Legislative Report – March 18, 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 two weeks will see intense efforts to pass or prevent important legislation.

Immigration restrictions. The Georgia House of Representatives greatly expanded the scope of House Bill 125 which was intended to fix problems caused by HB 87 which had increased the processing requirements for obtaining business and professional licenses. As revised, the bill will impose many new burdens on all Georgians in the continuing efforts to make life difficult on our undocumented brothers and sisters.

The expanded bill contains a multitude of technical changes that have a huge impact on the lives of many Georgians. As a few examples, rather than ease the bureaucratic burden on individuals and businesses, HB 125 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 HB 125 and have sent out a request that individuals who subscribe to the Georgia Catholic Conference website contact legislators to oppose the bill.

Parental Choice in Education. SB 243 continues to slowly progress through the House Ways and Means Committee and we are encouraged that acceptable legislation will emerge. The bill proposes 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. 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.

Human Trafficking. HB 141which has passed the senate Judiciary Non-civil Committee and is ready for consideration by the full Senate. The bill would 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.

Abortion Funding under Insurance Exchanges.  While we continue to seek ways to prohibit payment for abortions by insurers operating under the health insurance exchanges that will be created as part of the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, it does not appear that there is sufficient support for such legislation this session.

Special Needs Scholarship. HB 70 would improve the financial operation of the special needs scholarships which benefit students in some of our schools. We anticipate a hearing in the Senate Education and Youth Committee in the near future.

Guns in Church. I have written to the members of the senate Judiciary Non-civil Committee asking that they continue the restrictions on weapons in houses of worship as set forth in current law. Current law prohibits a person carrying a weapon in a house of worship (as well as several other types of institutions); provided, that, a person holding a license to carry the weapon may approach the security or management personnel of the house of worship and follow the personnel’s instructions to remove, secure, store or temporarily surrender the weapon. Violation of this statute is a misdemeanor.