With the General Assembly’s 2017 session in the books, Reporter Newspapers asked some local state representatives to review hits and misses of new Georgia laws. As one lawmaker put it, it was a year of “the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody)
Much of this session for me involved working on local bills for the three cities that I represent (Dunwoody, Chamblee and Doraville). I carried House bills at the request of the governments of those cities that allow them to raise their hotel/motel tax from 5 percent to 8 percent. This additional revenue is required to be used for projects to attract tourist dollars to those cities.
Additionally, I carried two bills (HB 449 and HB 595) that the city of Doraville urgently needed in order to move forward on the redevelopment of the former General Motors site. This site is one of the prime areas for economic development not just in Georgia, but in the entire Southeast, and I was glad to be able to move forward with bipartisan support from Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta), who also represents a portion of Doraville.
I also carried one of Sen. Fran Millar’s bills in the House. SB 156 limits what county infrastructure sales tax can be used for. The rationale behind this was that DeKalb County was trying to use funds dedicated to transportation infrastructure for other purposes, such as building a new government center. I carried a second Senate bill as a companion to this, SB 143, which incorporated the language that I had in a House bill, keeping the property tax assessment freeze in place.
At the request of MARTA management, I carried HB 506, which allows MARTA some flexibility in their contracting of concession services.
All in all, a lot of “blocking and tackling,” getting things moved to help our cities and county. The take on the wrap-up:
The Good: Getting the above mentioned things accomplished to help our local governments.
The Bad: Was able to advance my constitutional amendment (HR 58), which would allow cities to form independent school systems, out of committee in the House, but did not have the votes to get it passed. I will be continuing to push this issue.
The Ugly: Having a faction of the DeKalb County delegation, led by former CEO and now state Rep. Vernon Jones, effectively block two very good pieces of legislation that would have reinforced ethics and standards in DeKalb County government.
Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta)
To begin, I was pleased that the 2018 budget included money to hire additional scientists and technicians to address the backlog in processing rape kits from older cases. It’s critical that we address the backlog, both in Georgia and nationally, so that rapists (to include serial offenders) can be caught and convicted. This effort was started with Senate Bill 304, which I helped to pass last year.
HB 280, the latest version of the “Campus Carry” bill, is on its way to the governor. The bill is unpopular in the district that I represent and I voted against it.
One bill that needed to pass but didn’t was HB 159/SB 130, a bipartisan effort to modernize adoption laws. The bill was held up in the Senate over politics and did not pass. Both Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston publicly called for the Senate to pass the bill in the same version that was passed in the House — without controversial amendments that were added in the Senate. I added my voice to this effort, but in the end the Senate failed to act before the session ended.
I actively supported two bills that would have continued the process of positive reform for DeKalb County. Unfortunately, neither bill passed. The first bill dealt with changes to the Ethics Board and the second bill dealt with the establishment of a charter review commission. It has been decades since the last review and DeKalb could benefit from this effort.
Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven)
It was my honor to serve the people of Georgia House District 80 as your representative in my first legislative session under the Gold Dome.
In the legislative process, it is important to have a seat at the table, so I was pleased to be appointed by the Speaker of the House to important committees, including the House Transportation Committee, Judiciary Committee and Special Rules Committee. I was also honored to be appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Overview Committee (MARTOC), where I now serve as chairman of the Subcommittee on Public Safety. One of the complaints I hear most often regarding MARTA is about safety on trains and at the stations. My subcommittee will work with MARTA CEO Keith Parker and the MARTA board to create a user-friendly environment where more people feel safe taking their families to ride MARTA.
I ran for this House seat because we needed a representative who could deliver results. This past session, I began to do just that. With a focus on transportation issues, I co-sponsored a House resolution that established the House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding because it’s time we look at how to most efficiently and effectively fund a world-class transit system as we continue to recruit major corporations to move to Georgia.
Speaking of transit, I was pleased to pass a bill to allow MARTA more flexibility with their concession bidding contracts to help create user-friendly stations where patrons could pick up a coffee and newspaper for their ride.
I sponsored a transportation bonding bill that, as sometimes good bills do, got rolled into another transportation bill, and thankfully was passed by both chambers. This bill extends the ability for cities to bond transportation projects once they have been approved by the public by a referendum vote. Once signed into law by the governor, cities will now have the ability to complete their transportation projects quicker.
Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs)
A slow start marked the first weeks of the 2017 session of the General Assembly. Focus in both the House of Representatives and the Senate was on organizational issues, such as office and committee assignments. As I reflect on the entire session, overall it was a rather uneventful three months.
The one constitutional obligation the General Assembly has is passing an annual budget, which we did in record time on the 38th day of the 40-day session.
A number of good bills failed to get through this year’s legislative process. There are several possible reasons for this sad state of affairs. Some speculate that various members were focused on looking down the road, making plans to run for higher office.
Others credit the failure to this year’s unusual level of rancor between the House and Senate that appeared to negatively impact the collegial cooperation that has resulted in more productive sessions in past years.
Much like the common cold, every winter brings with it a gun bill, and 2017 was no exception. This year’s version of the “Campus Carry” bill was basically the 2016 version of the bill, vetoed by the governor, with some minor modifications. Because I believe the bill to have been poorly planned and drafted, I voted against it. The governor has not yet announced, as of this writing, whether he will sign or veto the 2017 version of the bill.
On occasion, good bills make it through one chamber only to die in the other. The Adoption Bill is a good example. This bill modernized Georgia’s adoption procedures and streamlined the processes for the adoption of the more than 13,000 children currently in Georgia’s Foster Care program. Unfortunately, the bill fell victim to the rancorous atmosphere painfully evident in the closing days of the session.
After working for two years on a complete revamping of the laws governing the Judicial Qualifications Commission, I was pleased to see the bill pass. This commission, commonly known as the JQC, oversees discipline and even removal of judges when necessary. The new bill ensures that the fairness, due process, and transparency that has at times been lacking will now be a hallmark of all activities of the critically important Judicial Qualifications Commission.
2017, a year of some good work and some missed opportunities, is in the rearview mirror. I hope the 2018 session will be more productive with a strong focus on tax reform, public safety, transportation and education.
Rep. Beth Beskin (R-Atlanta)
I sponsored two bills this year that passed the General Assembly. The first, the “Business Judgment Rule” bill (HB 192), would restore the legal presumption that corporate and bank officers and directors acted in good faith and within the ordinary care standard in their process of making business decisions. This bill is very important in order to reinstate the deferential standard of review such officers and directors were accorded prior to a recent court decision, FDIC v. Loudermilk, a case that involved directors of Buckhead Community Bank.
Also, as a member of the Georgia Child Support Commission, I sponsored this year’s legislation to clarify and modify certain child support provisions. That bill, HB 308, was incorporated into SB 137, which also passed the General Assembly.
I think the most important legislation to pass the General Assembly this year is that related to K-12 education. As a member of the House Education Committee, I voted in support of HB 338, which will address underperforming schools. This bill will facilitate the appointment of a chief turnaround officer, as part of the State Board of Education, who will work with underperforming schools to improve student outcomes.
We also passed HB 237, allowing the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement to authorize the Public Education Innovation Foundation, a nonprofit corporation, to accept and administer private donations to benefit public schools. Additionally, we passed HB 139 to require the State Department of Education to publish on its website school-specific and per-pupil expenditures, which will increase financial transparency. I supported each of these educational initiatives, which each await consideration by Gov. Deal.