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 firstname.lastname@example.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.