Thursday night, March 28, just before midnight, the gavel came down and brought the 2013 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly to a close.
As always, the challenges were many, but it turned out to be a very productive session. I wanted to write a column and mention a couple of the more high profile items that were adopted this year and will write a subsequent column with a list of many of the bills that passed that did not receive as much media coverage.
I hope this will be helpful as residents seek information on what the General Assembly worked on during this session.
As always, the budget was of primary importance on the agenda for the 2013 session. House Bill 106 establishes the state budget for Fiscal Year 2014, running from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014.
The measure calls for a little above $19 billion in state spending and closely mirrors Gov. Deal’s original budget proposal, but includes a number of changes made by the House that benefit education, healthcare, and economic development.
Among additions made by the House are $38.3 million for Equalization Grants for education, $489,475 for continued expansion funding of all programs that provide physician residency training, $25.7 million for road projects throughout the state, and $4.3 million to help the Georgia Bureau of Investigation retain experienced, certified personnel who are on the front line of working to keep our state safe.
As a side note, this budget was the tenth budget produced by a Republican-controlled legislature since the voters put Republicans into the majority in the 2004 elections. In that time per-capita state spending, when adjusted for inflation, has declined more than 20 percent and we continue to be one of only seven states that retains our AAA bond rating.
With a growing state and a challenging economy during that time, I believe that is a testament to sound and conservative fiscal policies. Living within our means and making tough choices have been and will continue to be the hallmarks of government in Georgia.
A bill that I worked on in conjunction with Governor Deal’s office is HB 487. The measure is a comprehensive reformation of the Georgia code involving the regulation of Class B coin-operated amusement machines.
These are games that can be played where participants earn points/tickets that can be refunded for merchandise on the premises.
Unfortunately, bad actors are providing cash payouts for these machines, which has created illegal gambling locations throughout the state.
The GBI testified in one committee that the illegal misuse of these machines has created a more than $100 million black market illegal gambling industry in Georgia.
The major shift of this bill is to move the oversight responsibilities of these machines from the Department of Revenue to the Georgia Lottery Commission. The Ga. Lottery Commission has a vested interest in eliminating these bad actors because under current law the Ga. Lottery is the only game method that can offer cash payouts.
The bill requires every one of these machines to be linked into a centralized monitoring system so the dollars going through the machines can be tracked to the penny.
The law enforcement community believes this will give them the informational resources to identify and prosecute bad actors. The measure was strongly supported by the GBI, the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association.
The General Assembly also debated and ultimately passed a measure dealing with ethics in government in Georgia. House Bill 142 will strengthen Georgia’s ethics laws by placing a $75 limit on each expenditure made by an individual lobbyist on an elected official. The bill also bans gifts of tickets to athletic, sporting, recreational, musical concerts and other entertainment events from lobbyists to state officials.
HB 142 also restores power to the Georgia Government and Campaign Finance Commission by giving it rule-making authority.
Finally, HB 142 clarifies and broadens the definition of who must register as a lobbyist so that it applies to anyone who is compensated for or has their expenses reimbursed in an amount greater than $250 if attempting to influence legislation.
The measure is a result of compromise between the House and the Senate. While it is not a perfect bill, I believe it is a big step forward and is responsive to the vote by citizens in July overwhelmingly in favor of a $100 gift cap for Georgia elected officials.
In addition to these bills, the General Assembly approved House Bill 55 to ensure that law enforcement can get the wiretaps needed to combat drug trafficking in our state.
This bill resulted from a recent ruling made by the Supreme Court of Georgia that placed a multitude of wiretaps in jeopardy of being found illegal.
The court found that superior court judges did not have the authority to issue wiretaps for criminal investigations where law enforcement would listen to the captured conversations in a location outside of the judge’s jurisdiction.
This decision was particularly problematic because modern technology makes it easier than ever for criminal enterprises to extend beyond one small area or jurisdiction, and the technology necessary to capture those criminal conversations is too expensive to purchase for each of the state’s 159 counties.
Judges, therefore, need the ability to grant statewide wiretaps, so that law enforcement can launch effective investigations against large scale organized crime.
House Bill 55 is a very narrowly tailored response to the court’s decision that does just that. It allows the superior court judge with jurisdiction over a particular crime under investigation to issue a statewide warrant for wiretaps, a power these judges were always thought to have prior to the court’s decision.
Thank you again for giving me the honor of serving on behalf of Fayette County in the Georgia General Assembly this year. Please never hesitate to contact me if I can be of service or address any question or concern you may have regarding your state government.
[Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) was first elected to the District 72 post in December 2007. He is a law partner with Warner, Hooper, and Ramsey, P.C., in Peachtree City. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]