Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local Columnists

March 31, 2012

Weekly Report to the People Representative Mike Cheokas, District 134

AMERICUS — Monday, March 26th marked the 38th Legislative Day of the 2012 Regular Session of the Georgia General Assembly. Three more days until “Sine Die,” which is Legislative Day 40, and the end of Session. In my opinion, the best way to describe what is going on now with legislation is it’s a cross between a sprint to the finish line and a tug-a-war with everyone racing to get their legislation out and the Rules Committee in both chambers bartering by holding legislation back.   

First up on the Debate Calendar was SB 143, presented by Representative Brett Harrell (District 106), which passed by a vote of 109-52. This measure requires that Massage Therapists undergo criminal background checks and fingerprinting prior to receiving a license. It also makes all fees associated with this the responsibility of the licensee. SB 225, presented by Representative Doug Collins (District 27) passed by a vote of 154-5. This measure makes it a misdemeanor for a person to post on Facebook or Twitter, or send an e-mail that they have committed a crime, knowing the information is false. Law Enforcement Agencies are required to investigate any credible leads. These false social media postings waste time and resources for our Law Enforcement Agencies, which are funded by tax payers.

    SB 289, presented by Representative Mike Dudgeon (District 24) passed by a vote of 125-38. This measure requires the state Board of Education to establish rules and regulations to maximize the number of students that will take at least one online course before they graduate. This bill will allow the Georgia Virtual School to be used by charter schools as well as public schools. SB 324, presented by Representative Jay Neal   (District 1) passed by a vote of 163-0. This measure adds “farriery” to the list of jobs that is eligible for a licensing and registration exemption provided to veterinarians or veterinary technology professions. A farrier is a person who shoes horses and who repairs and maintains a horse’s hooves.

SB 337, presented by Representative Darlene Taylor (District 173) passed by a vote of 158-0. This measure allows insurers to offer wellness endorsements and health improvement programs as incentives for Georgia citizens to live healthier lives. SB 357 by Representative Jan Tankersley (District 158) passed by a vote of 156-0. This Agency Legislation, requested by the Department of Agriculture repeals the “Georgia Treated Timber Products Act of 1973.” In a letter of support, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said “The industry is self-policed by third party companies, and the Department finds very few, minor violations.”

SB 365, presented by Representative Doug McKillip (District 115) passed by a vote of 129-29. The Georgia Real Estate Closing Attorneys Association brought this bill to prevent the unauthorized practice of law commonly referred to as “witness only” closings. SB 365 redefines a “settlement agent” to be a lender or an active member of the State Bar of Georgia. It penalizes anyone or entity which conducts settlements and loan disbursements, who is not a “settlement agent.” Real-estate brokers and salespersons will still be allowed to handle earnest money checks. SB 367, presented by Representative Tom McCall (District 30) passed by a vote of 159-2. This measure allows the Agriculture Commissioner the ability to require security bonds of those persons and entities that he regulates. It is intended to ensure payment of penalties imposed for infractions.

SB 368, which received the Do-Pass recommendation from the House Health and Human Services Committee last week, was presented by Representative Amy Carter (District 175). It passed by a vote of 159-0. This measure adds competency requirements for nursing license renewals beginning in 2015. These competency requirements include:

30 hours of continuing education

Maintenance of certification by a national certifying body recognized by the Georgia Board of Nursing

Verification of competency and at least 500 hours of practice certified by an employer Defines inactive status, Creates reporting requirements for violations, Disciplinary programs Allows for Georgia Board of Nursing waivers.

This bill also creates reporting requirements for nurses if they have reason to believe nursing colleagues have violated their legal duty, such as practicing without a license, other types of fraud, or practicing nursing under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

SB 371, presented by Representative Judy Manning (District 32) passed by a vote of 157-3. This measure simply allows Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) to utilize CID funds to assist with airport improvements. SB 383, presented by Representative Wendell Willard (District 49) passed by a vote of 159-3. This measure will be a great help to Georgia companies operating internationally and international companies looking to operate in Georgia by updating and modernizing Georgia’s international commercial arbitration Code primarily by separating the international code from the domestic process. SB 446, presented by Representative Amy Carter (District 175) passed by a vote of 163-1.This measure transfers oversight and inspection functions relating to elevators, dumbwaiters, escalators, man-lifts, and moving walks, boilers and pressure vessels, amusement rides, carnival rides, and scaffolding and staging from the Department of Labor and Commissioner of Labor to the Office of Safety Fire Commissioner and Safety Fire Commissioner. This measure also removes bond requirements for Chief Boiler, Pressure Vessel Inspector and Deputy Inspectors employed by the State.

SB 464 presented by Representative Alex Atwood (District 179) passed by a vote of 159-2. This measure will ensure that after May 1st 2013, the total number of new commercial crabbing licenses issued will be no more than 100 and those issued prior to this specified date will remain active until the license is not renewed. Any license not renewed by May 1 of any license year shall revert to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for reissue by lottery devised and operated by DNR. This measure establishes rules and regulations for the transfer of crabbing licenses to others.

Last week while visiting with Agriculture Commissioner, Gary Black, I met Hannah Cowart, Business Analyst for the Georgia Forestry Commission. Hannah is the daughter of Martha Augood and the granddaughter of Nell Ireland. She was at the Capitol with Director Robert Farris coordinating a Recognition Ceremony for the 2011 Northern Forestry Unit of the Year (Coweta Forestry Unit), Southern Forestry Unit of the Year (Decatur Forestry Unit) and Forestry District of the Year (Chattahoochee District).

Also at the Capitol last week was Mitzi Bacon, Coordinator for Sumter County Family Connection, Visions for Sumter. She came to thank the Legislature for their continued support and share the multiyear strategic plan that Family Connections has implemented. This plan is a concrete, results-based goal to improve conditions for children and families in Sumter County. Its benchmark objectives are:

Decrease the number of students absent from school more than 15 days

Reduce the pregnancy rate of girls ages 15-17

• Increase the number of Sumter County residents who obtained a GED.

• Decrease the rate of Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

• Increase the percentage of students completing high school on time.

• Provide the children and youth of Sumter County with information and support to enable them to avoid risky behaviors and improve their decision making skills Provide children, youth, and their parents with information and supports to promote successful completion of secondary education and lifelong learning.

Mitzi said that through public awareness she hopes to showcase the needs of children and families in Sumter County. She said that Visions of Sumter has made a significant difference in the lives of children and families in Southwest Georgia. Keep up the good work, Mitzi.

Legislative Day 39 had one Regular and three Supplemental Debate Calendars. First up was SB 153 presented by Representative David Casas (District 103) which passed by a vote of 166-0. This measure requires school administrators to state in writing that a school employee termination is through no fault of the employee when the termination is due to the loss of students or program cancellation. It further specifies that school furlough days will take place on Monday or Friday or in conjunction with school holidays. SB 234 presented by Representative Wendell Willard (District 49) passed by a vote of 162-0. This measure is a comprehensive revision of the Georgia Public Revenue Code. It addresses ad valorem tax assessments and appeals. A few of the highlights are:

Requires partial payments on property tax bills to first be applied to property taxes before being applied to any fees or assessments included in the bill

Allows counties to form regional tax assessor’s offices and to share appraisal staff

Creates an independent property tax review board that will investigate complaints filed relating to members of Boards of Assessors or Boards of Equalization that have been accused of willful disregard of the law or inappropriate, unprofessional, abusive behavior requires applicants for appointment to Boards of Equalization to disclose their qualifications on a uniform application form that is public record and requires an additional 40 hours of continuing education after members serve two terms.

• Provides refinements to the hearing officer appeal process.

• Provides refinements to the arbitrator appeal process.

• Prohibits contracts directly between tax commissioners and cities and prohibits tax commissioners from receiving compensation from cities for the collection city of taxes.

• Changes the time periods for refund claims

SB 382, presented by Representative Roger Lane (District 167) which passed by a vote of 145-4, simply redrew the five districts for the Public Service Commission to reflect the results of the 2010 Census. SB 403, presented by Representative David Casas (District 103) passed by a vote of 152-12. This measure creates a school system funding formula for school nurses and materials used in the School Nurse Program. It also establishes a School Health Nurse Program Coordinator within the Department of Education.

SB 427, presented by Representative David Knight (District 126) passed by a vote of 98-71. This bill requires the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) Director to develop and implement procedures for timely processing of applications for issuance and renewal of permits. These procedures shall include status tracking abilities with real time updates on the EPD’s website. SB 441, presented by Representative Andy Welch (District 110) passed by a vote of 159-3. This measure prohibits anyone from knowingly and intentionally aiming or pointing a laser device at a law enforcement officer or at an aircraft.  SB 37, presented by Representative Jay Neal (District 1) passed by a vote of 162-3. This measure allows the State Property Commission to enter into multiyear leases, not to exceed 20 years. It also authorizes the Commission to contract with licensed real-estate brokers. The State Properties Commission shall provide the Governor, President of the Senate, and Speaker of the House, with an annual report showing the total sum of all leasing obligations to be paid by the State for the upcoming fiscal year.

SB 293, presented by Representative Tom Rice (District 51) passed by a vote of 157-6. This measure requires the Nation’s Motto, “In God We Trust,” to be available on a decal for use on license plates. It further deletes provisions requiring license plates to display a county decal. SB 414, presented by Representative Sharon Cooper (District 41) passed by a vote of 116-49. This measure establishes the Music Therapy Advisory Group within the office of the Secretary of State and creates licensing requirements for music therapists.

Chairman and Representative Terry England (District 108) again came to the Well with his trademark, “3 bottles of water” to present the Conference Committee Report on HB 742, the Fiscal Year 2013 General Appropriations Act. He said “we have produced a budget with very strong policy statements reflecting the work of this body over the past three months, as well as the general principles we can all agree are needed for the people of Georgia… on March 24th, the Governor revised the revenue estimate up by $117.5 million… these additional funds are being placed very decisively into a long-term plan for economic growth for our state…these funds are being primarily divided between Regional Economic Business Assistance grants (REBA) and One Georgia grants to be spent over the next three years to provide infrastructure, technology, land and any unique community development needs that will bring or expand businesses and jobs in our state… We have also applied some of the funds to funding an eminent banking scholar position in the Department of Banking… It should be understood that this growth does not begin to regain all the lost ground from our high-water mark of Fiscal Year 2008, when we had over $2 billion more in revenue and half a million less people than we are appropriating for today… In fact, the FY 13 base budget proposes state operations at over 20 percent less per capita than a decade ago... 92 percent of the bond projects in this budget are directly related to education and economic development… There are several House positions that the Senate wisely agreed to that did not become a part of our negotiating, but are worth highlighting:

The structure and funding of over $11 million for Accountability Courts

Restoration of $4.3 million in substance abuse programs

Restoration of soil and water conservation, as well as Rural Water Association funding $10 million additional funding for local road projects

New residencies and a plan for expanding the medical workforce – including funding for our medical colleges Establish a career ladder for DNR enforcement personnel.

Fully fund Pre-K for 170 days of instruction by funding both operating and teacher salaries for 170 days  Restoration of funds for Agricultural Education, Tech/Career Education, Residential Treatment Centers and RESAs’ core services.”

This measure passed by a vote of 143-24 and is the final action of the FY 2013 State Budget. It now goes to the Governor for his signature. As always, Terry England did an outstanding job matching Georgia’s resources with Georgia’s needs. Keep up the good work Terry!

Thank you for choosing me to represent you in Atlanta at the State Capitol.

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