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2014 Georgia Legislative Session Update 2

The coming week is critical for legislation in the Georgia General Assembly as it approaches “cross-over” day on Monday, March 3, the day when bills must be adopted by at least one house to be viable for this session. Thus, we will lose favorable bills if they are not through one house or we will have to continue opposing unfavorable bills that do pass one house.

Opportunities for Personal Participation:

Reminder — Rescheduled Catholic Day. Catholic Day at the Capitol has been re-scheduled for March 6. Participation remains open to all. Revised details and registration information is available on the website for the Georgia Catholic Conference.

Tuesdays at the Capitol. I remain available for informal discussion of legislative issues at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception each Tuesday morning while the General Assembly is in session. Details are available on the Georgia Catholic Conference website.

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 fmulcahy@georgiacc.org or (770) 490-4244 to make arrangements.

Abortion Funding in Insurance Exchanges.  The Senate Insurance and Labor Committee recommended passage of 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. We now seek support from the Rules Committee so that the bill can be debated by the full Senate and moved to the House by cross-over day.

Gun Control. The House of Representatives has adopted HB 875 proposing changes to the control of individual weapons in Georgia. Although we are disappointed in the outcome, we will continue our advocacy in the Senate which has assigned the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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.

Statute of Limitations Expansion. HB 771 proposes to make the statute of limitations for various forms of child abuse unlimited. A subcommittee of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee approved the bill with some generally favorable amendments. The bill will be considered by the full committee where additional changes will likely be made.

Religious Liberty. House Bill 895, like its Senate counterpart Senate Resolution 808, proposes void the effectiveness of foreign laws, including religious laws. 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 will speak this week in the House Judiciary Committee. Among other things, the bill could affect the ownership of church property in Georgia.

We support Senate Bill 377 and House Bill 1023 which would enact the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). RFRA is intended to exempt from generally applicable statutes regulations which burden freedom of religion unless the law is supported by a compelling government interest of a high order. Congress enacted a federal version of this law for federal law with bi-partisan support in 1993 and this statute forms an important basis for our position in the HHS mandate cases. These bills would provide similar religious liberty protections in state law. SB 377 has been recommended by the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be heard by a House subcommittee in the next few days.

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.

Parental Choice in Education. There has been no action on legislation to increase the cap on tax credits to support student scholarship programs, such as G.R.A.C.E Scholars.  There is, however, some consideration being given to alternative structures for the student scholarship program, not all of which would benefit G.R.A.C.E Scholars.

New Americans Act. There has still been no 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.

Child Testimony. The House Judiciary Committee will consider HB 804 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. This type of legislation has passed in other states to make prosecution of violent criminals more feasible for young victims.

Note: Because legislation on cross-over day can have such dramatic effect on the status of much legislation, my next report will be held until immediately after March 3.