Legislative Report – March 11, 2013

The Georgia General Assembly has passed its halfway point and is focused on the thirtieth legislative day, “crossover” day, by which bills that have a chance of passage must pass at least one house of the legislature.

Parental Choice in Education. Inasmuch as the previously reported HB 140 became stalled in the House Ways and Means Committee, SB 243 was introduced in the Senate by Senator Charles Bethel as the Administration Floor Leader, meaning that the bill was supported by the Governor. SB 243 passed the Senate on “crossover” day and proposes to require students 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.

Pro-life / Biotechnology.  HB 481 (Neal) proposes to prohibit human cloning and creation of human – animal hybrids in Georgia. Since the bill was introduced very late in the 2013 session, a special subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee decided to postpone further consideration until after the session to resolve questions and ambiguities. We will work with legislators over the interim with the goal of developing legislation for consideration in the 2014 session.

Human Trafficking. We continue to support HB 141which has passed the House and is expected to get a hearing in the 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. The Conference supports SB 98 which proposes 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. The Senate Insurance and Labor Committee did not take up the measure but we are exploring additional alternatives.

Special Needs Scholarship. HB 70 has passed the full House of Representatives  and would improve the financial operation of the special needs scholarships which benefit students in some of our schools. Having passed before crossover day, the bill is available for consideration by the Senate.

Guns in Church. 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. HB 512 eliminates houses of worship as locations where carrying a weapon is prohibited and obviates the need to disclose that the person is carrying a weapon or following instructions. It should be noted, however, that a church, as the owner of private property, may exclude any person from its property and, if the person fails to leave, contact law enforcement officials to bring charges of criminal trespass. In effect, though, the bill reduces the options houses of worship have in prohibiting carrying guns.