End of Legislative Session Report

5.11.2011
Staff

The 2011 legislative session ended on April 14th on "Sine Die." We worked until almost midnight, concluding the 40 day session that had begun on January 10th .

As a freshman legislator, I found the experience to be remarkable. The legislative process is fascinating and it reminded me of Winston Churchill's quip that democracy is the worst form of government - except for all the others. At times it was slow. At times it was hectic. And at times I even wondered whether the process was more theater than substance.

I tried to use my time at the Capitol to work hard on behalf of the 82nd District and the State of Georgia. I also made a determined effort to get to know the other members of the House of Representatives, and particularly those from the other side of the aisle. I believe that our politics can (and should) be spirited and robust - yet civil.

I worked diligently to learn the legislative process. I thoroughly enjoyed asking questions during committee meetings and floor debate, helping to pass good legislation while also speaking and voting against legislation which I opposed. I drafted two bills - one that outlaws the use of Bisphenol A (BPA) in products to which infants are exposed, and another that sets up a system for Georgia to start tackling the problem of electronic waste. I plan to work on both issues from now until the 2012 session begins in January, with the hope that both will pass.

Overall, I was disappointed that the 2011 legislative session didn't do more to move Georgia forward. I was particularly troubled by the weakening of the HOPE scholarship and the continued decline in funding for education, which is the most vital issue for our economic security. Nonetheless, I am optimistic about the future, and will keep working hard to make a difference.

As the summer nears, I am looking forward to spending time with my family, catching up on work from my regular job, and preparing for the summer legislative session on redistricting that will begin in August. Please continue to contact me with your thoughts and concerns - I very much enjoy hearing from you.

As I close for now, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve; I consider it an honor to represent you at the Capitol. I want to thank my terrific staff for working tirelessly to serve you and to help me do a better job. And I want to thank my family for giving me the time to do something I care deeply about.


All the best,

Scott


Town Hall Meeting

On April 25th, I held my second town hall meeting, along with State Sen. Steve Henson. Together we provided an overview of the 2011 session, and fielded many questions from constituents. For those of you who attended, I hope it was a good exchange of information and views.

Legislative Wrap Up


What follows is a legislative summary. For information on additional bills, click here. I welcome your thoughts on these issues, and I am providing information about my votes in these summaries. In addition, some of the news articles on the left side of this newsletter contain additional details about my views on the legislative session and certain acts of legislation.

Full day Pre-K will continue to be funded, but the number of days was reduced from 180 to 160, class size was increased, and the number of programs was reduced.

HOPE

Earlier this month, Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 326 into law, requiring high school students to have a 3.7 grade-point average to qualify for a full scholarship. This bill amends the HOPE scholarship and grant program in several ways: (1) HOPE will no longer cover books, fees or remedial college courses; (2) the General Assembly will annually set a percentage "factor" that will allocate the amount of the prior year's tuition that will be covered by HOPE. For example, the factor rate for 2012 is 90 percent, which will not account for any tuition increases adopted for 2012; (3) those students who graduate from high school with a 3.7 GPA and either a 1200 SAT or 26 ACT will receive full tuition, as will the valedictorian and salutatorian of each public high school. Students must maintain a 3.3 GPA throughout college to continue receiving HOPE, with only one chance to regain it if a student's GPA drops below a 3.3. The plan does not grandfather in current HOPE scholarship recipients.

Funding will continue for remedial courses for technical colleges, and proprietary schools currently receiving HOPE TEG support will be grandfathered. $10 - 20 million in funding for a 1 percent interest loan for students was approved.

I voted against this bill because I felt that there were better and fairer options for dealing with the HOPE scholarship shortfall.

TAX REFORM

Earlier in the session I sent you the proposal of the Special Council on Tax Reform. Stemming from this proposal was a series of bills that involved shifting taxes from income to various goods and services. These bills successively deviated more and more from the Council's original proposal as legislators responded to concerns about specific taxes. I was contacted by hundreds of you with concerns about taxes on such items as groceries, Girl Scout cookies, AAA membership, and veterinary services, to mention just a few. Ultimately, no tax plan was presented to the House for a vote.

SUNDAY SALES

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has signed into law SB 10, paving the way for Sunday alcohol sales statewide. The bill will allow local votes over whether to sell beer, wine and liquor in stores on Sunday. I supported this.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING

HB 200 expands the definition of sex trafficking and prevents those charged with human trafficking from asserting certain defenses. It also increases penalties for human trafficking and allows for the forfeiture of assets for those convicted of human trafficking. The bill decriminalizes certain sexual crimes, which allows for greater protection of minors and those forced into sexual servitude. Victims will have access to Georgia's Victim's Compensation Fund, and the bill provides training to law enforcement personnel to aid victims. I supported this bill and I hope it will address this terrible problem.

IMMIGRATION

HB 87 is the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011. It would require Georgia businesses to use the federal E-Verify program to determine whether their new hires are eligible to work legally in the US. Local and state police would be empowered to arrest illegal immigrants and take them to state and federal jails. Here is a summary of the major provisions of this bill. I voted against this bill and spoke about it on the House floor because I believed the bill would do very little to address the issue of illegal immigration.

BILLBOARDS

HB 179: Outdoor Advertising Regulation

This bill creates additional regulations for the construction, maintenance and dismantling of outdoor advertising signs, otherwise known as billboards. This legislation would permit the owner of a billboard to cut any trees or shrubbery within the line of sight from the roadway to the sign. It also directs the Department of Transportation to inventory signs that have expired permits and effectuate their removal. This legislation awaits the Governor's signature. I heard from many constituents who strongly opposed this bill and I voted against it.

HEALTH CARE


Interstate insurance

HB 47 would allow health insurance companies to sell health insurance products licensed in other states. These products will not be required to cover services currently mandated under Georgia law.

For example, mandates such as mammograms, hospital stays after birth, Pap smears, cancer treatments for dependent children and other patient-protections would not be required for these out-of-state products. I am committed to protecting the health of Georgians and voted no because this bill would weaken and remove important protections required by Georgia law.

Health care compact

HB 461 would create a health care compact to allow Georgia to join with other states to, on one hand, assert states' rights, while on the other hand, accept federal dollars for health care. I voted against this bill because it is nothing more than political theater and a compact will never be formed. Moreover, this measure, which was supported by those who claim to believe in smaller government and fewer taxes, would increase the size of government and raise taxes.

UNEMPLOYMENT


Both the Senate and House agreed to tweak a Georgia law to match federal law so that unemployment benefits would not run out for many Georgians. At issue was a technical change to Georgia code required by the federal government in order for the state to continue to receive federal unemployment dollars. The federal government allows up to 99 weeks in unemployment benefits and has already appropriated that money to Georgia. This would provide $175 million to Georgians currently receiving unemployment benefits.

I voted in support of this.

LOCAL SCHOOLS

SB 79 would give the Governor the power to remove all members of the Atlanta school board and would reduce the DeKalb school board's size from 9 to 7.

The bill, which passed the House 109-62, stems from a decision in January by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to put the city school system on probation because of factionalism on the Atlanta School Board. Along with the many constituents who contacted me in support of reducing the size of the DeKalb board, I wanted to see the size reduced to 7 or 5 members. I was in support of HB 22 for this purpose, which was local legislation. I had concerns about SB 79 because it would remove local contro



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