Photo by Michael Buckelew
Last week saw the conclusion of the 2012 legislative session. The House finished voting on most of the remaining Senate bills, and then worked through the many situations where differing versions of bills had passed in the House versus the Senate. These are resolved by either agreeing with the other chamber's version of the bill, or by standing firm and appointing legislators to what is called a "conference committee." The conference committees try to reach a compromise version of a bill, which must then be approved by both chambers. However such differences are resolved, the final few days of the session involve a tremendous amount of reading and deciding. Overall we voted on 35 bills and resolutions, and over 70 measures ironing out differences. Here are some of the more important and interesting measures we considered during the week.
SB 289 seeks to expand the use of online learning by public school students in the state. Online courses are providing a greater richness of opportunities, both in terms of topics and advancement level, which is especially advantageous for rural school systems. The cost of courses taken through the Georgia Virtual School are reduced in the bill, which will help systems save money. Also, the bill helps with the use of online end-of-course tests, which are turning out to be a great way to reduce cheating. I voted "yes," and the bill passed by 125 to 38.
SB 410 would create a school report card showing measures of a school's performance, quality of learning environment and general management. Results would be shown on a straightforward 100 point grading scale for schools and districts. This is part of our compliance with the agreement reached between Georgia and the federal government, in which the state received a waiver of the AYP requirement under No Child Left Behind. Overall, the bill will actually create a more comprehensive and accurate method of reporting than AYP. I voted "yes," and the bill passed by 94 to 67.
SB 427 is a mandate to the state Environmental Protection Division to improve their permitting process so that it is faster and more transparent. The bill requires that the division also add web-based capabilities so that those who have applied for permits can track the status of their applications. I strongly approve of these measures, but the bill also would direct that an expedited permit process be created, available only to those willing to pay an extra fee. This provision raised a red flag of potential privileged access for me, and apparently for a fair number of other House members. A motion was made to table the bill to see if the problem could be corrected with an amendment.
Later in the day, the bill was brought up again, with an amendment intended to address the concerns. Unfortunately, I didn't find the proposed fixes sufficient. What could have been a very good bill still had a fatal flaw. In the end, I voted no, but the bill passed by 98 to 71.
SB 293 would remove the requirement that all regular vehicle license plates have a sticker showing the name of the county they reside in. Instead, when an owner is at the point of obtaining a new tag, then he or she will have the option of getting a county name sticker, or a sticker that says "In God We Trust." I think this is an option that many will appreciate, and I supported the bill. It passed by 157 to 6.
Now for my customary session wrap-up. Since Jan. 9, I've read more than 440 bills and resolutions, and cast roughly 400 votes on the House floor. I received 4,691 contacts (phone calls, visits, mail and email), of which about 23 percent were from within the district (I continue to make in-district contacts my priority). Email made up about 83 percent of my in-district contacts, and 89 percent of all contacts. "Spam" email accounted for 4 percent of the out-of-district contacts.
Rep. Doug Holt represents District 112 in the state House. He can be reached at 404-656-0152. His email address is Doug@DougHolt.org.