The Georgia House of Representatives recently debated a bill that would make it illegal for registered sex offenders to obtain a commercial driver’s license.
The author’s intent in sponsoring the measure was to prevent sex offenders from being hired as school bus drivers.
"Unfortunately, we currently have no measures in place that prevent a sex offender from driving a bus filled with children," said Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville). "HB 215 increases security for children by ensuring that bus drivers do not have a proven history of hurting children."
HB 215 passed the House overwhelmingly, and I’m confident the Senate will vote to adopt it as well and send it on to Gov. Nathan Deal.
Obviously, this is a bill we would all support. No one really wants to make it easy for a sex offender to have contact with children by getting a job as a bus driver. Battles is obviously doing a good thing for his constituents by passing a law to prevent this.
The only problem is, we don’t need a new law to keep sex offenders and other criminals out of school buses. State law already requires local school systems to perform a criminal background check and take fingerprints from all persons they hire as bus drivers.
The Georgia code also requires that "all persons employed as school bus drivers by any public school system in this state shall be subject to random testing for evidence of use of illegal drugs. Not less than 50 percent of the school bus drivers in each public school system shall be tested annually in one or more random tests."
Just to make sure I wasn’t misinterpreting what I had read in the state code, I called the person at the Georgia Department of Education who is responsible for pupil transportation matters. He told me that the law applies not only to bus drivers but also to custodians and other non-teaching employees at local school systems.
"They do have to have a criminal background check and fingerprinting," confirmed Carlton Allen. "The process has been in place for several years. They are not going to be cleared to drive and work for a local school system without this criminal background check."
HB 215 is an unnecessary piece of law, but Paul Battles sponsored it anyway.
Because he introduced HB 215, taxpayers have had to bear these expenses: paying lawyers to draft the measure, buying paper so that the bill can be printed, and providing legislative staffers and committee facilities to review a measure that is already part of state law.
I am not trying to pick on Paul Battles. He seems to be a decent enough fellow who sincerely wants to do a good job of representing the interests of the people living in his legislative district.
His actions in bringing forth this bill, however, illustrate a problem that affects many of those in the General Assembly. They don’t have enough to do.
Most legislators will be running for re-election this year and they want the folks back home to know that they are "doing something." The thing that lawmakers usually do is pass a law, but over the decades we have already put thousands of laws and related amendments on the books.
There really is not much new you could add to the laws we have now. People like Paul Battles thus find themselves in a situation where the laws they propose duplicate legislation that was signed years ago.
I bring this up because of a complaint I often hear from members of the House and Senate. They tell me that being a state legislator is a full-time job. While the constitution may say that the General Assembly only convenes for 40 days a year, those who serve contend that the demands of their elected positions amount to a fulltime job.
Here is a suggestion for the men and women who serve in the Legislature. If you would stop spending so much of your time and the taxpayers’ money to pass laws that are already on the books, you could eliminate a lot of the work you do and make your position the part-time job it was truly intended to be.
It’s something to think about, anyway.
(Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com that reports on government and politics in Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)