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2014 Georgia Legislative Session Update 4

The Georgia General Assembly adjourned sine die as scheduled on Thursday, March 20.

The General Assembly took action on the following bills in its last days. Governor Deal has forty days after the end of the session to sign or veto bills that have passed.

Abortion Funding in Insurance Exchanges.  Both the Senate and House of Representatives adopted SB 98 to prohibit funding of abortions under health insurance policies issued through  the health insurance exchanges established in accordance with the federal Affordable Care Act. The bill also enacts into statutory law the action of the Department of Community Health in eliminating abortion funding from the State employees’ health plan. The Conference strongly SUPPORTED SB 98.

Gun Control. Although the Senate Judiciary Committee initially made favorable changes to HB 875 related to the availability of guns and other weapons, the Senate ultimately accepted the House version of the bill with only limited changes.

The final bill continues to prohibit weapons in houses of worship “unless the governing body or authority of the place of worship  permits the carrying of weapons or long guns by license holders.” The bill, however, diminishes the penalty for carrying weapons to a $100.00 fine with no arrest permitted for a license holder. A person carrying a weapon without a license can be charged with a misdemeanor.

Beyond houses of worship, the bill is wide ranging and, among numerous provisions, will allow carrying weapons in bars; in any government building not restricted or screened by a security officer; and, in school safety zones if authorized by a duly authorized officer. The bill also provides a judicial licensing  process for those adjudicated mentally incompetent or not guilty of certain crimes by reason of insanity; prohibits local governments from regulating gun dealers or guns shows; protects those who claim to have inadvertently entered restricted parts of commercial airports; prohibits law enforcement from requiring production of a carry license when someone is carrying a weapon; and, provides that defense of self and others is an absolute defense of any violation of weapon regulation.

The Georgia Catholic Conference, along with other religious and civic leaders, OPPOSED HB 875.

Insurance Coverage for Autism. The General Assembly failed to pass any legislation that would have required state-regulated health plans to cover the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism through age six. In the next plan year, however, the State employee benefit plan will provide some coverage for autism to State employees. The Conference SUPPORTED the coverage for autism.

Drug Testing for Food Stamp Recipients. The General Assembly passed HB 772 which will require body fluid drug testing for food stamp recipients any time that a “reasonable suspicion exists that such applicant or recipient is using an illegal drug.” The Conference OPPOSED HB 772. Similar legislation passed several years ago has been enjoined and, despite some modifications, many lawyers believe that this bill is unconstitutional.  Our opposition is based on the dignity of the human person and the need for protection of children, many of whom could lose food stamp subsidies if the law goes into effect.

Child Testimony. The General Assembly adopted HB 804 which will allow children under 17 years of age, who are victims of violent crimes, to testify against their perpetrators by video rather than in person. The Conference SUPPORTED  HB 804.

Immigration. For the first time in several years, the General Assembly has not passed adverse legislation specifically directed at immigrants.

 

2014 Georgia Legislative Session Update 3

The Georgia General Assembly has six legislative days remaining before adjourning sine die on March 20, 2014.

This report is divided into two parts – Part 1 lists the four bills in which the Conference continues to advocate for or against and Part 2 lists those bills which failed to crossover from one house or the other in time for further consideration this session. Other than disappointment that the cap for student scholarships will not be increased, the Conference is gratified with the demise of those bills. (It should be noted, however, that there are procedural mechanisms by which bills that did not cross over may be revived as parts of other bills so vigilance does not end. Nonetheless, unless indicated otherwise, the bills we are following that have not crossed over are not likely candidates for revival.)

Opportunities for Personal Participation:

Catholic Day at the Capitol. Over twenty five Catholics joined the Conference and members of the Archdiocesan Communications and Advocacy staff for our 2014 Catholic Day at the Capitol on March 6. The participants were thoughtful and engaged and contributed to the process of government by discussing issues in light of the Gospel and interacting with their elected senators and representatives. We appreciate their attendance and their spirit of generosity.

Tuesdays at the Capitol. Frank Mulcahy, executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference invites anyone interested in discussing pending Georgia legislation to join him at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception every Tuesday during the legislative session for an informal dialogue.

Participation by Priests. In order to accommodate the schedules of priests, I continue to extend an offer to any priest who would like to come to the Capitol as his schedule permits to receive a briefing on pending issues, meet with legislators and enjoy lunch at the legislative office building. Please contact me at fmulcahy@georgiacc.org or (770) 490-4244 to make arrangements.

Part 1—Bills that remain active.

Abortion Funding in Insurance Exchanges.  The Senate adopted SB 98 to prohibit funding abortions under health insurance policies issued under the health insurance exchanges established in accordance with the federal Affordable Care Act. The bill will be heard in the House Insurance Committee on March 10 and the Conference strongly SUPPORTS SB 98.

Gun Control. The Georgia Catholic Conference, along with other religious and civic leaders, continues to OPPOSE HB 875 as passed by the House of Representatives and which will be considered soon by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill expands the places and circumstances where guns may not be restricted.

Insurance Coverage for Autism. SB397 would require state-regulated health plans to cover the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism through age six. Coverage of applied behavior analysis (ABA) treatment would be covered up to $35,000 a year. The Conference SUPPORTS the bill.

Child Testimony. The House of Representatives has adopted and sent to the Senate HB 804 which proposes to allow children under 18 years of age who are victims of violent crimes to testify against their perpetrators by video rather than in person. The Conference SUPPORTS HB 804.

Part 2 – Bills that did not crossover.

Immigration. The Senate did not bring up for debate Senate Bill 404 which would have prevented young people who have obtained authorization under the Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (DACA) program from getting a driver license in Georgia. The author of the bill did try to amend another bill with the language of SB 404 but the amendment only garnered 8 votes from the 56 senators, hence, it is evident that the idea of the bill has little support. DACA recipients are lawfully present in the United States and are entitled to obtain a driver license in Georgia. We OPPOSED the legislation.

The Conference also OPPOSED SR 1031 which would amend the Georgia constitution to establish English as the official language of the State of Georgia and prohibit use of other languages in many governmental services, including driver license testing. SR 1031 also did not come up for debate and is likely finished for the session.

The Georgia business community has joined those of us who support our immigrant brothers and sisters in opposing these two measures. http://www.ajc.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/georgia-business-groups-move-to-block-proposals-in/nd3fc/

Statute of Limitations Expansion. HB 771 did not come up for final debate in the House of Representatives and is likely finished for the session. HB 771 originally proposed to proposes to make the statute of limitations for various forms of child abuse unlimited in the future. The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee recommended passage of a bill that would  place the statute of limitations at ten (10) years after age 18 for an individual defendant but five (5) years after age 18 for a vicarious defendant.

Religious Liberty. House Bill 895, like its Senate counterpart Senate Resolution 808, proposes void the effectiveness of foreign laws, including religious laws. Neither measure obtained sufficient support from their respective committees and neither will get further consideration. Along with the Anti-Defamation League and members of the State Bar of Georgia, I spoke against the resolution in the Senate Judiciary Committee and in several the House subcommittee meetings in that they specifically target the application of religious laws as well as other international laws and agreements. The Conference OPPOSES SR 808 and HB 985. At this point in the session, it is doubtful that either measure will progress in light the opposition.

As the characterization of Senate Bill 377 and HB 1023changed through public discourse, we concur that the bills require more detailed study than can be accomplished during this legislative session.

HB 861 would provide an extensive protocol allowing students to express religious views in public school forums, class assignments, graduation ceremonies and other public gatherings. The bill is being heard in the House Judiciary Committee but may not progress this session.

Parental Choice in Education. There is not likely to be any action on legislation to increase the cap on tax credits or to expand programs to support student scholarship programs, such as G.R.A.C.E Scholars. The Conference SUPPORTS the increase of funding that would assist our Catholic schools and other qualified independent schools to give parents options for their children.

Guns in School Zones. HB 826 would have changed the definition of “school safety zone” to eliminate private schools from the safety zones where weapons are prohibited.  The author accepted our suggestion that this part of the bill be changed to keep the current definition which is favorable to our Catholic schools.

New Americans Act. There is now little likelihood for any action on SB 312 which would require the Department of Human Resources to identify and assist legal immigrants in obtaining citizenship through the naturalization process. The Conference SUPPORTS SB 312.

2014 Georgia Legislative Session Update 2

The coming week is critical for legislation in the Georgia General Assembly as it approaches “cross-over” day on Monday, March 3, the day when bills must be adopted by at least one house to be viable for this session. Thus, we will lose favorable bills if they are not through one house or we will have to continue opposing unfavorable bills that do pass one house.

Opportunities for Personal Participation:

Reminder — Rescheduled Catholic Day. Catholic Day at the Capitol has been re-scheduled for March 6. Participation remains open to all. Revised details and registration information is available on the website for the Georgia Catholic Conference.

Tuesdays at the Capitol. I remain available for informal discussion of legislative issues at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception each Tuesday morning while the General Assembly is in session. Details are available on the Georgia Catholic Conference website.

Participation by Priests. In order to accommodate the schedules of priests, I continue to extend an offer to any priest who would like to come to the Capitol as his schedule permits to receive a briefing on pending issues, meet with legislators and enjoy lunch at the legislative office building. Please contact me at fmulcahy@georgiacc.org or (770) 490-4244 to make arrangements.

Abortion Funding in Insurance Exchanges.  The Senate Insurance and Labor Committee recommended passage of SB 98 to prohibit funding abortions under health insurance policies issued under the health insurance exchanges established in accordance with the federal Affordable Care Act. We now seek support from the Rules Committee so that the bill can be debated by the full Senate and moved to the House by cross-over day.

Gun Control. The House of Representatives has adopted HB 875 proposing changes to the control of individual weapons in Georgia. Although we are disappointed in the outcome, we will continue our advocacy in the Senate which has assigned the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 826 would have changed the definition of “school safety zone” to eliminate private schools from the safety zones where weapons are prohibited.  The author accepted our suggestion that this part of the bill be changed to keep the current definition which is favorable to our Catholic schools.

Statute of Limitations Expansion. HB 771 proposes to make the statute of limitations for various forms of child abuse unlimited. A subcommittee of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee approved the bill with some generally favorable amendments. The bill will be considered by the full committee where additional changes will likely be made.

Religious Liberty. House Bill 895, like its Senate counterpart Senate Resolution 808, proposes void the effectiveness of foreign laws, including religious laws. Along with the Anti-Defamation League and members of the State Bar of Georgia, I spoke against the resolution in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will speak this week in the House Judiciary Committee. Among other things, the bill could affect the ownership of church property in Georgia.

We support Senate Bill 377 and House Bill 1023 which would enact the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). RFRA is intended to exempt from generally applicable statutes regulations which burden freedom of religion unless the law is supported by a compelling government interest of a high order. Congress enacted a federal version of this law for federal law with bi-partisan support in 1993 and this statute forms an important basis for our position in the HHS mandate cases. These bills would provide similar religious liberty protections in state law. SB 377 has been recommended by the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be heard by a House subcommittee in the next few days.

HB 861 would provide an extensive protocol allowing students to express religious views in public school forums, class assignments, graduation ceremonies and other public gatherings. The bill is being heard in the House Judiciary Committee.

Parental Choice in Education. There has been no action on legislation to increase the cap on tax credits to support student scholarship programs, such as G.R.A.C.E Scholars.  There is, however, some consideration being given to alternative structures for the student scholarship program, not all of which would benefit G.R.A.C.E Scholars.

New Americans Act. There has still been no action on SB 312 which would require the Department of Human Resources to identify and assist legal immigrants in obtaining citizenship through the naturalization process.

Child Testimony. The House Judiciary Committee will consider HB 804 proposes to allow children under 18 years of age who are victims of violent crimes to testify against their perpetrators by video rather than in person. This type of legislation has passed in other states to make prosecution of violent criminals more feasible for young victims.

Note: Because legislation on cross-over day can have such dramatic effect on the status of much legislation, my next report will be held until immediately after March 3.

2014 Georgia Legislative Session Update 1

Including the snow emergency days which had to be included in the allotted forty (40) legislative days, the Georgia General Assembly has now completed nineteen (19) days of its calendar.

Upcoming Opportunities. The Eighth Annual Catholics at the Capitol has been re-scheduled due to weather. Details on the re-scheduled day will be posted on the website as they are made available.  Participation is open to all. Details and registration information is available at the Archdiocese website at http://www.archatl.com/catholicday

Opportunities for Priests. In order to accommodate the schedules of priests, I am extending an offer to any priest who would like to come to the Capitol as his schedule permits to receive a briefing on pending issues, meet with legislators and enjoy lunch at the legislative office building. Please contact me at fmulcahy@georgiacc.org or (770) 490-4244 to make arrangements.

Abortion Funding in Insurance Exchanges.  We continue discussing with legislators the need for prohibiting abortion funding from insurance policies issued under the new federal insurance exchanges to the  fullest extent possible. The Affordable Care Act allows such elimination and other states have adopted similar legislation.

Gun Control. HB 875 proposes changes to the control of individual weapons in Georgia. Archbishop Gregory and Bishop Hartmayer have issued a press statement in opposition to the bill. In addition to a release to the press, I delivered the statement at a press conference in partnership with an interfaith panel of religious leaders. The Georgia Baptist Convention did not join us and has formally supported expanded weapons availability.

The thrust of the bill is that those who have obtained a carry license should not be restricted from carrying weapons except under limited circumstances.

We oppose provisions which:

    1. eliminates the long standing prohibition of weapons in houses of worship and eliminates the prohibition of weapons in bars. In the future, houses of worship and bars would have only the same rights as other property owners to request that those possessing weapons leave the premises.
    2. makes carrying weapons on public college campuses a civil offense with a fine of  $100.00.
    3. expands the scope of those who may be authorized to carry weapons in a school safety zone, at a school function or on a school bus.
    4. permits carry concealed weapons in all public buildings unless those buildings have security procedures operated by certified peace officers. Unless certified peace officers are present, concealed weapons will be permitted in public libraries, senior centers, recreations centers and the like.
    5. permits issuance of weapons licenses to persons under 21 years of age who have had military training and are currently on active duty or have been honorably discharged and allows a carry license even if a person has been convicted of previously pointing a gun at another in violation of criminal law.
    6. provides an “absolute defense” for any person in defending self or others whether or not that person has a carry license.
    7. prohibits creating or maintaining a database of weapons carry license holders.
    8. specifically does not require that school boards and administrators adopt any policy governing weapons usage in schools. Documentation of license holders authorized by a school are exempt from public disclosure.
    9. prohibits all local regulation of gun shows, possession of firearms and weapons, or firearms and weapons dealers. Any person may bring a lawsuit against local governments that violate this prohibition.
    10. prohibits Stare government restriction on possession of any weapons even in case of national emergency.

The House Public Safety and Homeland Security recommended passage of the bill and the bill will likely be debated in the House of Representative in the next few days.

Statute of Limitations Expansion. HB 771 proposes to make the statute of limitations for various forms of child abuse unlimited. Under the proposal, a civil claim for damages from child abuse may be brought at any time in the future. Currently, such claims can be brought no later than five (5) years after the child reaches eighteen (18) years of age. The proposed change would apply only to abuse that occurred after June 30, 2014.

Religious Liberty. Senate Resolution 808 proposes a constitutional amendment ostensibly intended to prevent application of foreign law in Georgia jurisdictions. This legislation appeared as a bill in 2012 and is supported by several conservative religious groups because of their fear that Georgia courts will adopt Islamic Sharia law principles. We opposed the bill in 2012 because it is so broad that it could preclude application of our Canon Law in many unknown situations as well as the laws of other religious denominations. The Jewish Anti-Defamation League will oppose the legislation as interfering with their religious laws. We have a particular concern in Georgia because Georgia law related to property ownership by religious institutions incorporates the directives of church law in defining ownership. The Episcopal Church in Georgia recently had lengthy litigation over ownership of a church building in Savannah and relied on this statute. We will oppose the constitutional amendment as unnecessary.

Parental Choice in Education. We continue to support school choice with emphasis on the continued viability and expansion of student scholarship organizations (SSO), such as G.R.A.C.E. Scholars. The program is so popular with taxpayers that the contributions up to the $50 million state-wide annual cap for all organizations was reached after only 22 days! HB 7was introduced to increase the cap to $100 million.

New Americans Act. SB 312 would require the Department of Human Resources to identify and assist legal immigrants in obtaining citizenship through the naturalization process. Much legislation in the past has targeted immigrants with penalties in the past bill this is an affirmative bill to help those eligible for citizenship to obtain their goal. We support the purposes of this bill as a positive step toward welcoming those from other countries.

Child Testimony. HB 804 proposes to allow children under 18 years of age who are victims of violent crimes to testify against their perpetrators by video rather than in person. This type of legislation has passed in other states to make prosecution of violent criminals more feasible for young victims.

Tuesdays at the State Capitol

Beginning Tuesday, January 28, and continuing until the end of the Georgia General Assembly session in March, Frank Mulcahy, Executive Director of the Georgia Catholic Conference (and others) will host an informal legislative meeting every Tuesday morning with all those interested in discussing Georgia legislation and politics from the perspective of Catholic teaching. Topics will be determined by legislation currently pending at the General Assembly.

After discussion, Frank will escort any interested participants to the State Capitol to engage with legislators or to familiarize themselves with the legislative process.

Time:  9:00 to 10:00 am followed by walk to State Capitol
Location: Parish House, Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
48 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive
Atlanta, Georgia 30303

  • One half block from the Capitol building (between Washington Street, SW, and Central Avenue, SW.)
  • Parking is available across the Street for a fee in the Steve Polk Plaza, 65 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Atlanta, GA (Located across MLK Drive from the Shrine).
  • No reservation is necessary but please contact Frank Mulcahy if there are questions or if there are particular issues you would like discussed. (404) 920-7367 or director@georgiacc.org

Eighth Annual Catholic Day at the Capitol – Thursday, March 6

The Archdiocese of Atlanta and Diocese of Savannah are sponsoring the eighth annual Catholic Day at the Capitol on Thursday, March 6th from 9:00 – 3:00 pm., with legislative briefings and workshops. We will walk together to the Capitol to meet your legislators. Lunch will be on your own. The event is free, but registration is required so that we can communicate last minute changes.  We will be updating this entry with an updated date for this event as soon as one has been selected and confirmed with the capitol.

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Catholic Day at the Capitol has changed!

In response to feedback from previous gatherings, there will be more time for education on legislative issues and workshop discussions before going to the Capitol.

Meeting legislators in the halls outside the legislative chambers is a sometimes uncomfortable process for some people, hence, we are encouraging participants to contact representatives in advance to try to set up times for in-person meetings. Nonetheless, many legislators prefer to meet constituents in the hall rather than in the office.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Update 21

Federal Legislation. There are persistent rumors of legislative drafting behind the scenes in the House of Representatives but no new bills have appeared in public. Hope for action before the end of 2013 dims as Congress plans only about a dozen legislative days before the end of the year. Yet, our advocates in Washington remain hopeful that viable legislation can emerge even if it takes until sometime in 2014. Reform, however, will never come without our sustained advocacy. Please encourage others to contact their members of Congress to support comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, through the Justice for Immigrants website: http://justiceforimmigrants.org/index.shtml The Justice for Immigrants website also includes links to statements by bishops across the country in support of reform.

Pope Francis. While Congress continues to stall without apparent concern for the pain of the immigrant population, Pope Francis continues his fatherly concern for suffering immigrants around the world, most recently asking a time of silence at the All Saints Day angelus for those who died trying to cross the desert in search of a better life.http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/angelus/2013/documents/papa-francesco_angelus_20131101_it.html  The Holy Father’s concern is noticed by advocates for reform in the United States as reflected in an article by Jeanne Atkinson, Executive Director of the Catholic Legal Immigration network (CLINIC). https://cliniclegal.org/news/asylum-lampedusa-migration-haiti-pope-francis/ports-tragedy-ambassadors-hope

I can provide additional information on request.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Update 19

Federal Legislation. While Congress remains consumed by debate over the budget and debt ceiling, public advocacy continues in support of immigration reform with numerous public demonstrations, including one in Washington where eight members of the House of Representatives, including John Lewis (D-GA), were arrested. Catholic bishops across the United States continue to support reform through public letters and statements.http://justiceforimmigrants.org/index.shtml

Pope Francis. The Holy Father continues to express his concern for immigrants throughout the world and calls us to join him. He has shown particular concern for those who have lost their lives seeking a better life in Europe, particularly those who drowned off the coast of Lampadusa which the Pope had visited in July. http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1304207.htm

Multicultural Parishes. The importance of immigration reform to Catholic parishes has been underscored by a recent study which shows nearly forty percent of Catholic parishes, especially in the south and west, are identified as multicultural. http://usccb.org/news/2013/13-182.cfm Parishes must be prepared to support the brothers and sisters who are in our very midst.

Local Advocacy. Reform will not come without sustained advocacy. Please encourage others to contact their members of Congress to support comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, through the Justice for Immigrants website: http://justiceforimmigrants.org/index.shtml The Justice for Immigrants website also includes links to statements by bishops across the country in support of reform.

I can provide additional information on request.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Update 18

Federal Legislation. Despite the federal government’s focus on budget and debt ceiling concerns, the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives last week announced introduction of a bill similar to S. 744 which the Senate adopted last June. This House bill, however, does not include the problematic border security provisions. The House bill currently has only Democrats as co-sponsors and is not likely to be taken up by committees in the Republican controlled House. We do not anticipate action on any immigration bills in the House until early in 2014, at the earliest.

Administrative Activity. The shutdown of many federal agencies affects immigration but most enforcement actions will continue unabated. The administration continues to deport approximately 1,100 people a day and, despite requests by advocacy groups seeking to protect family integrity, the administration is unwilling to slow the deportation process. Consular services for U.S. citizens and visa applicants continue to operate at this time but visa processing for foreign nationals will be curtailed and may affect foreign nationals planning to leave the United States and then return. The E-verify system which must be accessed by many employers under Georgia law will not be operational during the shutdown.

Advocacy. Each of us must continue contacting members of the House of Representatives so that they will take action to reform the broken immigration process. Please encourage others to contact their members of Congress to support comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, through the Justice for Immigrants website:http://justiceforimmigrants.org/index.shtml

The Justice for Immigrants website also includes links to statements by bishops across the country in support of reform.

I can provide additional information on request.