Photo by Michael Buckelew
During the third week of the legislative session, the House again saw only a relative handful of bills, but one of them was very significant.
The main work of the week was the supplemental budget. Called the "little budget," this is the annual mid-stream adjustment to the current fiscal year budget. This bill is used to make adjustments based on the rate at which actual revenue is coming in, and in response to possible changed needs among the various arms of the state funded through the budget. Since revenue is slightly ahead of projections, some of that additional funding will be used during the second half of the fiscal year, resulting in a 1.4 percent increase in the budget. The rest of that increase will go into the state's rainy day fund. K-12 education will receive roughly half of the extra funds, mostly to handle increased enrollment at schools across the state. The other half is spread across many budget areas. Overall, this is still a pretty austere budget. Surprisingly, the question period was fairly short and not at all heated. And the bill also accomplished two things not seen in recent legislative memory: it passed fairly early in the session, and passed unanimously.
Of the other bills we voted on during the week, two were of some interest. HB 706 is sort of a byproduct of the work done by the Education Finance Study Commission, a temporary joint House/Senate committee that undertook a comprehensive review of the method of funding schools in Georgia over the summer last year. While several significant legislative initiatives will ultimately emerge from the work of the committee, the members also identified a significant list of passages in the state education code that were obsolete, long unfunded and/or needlessly bureaucratic. These problems were uncovered by testimony from teachers, superintendents and school board members. HB 706 seeks to repeal or revise all these sections of law. While the bill generated a fair number of questions about individual provisions, we ultimately passed it unanimously.
HB 475 is an expansion of the law that allows for creation of development authorities. It would allow public-private partnerships as an option, along with other tweaks to that code section. While this is an interesting possibility, I found some sections of the bill to be too broad in their grants of powers to such entities. The bill also has what is called a "severability clause," which means that if any portion of the bill is struck down by a court, the rest remains valid as law. The presence of such a clause in a bill is sometimes a strong hint that there could be problems with other provisions. I voted "no" and was joined by others with misgivings, but the bill nonetheless passed by 132 to 28.
Now for an interesting new bill. HB 674 would make it illegal to use "geolocation" data obtained from our ever-growing selection of electronic communications and information tools to determine the location of an individual without their consent. A violation would carry a jail term of one to five years, or a fine of up to $10,000. I suspect we can all appreciate the very real dangers of criminal wrongdoing these technologies afford, as well as threats to rights of personal privacy. This particular bill, however, is so broad brush in its general provisions that the author has already included a fairly lengthy list of exceptions. I think the length of that list suggests that it will be hard to properly define the full range of exceptions that probably should exist -- which also hints that this could be a tricky and maybe unworkable area of law if passed. In other words, a different approach may be in order.
It was another good week for visitors. On Monday, Billy Love, who goes to Indian Creek Middle, came to page for the House. He is a very sharp and respectful young man, and did an excellent job! Later that day, I had a chance to visit with Cynthia Abbott of Covington and John Hopper from Oxford, and we discussed issues that concern them as state retirees. On Wednesday, a group from the Newton Homebuilder's Association was at the Capitol. I spoke with Bob and Marilyn Goucher and Genevieve Compton about the serious challenges their industry faces.
Rep. Doug Holt can be reached at his office at 404-656-0152. His email address is Doug@DougHolt.org.