Legislative Report – March 25, 2013

The Georgia General Assembly is approaching the final days of the 2013 session, now scheduled to conclude sine die on March 28. The next three days will see intense efforts to pass or prevent important legislation.

Immigration Restrictions. As originally introduced, HB 125 and SB 160, in slightly different ways, were intended to correct problems caused by HB 87 passed in 2011 which had increased the processing requirements for obtaining business and professional licenses. Members of the House of Representatives have attempted to impose many new burdens on all Georgians in the continuing efforts to make life difficult on our undocumented brothers and sisters.

The expanded provisions of SB 160 contain a multitude of technical changes that will have a huge impact on the lives of many Georgians. As a few examples, rather than ease the bureaucratic burden on individuals and businesses, SB 160 proposes to make it more difficult for all Georgians to obtain grants, homestead exemptions, public and assisted housing, retirement benefits, tax credits and driver’s licenses. The bill will also limit the use of certain internationally accepted documents in Georgia for many services now permitted, including in many places limitations on the ability to marry or obtain human services necessary for human dignity.

We oppose SB 160 and have sent out a request that individuals who subscribe to the Georgia Catholic Conference website contact legislators to oppose the bill.

(Please note that the offensive provisions are currently contained in SB 160 rather than HB 125 which was amended in the Senate.)

Parental Choice in Education. We continue to support amendments to the Student Scholarship Organization (SSO) tax credit program to require a student to attend a public school for at least six weeks before becoming eligible for a scholarship and to require an SSO to consider a recipient family’s financial condition, donate a higher percentage of contributions to scholarships, and report the aggregate average of recipient family adjusted gross income. SSO’s may not accept a donation designated for any recipient. We also support the increase of the state-wide cap on contributions to $65 million. These changes improve the integrity of the SSO program and are consistent with current practices of G.R.A.C.E. Scholars. We are actively supporting the legislation although the number of the bill that will contain those provisions is not known at this time.

Human Trafficking. HB 141 will require posting of information about a toll free number for those seeking to escape from sexual and labor trafficking as a step toward ending such trafficking. The bill has passed both houses of the General Assembly and, with the expected agreement of the House to a technical correction, the bill will be sent to the Governor at the end of the session.

Special Needs Scholarship. HB 70 would improve the financial operation of the special needs scholarships which benefit students in some of our schools by allowing students to obtain expedited individual educational programs (IEP) on an expedited basis to facilitate transfer to a more suitable public or private school. The bill has passed the house and has been recommended by the Senate Education and Youth Committee. The bill is available for consideration by the Senate in the coming week.

Guns in Churches and Private Schools. There is a conflict between the positions of the House and Senate related to carrying weapons in churches and private schools. The Senate supports the provisions by which as a default position, weapons may not be brought into a house of worship unless the “administrative board” of the church has authorized such action.

With respect to on-public elementary and secondary schools, a duly authorized official may authorize the carrying of a weapon in a school safety zone, at a school function, or on a school bus of a public or private elementary or secondary school.

We support the Senate position for HB 101 but a conference committee is likely to resolve differences and we will continue to work to protect the people in our churches and schools.

Elder and Disabled Person Abuse. HB 78 is a long needed and widely supported reform of laws related to protection of the elderly and disabled adults, whether or not a resident in a facility, along many of the principles that have been adopted with respect to abuse of children.

The bill includes clergy members among those specified as mandatory reporters who must report possible abuse or neglect to adult protection agencies or to law enforcement. The bill does contain the same protection for matters revealed to a priest in the context of confession as was included in the child abuse bill but, in all other respects, priests and deacons will have the same responsibilities as other mandatory reporters.

We support the bill which has passed the House and has been recommended by the Senate Judiciary Non-civil Committee.

In addition to clergy, the elder and disabled bill also requires reporting from the same persons who are defined in the child abuse law as well as others who are identified as working with the elderly and disabled.