Thursday, March 20, 2014

Last Day for Georgia Legislature 2014 Session

ATLANTA, GA (Rep. Pedro Marin) - The Senate and House reached final agreement Tuesday on a $20.8 billion state budget for fiscal year 2015. The budget, which takes effect July 1, represents a 5 percent increase over the current year and includes $314 million in additional Quality Basic Education formula funds for public schools, which is only a 4 percent restoration of the $7.6 billion cut from the budget over the past decade. HB 744 now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal, who can sign the budget in its entirety or veto selected line items.

A majority of the House and Senate voted to pass HB 990, which prohibits the expansion of Medicaid in Georgia except upon action by the General Assembly. This is a change to the current policy that gives the governor authority to make that decision. This will likely prevent Georgia from receiving billions of dollars each year in federal funding to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Such an expansion would provide healthcare access to approximately 650,000 uninsured Georgians, help struggling rural hospitals keep their doors open and create tens of thousands of new healthcare jobs in the state.

Also approved by the majority was HB 943, which will prohibit state employees or agencies from using state resources to promote and carry out provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, thus denying access to affordable healthcare coverage for Georgians who need it. I voted "no" because the amendment badly damages an otherwise good bill, which requires health benefit plans to provide equal coverage of chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients, regardless of whether the drugs are administered orally or intravenously.

HOPE Grant Expansion: HB 697 received final approval to create the Zell Miller HOPE Grant program to cover full tuition costs for HOPE-eligible technical college students who maintain at least a 3.5 grade point average. This legislation is intended to attract top students back to Georgia's technical college after a reduction in tuition assistance had caused a nearly 20 percent drop-off in enrollment.   

'Guns Everywhere': Majorities in the House and Senate achieved final passage for legislation that will allow firearms to be carried in bars, churches, K-12 schools and an expanded number of government buildings. HB 60  provides that churches must choose to "opt in" to allow guns inside, and college campuses have retained their prohibition on firearms under the bill, which now goes to Gov. Deal for his signature.  

Drug Testing the Poor: The House majority also gave final approval to HB 772, which requires applicants for food stamps or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to pay for and undergo a drug test if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they are using illegal drugs. A similar law in Florida was declared unconstitutional. 

Punishing School Workers: Also passing the House and Senate despite my opposition was HB 714, which will prevent some school bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other non-teaching employees from seeking unemployment compensation outside the school year.This will adversely affect some 64,000 of our state's lowest-paid workers and drive Georgia families deeper into poverty.   

Medicinal Cannabis: House and Senate leaders were unable to agree on final language for HB 885, which would have allowed doctors to prescribe cannabis oil, a derivative of marijuana, to treat seizure disorders in children. 

On March 20, the House of Representatives adopted HR 2021, a resolution introduced by Rep. Pedro Marin, which calls for the protection of human rights in Vietnam.

According to the resolution, "the government of Vietnam continues to suppress the freedom of religion, including the dissolution of religious organizations and imprisonment of religious leaders as well as followers, and has confiscated church properties and prohibited religious publications."

Further, the government "has suspended freedom of expression, including jailing writers and reporters and disrupting the means of communication, to the point of confiscating personal writing equipment from those who refuse government censorship."

The government of Vietnam has also "denied due process ... conducted secret trials, has denied the right to legal counsel and representation, and has conducted summary execution in which the basic rights of an individual to a fair trial have gone ignored and ... individuals have been swiftly executed at the hands of the government."

The resolution states the government has also "placed a ban on the popular elections of its elected officials under a false premise of self-determination."

HR 2021 calls on the U.S. Congress "to support any measure aimed at ensuring the human rights of the people of Vietnam are protected so that executions without trial, suppression of basic human rights and the forceful silencing of the people do not continue to occur."

MLK Statue: The House voted Tuesday to give final approval to the Senate version of HB 1080, which would authorize the placement of a privately funded statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the grounds of the State Capitol. The Senate had amended the legislation to protect the state from any intellectual property disputes over the use of Dr. King's image.

Sales Tax Holidays: On March 13, the House gave final approval to an amended version of legislation that would provide a number of sales tax exemptions and other state tax changes, including a two-year extension of the sales tax holiday periods for back-to-school purchases and energy-efficient appliances.Under HB 958, the back-to-school sales tax holiday period for clothing, computers and school supplies will be Aug. 1-2 this year. State sales tax will also be exempted Oct. 3-5 for Energy Star Qualified Products or WaterSense Products costing $1,500 or less.

HB 958 also includes a two-year extension of the state income tax credit for video game production companies located in Georgia, with payrolls of at least $500,000 and gross income of less than $100 million, and the sales tax exemptions for construction materials used in new manufacturing plants and other projects of regional significance. The measure would also renew a previously expired sales tax exemption for the state's food banks. HB 958 now goes to Gov. Deal for his signature.

Estate Tax Repeal: On another tax issue, the Senate passed an amended version of House legislation that would repeal Georgia's estate tax. HB 658 ends any requirements for estate tax returns on July 1, 2014, repealing the current law which taxes the fair market value of any property or assets transferred to others due to a death. HB 658 does not affect tax, penalty, interest liabilities or refund eligibility for taxable years prior to the sunset date. Any previous administrative proceedings, civil actions, prosecutions or punishments will not be decreased or waived. The House gave final approval to the Senate version, and HB 658 awaits the governor's signature.

More House Action: Other Senate legislation approved by the House in the past week includes:

SB 296, which caps the commercial development of Jekyll Island at 66 additional acres.
SB 318, which will allow bars to open on the Sunday during the St. Patrick's Day celebration in Savannah, one of Georgia's largest tourist events of the year. Gov. Deal signed the legislation into law on March 13.
SB 320, which establishes a Veterans Court Division, specializing in the treatment of defendants who are veterans in order to ensure their successful reentry into society.
SB 349, which amends the powers and duties of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and establishes governing boards to oversee community service boards and revises the boards' powers and duties.
SB 382, which criminalizes the practice of using a false name or address for the purpose of obtaining or attempting to obtain return goods in order to gain store credit.
SR 746, which expresses support for the State Plan for Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias.
SR 941, which urges Congress to increase the number of visas available to Korean citizens possessing skills in specialty occupations in Georgia.

The House also voted to approve HR 1523, which seeks to create the Joint Study Committee to Review and Recommend Necessary Changes to the Georgia Code of Military Justice; HR 1585, which urges local governments to display the American flag in their respective government building; HR 1601, which creates a Georgia-Based Film and Post-Production Study Committee; and HR 1722, which establishes a House Study Committee on Medical Education.

Thursday, March 20, will be the 40th and final legislative day of the 2014 session of the Georgia General Assembly.

State Reps. Pedro Marin (D-Duluth) and David Casas (R-Lilburn) held a press
conference March 6 to publicly condemn the Venezuelan government's actions against journalists and protestors.

"Venezuelan leaders are using violence and fear to silence opposition and suppress free speech," said Rep. Marin. "These actions are detestable.  I urge the Venezuelan government to respect its citizens' basic human rights."

"Representative government and government by the consent of the governed is in jeopardy in Venezuela," said Rep. Casas. "We urge Venezuelan leaders not to follow the path of Cuba but to pursue liberty and justice."

In addition to holding the press conference, Reps. Marin and Casas also introduced a bipartisan resolution to show support for the people of Venezuela and condemn the violence.  HR 1653 calls upon the Venezuelan government to respect the rights and ability of its citizens to peacefully assemble and voice their concerns without fear of retribution. HR 1653 was passed by the House on March 3.

Human rights organizations have received reports that Venezuelan security forces are using excessive force against unarmed protestors.  Such actions have resulted in the deaths of at least 20 citizens of Venezuela.  Reports also indicate that journalists have been detained and assaulted for their reporting of the protests.  Efforts have been made to remove several international news organizations, including CNN, from airwaves in Venezuela.

Rep. Marin greets record-setting former Georgia Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray, who was honored by the House for his many achievements as the all-time passing leader in Southeastern Conference history.

What Side of History Do You Want to Stand On?

ATLANTA, GA (Moral Monday GA) - The Reverend Raphael Gamaliel Warnock, Ph.D., Senior Pastor Ebenezer Baptist Church Atlanta, asking Governor Deal what side of history do you want to stand on? History will not look kindly on Governors who stand in the doorway.

Tuesday 18 was an historic day under the gold dome, as hundreds of Georgians took action to mark the 39th day of a legislative session that has seen unprecedented attacks on hard working Georgians. Fed up with a list of bad legislation- from blocking Medicaid expansion (leaving 650,000 people without access to healthcare), to restricting women's right to choose (even in the case of rape or incest), or expanding Stand Your Ground and allowing guns to be carried in bars, churches, and even schools.

People from across the state convened on the capitol or took to social media to express their frustration at Georgia’s radical extreme agenda. The hashtag #RiseUpGA- used by people throughout the day to post live updates- gained traction making the national trending list for topics on twitter.
Yesterday’s action took the national stage by 11:30am and is still being reported on today.

The actions were organized by the Moral Monday coalition, a diverse group of organizations following the lead of the movement launched last year in North Carolina. Acts of civil disobedience took place across the state house throughout the day, with 39 people arrested - all of them freed later on- in total, including Revered Raphael Warnock of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church who quoted, “Today I took an arrest to support Medicaid expansion Governor Deal needs to accept this deal”.

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