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Accountability courts making a difference

POSTED: February 10, 2014 10:00 p.m.

The first week of February continued a very active, focused week of floor activity and committee deliberation. We heard the annual report on the State of the Judiciary. In his first address as leader of our highest court, Chief Justice Thompson applauded a series of criminal justice reform bills passed over the last few years.

One of the main goals of criminal justice reform was to reduce recidivism when prisoners complete their sentences. Part of the solution has been the creation of accountability courts, and the chief justice proclaimed that 93 percent of these court graduates remain free of criminal charges and 85 percent are employed. With fewer people in prison, these courts save Georgia more than $20 million in prison costs each year.

In addition to hearing the State of the Judiciary, our work on the floor continued as we passed several pieces of legislation. One of the bills passed last week could have a significant impact on Georgia’s education system. House Bill 766 will allow interested students over the age of 16 to obtain coursework credit for work-based learning programs. In HB 766, language enables school districts and businesses to cooperatively pull together and better prepare tomorrow’s workforce with the skills they need to thrive in the future.

Two bills that passed through the committee I chair, Game, Fish and Parks, were passed by the House this week. One benefits our men and women in uniform and the other helps encourage the enjoyment of  Georgia’s great hunting resources. House Bill 740 allows all active duty military personnel and their families to obtain a Georgia hunting and fishing license, even if they do not list Georgia as their home of record. This will help attract hunters to Georgia and benefit those who protect America.

Similarly, HB 786 creates a non-resident lifetime infant sportsman’s license, so that children can more easily enjoy Georgia’s hunting and fishing opportunities throughout their entire life. The purchase of these lifetime licenses also allows the Department of Natural Resources to leverage much-needed federal dollars to enhance the hunting experience for all Georgians.

Another bill passed this week was House Bill 774, which would raise the speed limit on interstates in the metro Atlanta area and other areas meeting the safety and population criteria. Current law requires that the speed limit not exceed 65 mph in metro areas with a population greater than 50,000. HB 774 could raise that speed limit to 70 mph, upon completion of a traffic study. HB 774 passed the House on Monday with bipartisan support.

Meanwhile, our colleagues in the Senate passed the amended fiscal year 2014 budget, the state’s mid-year spending plan, this week. The Senate passed a slightly different version of House Bill 743 with no apparent impact to our area. The amended budget now goes to a House and Senate Conference Committee to work out a final spending plan to submit for a final vote of the full legislature.

As legislation makes its way through committees and onto the House floor for a vote, I hope that you will contact me with your ideas and opinions. Please stop by and visit if you are in Atlanta during the legislative session, or call my office at the State Capitol at (404) 656-5099 or email at jon.burns@house.ga.gov.

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