Last week saw a number of long days on the House floor, concluding with crossover day. We were busy working through the backlog of bills produced by the committee system during the previous seven weeks, and voted on 99 bills and resolutions. I'll describe several of the more significant and interesting items.
HB 125 is one of those instances where it is necessary to fine tune how previous legislation has been implemented. HB 87, passed in 2011, was a major bill targeted at illegal immigration. One of its goals was to make sure that public benefits like the granting of a professional or business license were reserved for citizens of Georgia. Unfortunately, the language was too tight and was interpreted to require that those seeking such licenses provide things like proof of citizenship and documentation of use of the federal E-Verify system every year. This made processing of those applications more involved, and in some cases, much more time-consuming. HB 125 will change the rules so that such proofs only need to be submitted once. I've heard from more than a few folks about the frustrations this problem has caused, and so I was pleased to support the bill. It did suffer opposition, however, because it made some new anti-illegal immigration tweaks. Nonetheless, it passed 116-9.
HB 127 is a second attempt at passing a novel approach to an old problem. This is the problem in which fees and surcharges (for example, the $1 solid waste charge on new tires) intended for a certain purpose end up in the general fund, but are not appropriated to the purpose intended by law. This has remained unsolved for many years because of the legal principle that a law passed by the Legislature in a given year can be changed in the future. Laws from the past don't bind the lawmaking body today. The only way to guarantee that funds collected get used for their intended purpose is to put language to that effect in the state constitution, via a referendum. This requires a two-thirds majority of both House and Senate, as well as a thumbs-up from the voters -- two very high hurdles. So it is rarely attempted.
The author of HB 127 is approaching the problem from the revenue side rather than the appropriation side. The bill would direct that if the proper amount of money is not allocated for the stated purpose of a fee, then the fee would be proportionately reduced for the following year. In other words, if the money isn't handled properly, then revenue gets reduced. This will be binding until another bill is passed to remove the language -- which would get a lot more attention than details buried in the budget. While this would not be as perfect a solution as a constitutional amendment, I think it is very much worth a try. Last year's bill passed the House, but got bogged down in the Senate late in the session. I'm glad the author tried again. The bill passed unanimously.
HB 372 is offered in light of the success of the HOPE program revisions we passed two years ago. At the time, you may remember that the program was rapidly exhausting its reserves and would soon have been running in the red. Since passage of the legislation, the program has firmed up and is now even accumulating some extra reserves. Thus, it is possible to broaden acceptance standards to some extent. HB 372 would change the eligibility standard for obtaining HOPE grants (support for attending schools in the Technical College System) from a 3.0 to a 2.0 GPA. This is in the original spirit and intent of the program, and I was pleased to support the change. The bill passed 169-1.
On Tuesday, I had a chance to visit with Covington Police Chief Stacy Cotton, who was in Atlanta to keep an eye on a bill that would seriously affect law enforcement. On Wednesday, Commission Chairman Keith Ellis was in Atlanta working on a number of issues, and we were able to sit down and discuss several concerns.
State Rep. Doug Holt, R-Social Circle represents the 112th District, which is comprised of parts of Morgan and Newton counties. Contact him at 404-656-0152 or Doug@DougHolt.org.