheek brought Newton’s 4-H group. I enjoyed the chance to visit with the students and fielded some very intelligent questions they asked. Impressive students! On Tuesday, I ran into Judge Sammy Ozburn at a committee hearing. He was there monitoring legislation of interest to the state Superior Court Judges council. On Wednesday, I was pleased to see Fred Greer of Mansfield, who knows a remarkable number of folks at the Capitol. Thursday saw John Sutherland of Red Oak, who came to say hello and was able to stay and see the State of the Judiciary address by Chief Justice Carol Hunstein.
Doug Holt can be reached at 404-656-0152 or Doug@DougHolt.org.