DOUG HOLT: House budget process under way

Doug Holt

Doug Holt

Last week, the House returned to regular business, with the budgeting process well under way and committees starting to churn out bills. We voted on five bills on the House floor during the week, with most of them being fairly mundane housekeeping measures. One was of greater interest.

HB 683 is a response to a state Supreme Court opinion of last year. The opinion affects one step of a legal proceeding called garnishment. This is where a third party who has money or other property belonging to a debtor is required to turn them over to a court. The opinion specifically affects corporations, some of which had been using non-attorney employees to perform the essentially clerical task of preparing and submitting responses to garnishment filings. The court's opinion held that having such work done by non-attorneys amounted to the unlicensed practice of law.

Since the work of a garnishment proceeding that truly requires an attorney's abilities only begins after a response has been filed, most folks feel that the Court's opinion imposes an unreasonable and unnecessary cost on businesses. So the bill seeks to exempt the step of filing a response from rules requiring an attorney (civil practice). The bill saw a bit of debate, primarily because one member of the House, who is an attorney, raised some questions about policy. Nonetheless, it passed, with my support, by 150 to 20. Interestingly, only two of the "no's" were from attorneys; the rest were mainly from folks who are mistrustful of corporations.

Now I'll cover a few other interesting new bills. HB 668 proposes that individuals who apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits must pass a drug test. Anyone who fails the test will be ineligible to retest for one month after the first positive result, three months after the second, and three years after the third. An individual who has had three positive results could obtain the option of being retested after one year if he or she has successfully completed a substance abuse treatment program. This bill, along with several similar bills affecting other public benefit programs, has already drawn a good deal of attention, and the hearings should prove quite interesting.

HB 669 would require that all state agencies report on the amount of federal money they receive and what percent of their budgets this money constitutes. The bill would further require that the agencies submit plans on how they would operate if the federal dollars were reduced by 5 percent or more, and then by 25 percent or more. The bill also proposes that the House and Senate consider drafting legislation for 2013 to require local governments, school systems and the members of the University System to deliver the same information next year. This bill looks to be a response to the apparently growing likelihood that the federal government will have a chronic problem of financial "crises" and actual shutdowns in the next few years.

HB 677 would require that all members of the General Assembly be subject to a drug test at the beginning of every term to which they are elected. I suspect that this bill is, in part, a negative comment on HB 668 and its companions, which I discussed above. That suspicion is reinforced by the fact that the bill was pre-filed last year, yet has not been formally introduced despite our being almost a quarter of the way through the session. Since describing such a bill begs the question: yes, I would vote for it. But I have a strong suspicion it would run into constitutionality problems.

I had a number of visitors during the week. On Tuesday, Clara Deemer and Ron Carter, the director and assistant director of Tourism for the Newton County Convention and Visitors Bureau were at the Capitol for Tourism Day. On Wednesday, Mary Ann Davis, Brenda Stanton and Kathi Grantham, who teach the second and third grades at First Baptist Academy in Covington, came with their classes and many parents for a day of learning about their state government.

State Rep. Doug Holt can be reached by phone at 404-656-0152. His email address is Doug@DougHolt.org.