It's been a weird session. The 2017 session of the General Assembly ended just after 1 AM this morning, but there wasn't much of a sense of celebration as legislators departed. "There was no joy in Mudville" seemed an apt description, to steal a phrase from a 19th century poem. There was a lot of frustration though as several of the biggest disagreements remained unresolved. News of the fire under and collapse of part of I-85 north out of town didn't help.
It seems to be more and more of a struggle for a part-time legislature to deal with the magnitude and variety of issues arising across the state, but both parts seem unlikely to change. Legislators set a fast pace for themselves this year and stuck to the schedule they set on February 1st. With the third largest legislature in the country, we have a wide variety of personalities with diverse goals and values and that adds even more complexity. (Yes, we have the third largest. Only New Hampshire and Pennsylvania have larger legislatures than we do.)
Best Thing Today
Before getting into the list of bills with action taken today, one of them deserves a bit more explanation and many thanks to Chairman of Senate Education & Youth Committee Sen. Lindsey Tippins:HB 217, increasing the cap on income tax credits for donations to student scholarship organizations (SSOs) to give vouchers to students to go to private school.
The House initially wanted the cap to be raised from $58 million to $100 million over the next few years. The Senate decreased it to $65 million and limited the administrative fee of the SSOs to 3%. The House countered with a $85 million cap and a tiered system of fees.
Sen. Michael Williams asked the Senate to agree. To his credit he also corrected his mistake on Tuesday when he said the QBE formula is fully funded. However, he went on to say that one way to fill that funding gap is to send more students to private school. He clearly believes the hype that this saves money.
Sen. Lindsey Tippins asked the Senate to disagree with the House version for all the reasons you've heard before. They voted down Sen. Williams motion by a huge margin (12-39). They approved Sen. Tippins' motion to disagree with the House 48-4 and the House never took it up. The program remains in effect at the $58 million credit cap.
Hurray for Sen. Tippins, not just because his remarks reflected our views, but because he stepped out with complete discussion points and hard facts. That's what it is going to take to actually deal with difficult issues.
What Happened Today?
This was the first year of the two-year session; anything not voted down is still "alive" next year. So don't write anything off yet. The Governor has 40 days to sign, veto, or allow a bill to become a law without his signature. May 9th is the 40th day.
Below is a rundown of major happenings today. It is as complete and correct as possible. We'll do a summary of the complete session soon.
Sent to the Governor
HB 139, financial transparency
HB 198, providing information on flu vaccines
HB 237, creating income tax credits for donations to the Public School Innovation Foundation Fund
HB 340, revising the tag ad valorem tax process, went to Conference Committee but the only thing they were able to agree on was changing the taxable value of a lease. The rest of the problems will be left for another day. Kudos to Rep. Shaw Blackmon for tackling this complex topic and trying to balance all the interests. Elected in August 2015, he hit the ground running.
HB 430, the charter school bill, took an interesting path. Sen. Vincent Fort got his Community Schools bill, SB 30, attached in the Senate. The House rejected that amendment and struck it. The Senate then agreed to the bill which left it as it came out of the Senate Education & Youth Committee.
HB 434, eminent domain condemnations converted to other than public use
SB 16, expanding the conditions eligible for lawful use of medical marijuana
SB 149, training for school resource officers
SB 186, clarifying that students who get a high school diploma through a dual enrollment program are eligible for HOPE, PLUS HB 331, the Caregiver Educational Consent Act, attached
SB 201, use of sick leave for family members
SB 211, on assessments, passed along with HB 114, the valedictorian bill that was attached.
SB 258, ineligibility for city or school board office for failure to turn over public money
Left Among the Debris
HB 32, sexual misconduct between a school employee and student, didn't make it out of House Rules by Crossover but then SB 154 was stripped and used to try to get it through. That didn't work either as SB 154 remained in House Rules too.
HB 61, the e-retail sales tax bill, was attached to the income tax bill and neither made it out of a conference committee
HB 273, the recess bill
SB 3, the CONNECT Act, ended up in a conference committee due to attachments and never made it out
SB 30, the Sustainable Community School Operational Grants, failed to make it out of House Rules, was attached to the charter school bill then stripped off that
SB 152, relating to assignment to alternative school, was voted down by the House 65-102, reconsidered and voted down again, 71-100.
Thanks to each of you for the work you do on behalf of the 1.7 million students in public schools in Georgia! And a very special thanks for responding to our legislative alerts. It is always a pleasure to serve you.