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Ethics reform push gets a start

POSTED: April 4, 2013 7:29 p.m.

“Sine Die” were the much anticipated words heard under the Gold Dome on Thursday at midnight, signaling the end of the 2013 legislative session. The final day of session, day number 40, is the longest day of the legislative session and was an early welcome to Good Friday. In addition to the multitude of legislation passed this week, our governor was also welcomed to the House chamber to speak on the final day of session, as is tradition.


Many conference committees met and debated this week, hammering out the final details that are the culmination of the many months of hard work that go into shaping an idea into a bill, and finally a law. These committees include members of both the House and Senate and meet with the goal of working through the differences to craft language in legislation that best serves the citizens of Georgia.


The only constitutional requirement of our legislature, to pass a balanced budget prior to the end of the 40-day session, was achieved on Thursday with the conference committee report for House Bill 106 (FY 2014) passing with only one “no” vote in the House and unanimously in the Senate. The budget originates in the House and as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I was gratified that even though there were myriad requests for additional spending, we funded only those we deemed essential for providing necessary services to our citizens.


Ethics reform (HB 142) passed unanimously in both chambers on Thursday, after an agreement was reached during conference committee. With two different mindsets of how to address lobbyist expenditures, the Senate preferred a $100 cap, while the House was in favor of a complete ban. The agreement reached and passed by both chambers includes: a $75 maximum cap on expenditures by an individual lobbyist on any public officer for transportation, travel, lodging, registration, food and beverages (exceptions include full committees, caucuses, etc); a ban on expenditures for recreational or leisure activities; a ban on gifts such as tickets to concerts or sporting events (elected official can personally purchase from lobbyist for face value); and requires any individual to register as a lobbyist if they are attempting to influence lawmakers and paid or reimbursed over $250.


Currently, expenditures are not capped or limited, but simply must be disclosed. This is the first step toward limiting expenditures here in Georgia, while still giving the public and citizens full disclosure of any expenditures made.


An agreement was not reached between members of the House and Senate (conference committee on SB 101) on expanding our gun rights here in Georgia. The impasse was a result of differences on whether to allow individuals 21 years of age or older (and legally permitted) to “carry” on college campuses in Georgia. The House approved “campus carry,” but the Senate was opposed and the conference committee could not reach an agreement.


This legislation is effectively dead for this session; however, expanding our Second Amendment right guaranteed to all citizens by the United States Constitution will be studied in the interim and the topic broached again during the next legislative session. As Congress seeks to restrict gun rights, the legislature in Georgia will continue pushing forward in an effort to expand and protect those rights.


Some of the legislation I sponsored or co-sponsored is headed to our Governor for consideration before becoming new state laws. With the unanimous passage of HB 366 by the Senate on Thursday, this legislation will set new testing, training, and disciplinary standards for peace officers, including giving the executive director of POST Council the authority to suspend the certification of any POST-certified officer indicted for a felony or who does not meet the annual POST mandated in-service training requirements.


HB 407, which I co-sponsored, has passed both chambers (one dissenting vote in each chamber) and would extend the length of time required by multiple DUI offenders to use ignition interlock devices on their vehicles. By requiring this device, which measures a driver’s blood alcohol content before the ignition will start, and extending the time required to use this device to 12 months (currently law is six months), we are saving lives all across Georgia.


Senate Bill 250 was sponsored and co-sponsored by Sen. Lester Jackson (of Savannah) and Sen. Buddy Carter (of Pooler), respectively. I carried this legislation in the House and it passed both chambers. This legislation will change the city council districts for the City of Port Wentworth by dividing it into four districts. This will not apply to the mayor or the two at-large council members. Upon the governor’s signature, this legislation will become law 45 days later, unless the governor vetoes it or does not sign it (will still become law on July 1 of this year).


Local legislation I sponsored establishing a new charter for the city of Rincon (HB 625) passed the House unanimously and then passed the Senate on Tuesday (45-3) and now goes to Governor Deal. House Bill 156, which I also co-sponsored, passed the Senate unanimously on Thursday.  This legislation is in response to a loophole in current Georgia law in regard to online trafficking of minors for sexual exploitation. This legislation would allow the prosecution of any individual, including those who have custody or control of a child, who contributed to the exploitation of a child. Other pieces of legislation that did not pass this session will be revisited during the next legislative session.


With the Georgia General Assembly completing the 2013 legislative session under the Gold Dome, let me thank you for your confidence, support, and prayers during my first session as your state epresentative.


Now that the session has ended, and as all legislators return to our districts and to our family, friends, and constituents, know that I am available and will continue to keep you apprised of important legislation that affects your families, your freedoms, and your pocketbooks.


Please feel welcome to write to me at: 501 Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg., Atlanta, GA 30334, email me at bill.hitchens@house.ga.gov, or call my office at (404) 656-0178.

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