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Hitting the brakes on slow poke bill
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The General Assembly has only 10 days of the 2013 legislative session remaining to finish the business of the people and then we will return home to our families, our constituents, and our districts. The highlighted legislation passed by the House last week includes ethics reform legislation, as well as two bills in response to the recommendations by our Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Council, one relating to juvenile justice and the other to drug trafficking cases. I have also discussed the status of my pending legislation.

During the 2012 primary in Georgia, one of the ballot questions that passed overwhelmingly asked voters if they would support ending the current practice of unlimited gifts from lobbyists to state legislators by imposing a $100 cap on such gifts. In response to this choice by the citizens of Georgia, the General Assembly is moving forward with ethics reform legislation, House Bill 142 (passed 164-4), which the House passed this week with bipartisan support.

Currently, the law in Georgia states that any amount spent by lobbyists must be reported and is public record; however, there is not a limit. This legislation goes above and beyond just imposing a limit, and would: ban all individual meals; allow group meals if provided for the entire delegation, committee, or caucus; restore the power back to what was formerly known as the Ethics Commission; and clarify that any person who comes to the Capitol more than five session days on behalf of an organization or corporation with the intention of impacting legislation or influencing a legislator, will be required to pay the $25 fee and register as a lobbyist.

This legislation is not intended to have any impact on a citizen’s First Amendment right to free speech or personal opinion. The ethics reform legislation is very thorough and the goal is to ensure that our citizens continue to build their trust in their state-elected officials by being open and honest. Transparency in government is something you can never have too much of. I encourage you to contact your state senator as this legislation travels to the other chamber for possible passage.

The bills I have sponsored this session continue to move through the legislative process. I am hopeful these bills got to the full House for a vote before Thursday, which is crossover day. This is a day (legislative day 30) that legislation must have passed out of its respective chamber and crossed over to the other chamber in order to have enough time to complete the legislative process and potentially become law this year.

Last week, I introduced legislation (HB 488) that relates to vicious dogs and it is in response to a request from local government authorities as a result of an incident that occurred in Effingham County. This bill would allow the local governing authority or dog control officer to euthanize a dog without further legal action after the owner has voluntarily relinquished custody of their dog, which has seriously injured a person and presents a danger to people.

Many other pieces of legislation sponsored continue to work through the House committee process. HB 365 (safety belts for 15-passenger vehicles) was heard and received a vote by the full House on Monday. HB 366 (discipline/testing/training for peace officers) has both passed through the Public Safety Committee and will be taken before the Rules Committee. It was passed by the House on Tuesday.

The “slow poke” bill (HB 459) I sponsored and discussed last week was passed out of subcommittee and went to the full House Motor Vehicles Committee last Friday.

Unfortunately, I discovered a technical issue with the bill, and even though I believe it would have passed out of committee, I asked that it be tabled over the weekend so that legislative counsel and I could ponder an appropriate solution. Since the introduction of this bill, I have received positive feedback from people across our state and even as far away as Washington, D.C., and California in support of this legislation. My hope is that I can get all four bills onto the House calendar since time is of the essence for all pending legislation.

Reforming our juvenile justice system is imperative to ensuring our children are held accountable for violations of the law, but are provided treatment and rehabilitation through community-based programs. The goal is that these young “troubled” children can move beyond their youthful shortcomings and can grow up to become responsible and productive members of our society. House Bill 242 passed unanimously and substantially revises and modernizes the juvenile justice code in Georgia as recommended by the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform.

The House also passed changes this week concerning the penalties for drug-related cases. House Bill 349 passed unanimously last Friday and relates to the schedules, offenses, and penalties for controlled substances. It would change Georgia’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws by allowing reduced sentences for convictions during which the prosecutor and defense attorney can agree, or under certain circumstances and approved by the judge.

The General Assembly will return to the Gold Dome on March 11. I will keep you apprised of important legislation that affects your families, your freedoms, and your pocketbooks. Working with and alongside the other members of both the House and Senate, your best interests will always remain my first priority.

Please let me know if I can ever be of assistance to you or your family. Please feel welcome to write to me at:  501 Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg., Atlanta, GA 30334, email me at, or call my office at (404) 656-0178.