Gold Dome Update: Week 11
The clock continues to tick down to Sine Die and after this week, we have only two legislative days remaining. During our 11th week, we passed 54 pieces of legislation including several that I carried. This week was a huge success for fiscal responsibility and for our public servants. Due to the high number of bills passed this week, I want to share with you the details on some that are the most important to me.
One of my top priorities has always been fiscal responsibility and government transparency when it comes to tax payer dollars. That is why I am so excited about two bills in particular from this week, House Bill 93, which I carried, and Senate Bill 328, which I originally sponsored in the Senate. HB 93 would require any tax related bill passed by the General Assembly to be evaluated and undergo a thorough economic analysis by the state auditor before it becomes law. In addition, HB 93 would repay, with interest, money to a taxpayer who overpaid for state and local sales and use taxes. The Senate agreed to the House substitute for SB 328 which would place a sunset on a series of tax exemptions that are being underutilized and costing the state more to provide than the taxpayers are saving. The House substitute included language to ensure that SB 328 is in line with changes made with the passage of House Bill 918 and the federal tax cuts addressing taxing businesses with international presence.
This week, we also passed the 2019 Fiscal Year (FY19) General Budget, House Bill 684, which totals around $26 billion. Within this year’s budget allocations are many increases that I am happy about, but one in particular is for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s drug task forces. In the Senate’s version of HB 684, these task forces are being allocated nearly $4 million in additional funds to fight the opioid epidemic across the state. In addition, the budget adds $1.3 million for the prevention and investigation of serious cybercrimes. A growing budget is a sign of a growing economy and I am glad that we can continue to create opportunities for individuals across the state. HB 684 is now in a conference committee with both chambers working together to finalize the budget.
During week 11, we voted to pass several bills that will directly impact our state’s service members and their families. Among them were House Bill 700 and House Bill 718. HB 700 expands scholarship eligibility for Georgia National Guardsmen to include graduate courses which will give these servicemen and women even more opportunity than is currently available. HB 718 will make the lives of military families a little bit easier by instructing schools to allow up to five days of excused absences to children in military families, as long as the excuse is for a military related event. These absences can be used for counseling, medical care or just spending one more day with a parent on leave.
Our state’s public servants will also see some changes based on this week’s legislation in the form of House Bill 149 and House Bill 779. HB 149 sets regulations for trauma scene waste management professionals to ensure the safety of themselves and those around them. In addition, the bill would create the Division of Fire Safety which will be led by a new Commissioner of Fire Safety. This new division will assume all the fire-safety responsibilities currently spread among many departments and transfer all authority from the Office of Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner to the new division. HB 779 also sets up new emergency management authorities in the form of the Emergency Operations Command and the Board of Homeland Security. Both of these new agencies would aim to manage Georgia’s public safety emergencies. While their focus would be coordinating safety directives with the public, other agencies would still have operational authority.
Two other bills that I carried in the Senate this week also passed:
House Bill 419 would allow local governments to regulate firework usage through their local noise ordinance with the exception of certain dates. HB 419 would require licensed firework retailers to post signage with safety tips and state laws regarding firework usage within local ordinances. In addition, the bill would grant the governor authority to suspend local firework use whenever the Keetch-Byram Drought Index reaches a level of 700 or above at any point in the county.
House Bill 721 would set the minimum regulations for approved on-the-road instruction for online driving courses.
These are just some of the many pieces of legislation passed this week as we find ourselves just one week away from the end of session. Although we only have two legislative days left, we still have much work to do and will be working into the late hours of the night to pass beneficial legislation for the people of Georgia. I will be sure to keep each of you informed of the Senate’s actions as this session comes to a close, and thank you for the opportunity to serve our community under the Gold Dome.