The following is a brief update on the most significant legislation which the Conference followed during the 2015 session which concluded sine die on April 2. Governor Deal may sign or veto bills over the next forty (40) days but I do not anticipate a veto on legislation we have followed.
Bills that did not pass during this session may still be passed in the 2016 session.
Executive Summary of Key Developments:
Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) did not pass and remained tabled in the House Judiciary Committee.
There were no bills directly addressing abortion.
No bills passed increasing student scholarship organization (SSO) caps and no other bills passed to help parents in paying private school or home school expenses.
SB 8 passed to provide safe harbor for minors victimized by commercial sex trafficking and to establish a fund for rehabilitation of those victims of trafficking. A constitutional amendment will be voted on by the electorate in 2016 to stabilize funding for serving victims of trafficking.
Children with autism spectrum disorder will be helped by a mandate of insurance coverage for testing and treatment.
Senate took no action on a bill to allow in-state tuition for undocumented students at State colleges.
Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA): Status: Senate version passed Senate. Bishops of Georgia issued statement of support http://www.archatl.com/archbishops/declarations/2015-religious-freedom-restoration-act.html.
While a version of RFRA passed the Senate, it was tabled in the House Judiciary Committee. Despite much public and behind the scenes maneuvering, no bill emerged from the House.
Anti-abortion / Pro-life bills: Status – Monitoring and awaiting introduction of bills; obtained pro-life amendments to end of life bills.
There has been one bill introduced to clean up several problems in abortion reporting but it failed to get support in the House Insurance Committee and did not move toward passage this year.
SB 109 PASSED and will create greater specificity in the Physician Order Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) authorization. A POLST is a document with the authority of a doctor’s order which specifies treatment as a patient with a terminal condition. We are following the bill and have obtained amendments to make sure that end of life provisions are as consistent as possible with Catholic teaching. The bill includes a prohibition against use of POLST as authorization for assisted suicide http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20152016/154019.pdf.
HB 429 PASSED both houses for the beneficial purpose of prohibiting insurance companies from restricting coverage for treatment based upon the insured’s diagnosis with a terminal condition. Due to concerns about the possibility of using funds from Georgia insurance policies for assisted suicide in states where it is permitted, we obtained a specific exclusion against use for assisted suicide. http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20152016/153798.pdf
Parental Choice in Education: Support for increased “cap”; support for HB 243 related to education savings accounts; active monitoring of Education Commission.
The key to progress in education funding will be the education reform commission created by Governor Deal which will meet, hold hearings and render a report by August.
Several education items have been delayed until next year in waiting for the report, including any increase in the SSO “cap.”
The House Ways and Means Committee passed HB 243 to create education savings accounts to support a child’s educational expense needs in private schools or home school environments but there was insufficient support to bring the bill to the House floor for vote. http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20152016/150664.pdf
Victims of Human Trafficking: Status: PASSED by Senate and House. Support of revised bill.
SB 8 PASSED and provides that minors under age 18 who are victims of trafficking will not be criminally charged but will be able to obtain care. The bill will also establish the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund and Commission. SB 8 also includes an extension of the civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse from age 23 to age 25. http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20152016/154017.pdf
SR 7 PASSED and will place on the 2016 general election ballot a proposed constitutional amendment which will allow funding of the Safe Harbor Fund with a court fee imposed on persons convicted of one of several sex based crimes and a one percent (1%) assessment on the gross receipts from adult entertainment facilities (i.e. “strip clubs”). Supporters of this legislation will need an active public campaign to have the electorate adopt this constitutional amendment since there is a general reluctance to increase any tax and because the adult entertainment industry will likely wage a quiet but well-funded effort to opposition to the tax on that industry. http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20152016/153975.pdf
Immigration: Opposition to SB 6 related to vehicle licenses and impoundment; support for SB 44 to allow in-state tuition for without regard to documentation.
Other than a public hearing, the Senate took no action on SB 44 which would have permitted undocumented student to enjoy in-state tuition at State colleges. There were several attempts to amend legislation to further restrict drivers’ licenses based on continuing opposition to President Obama’s administrative actions but, fortunately, all those efforts failed. http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20152016/145602.pdf
Insurance Coverage for Autism. Status: PASSED Senate and House. Active monitoring and support. (HB 429)
The Autism insurance bill, formerly referred to as Senate Bill 1, was combined with HB 429 and PASSED. The bill requires insurance companies to provide coverage for autism spectrum disease with some limitations. http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20152016/153798.pdf
Death Penalty: SB 71 PASSED
The bill is beneficial in opening Parole Board records related to its decisions so that both victims’ families and applicants for parole will have more information about the life and death decisions of the Board. The bill does not necessarily limit implement any restriction on the death penalty and is, at best, a first step in exposing fallacies around the death penalty issue.