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March 27 – 6:30 p.m. - Senate Votes Increased funding for Charter Schools, as Deal Again Increases Revenue Projections

Category: Georgia News

By Lou Phelps, Coastal Empire News

March 27, 2018 – 6:30 p.m. - The Georgia Senate moved swiftly through a list of non-controversial bills as it began its Tuesday afternoon session, until it ran into HB 787 at 3:20 p.m., a bill that sought to increase state funding for 22 charter schools in the 2019 state budget by $17 million over what had been recommended by Gov. Deal;  increased regulation of charter schools; added funding for virtual schools; and add financial rewards for ‘high performing charter schools.’ They would receive 2/3rds of the statewide average per student funding.  

Of the 22 charter schools, 20 are ‘brick and mortar’ schools with 11,000 students, and there are two virtual charter schools. The students at only five charger schools were at or above the state CCRPI (College and Career Readiness Indicator), with most at least 10 points behind the state averages, leading to a long discussion on the performance and increased auditing of charter schools, contained in the bill. In all, 19,000 Georgia students are currently being educated virtually.  

Section 7-A of the bill addresses need based scholarships. Sen. Lester Jackson of Savannah asked for further clarification, and the Senate Majority Leader said that the bill includes 15 hours a week of work requirements for those poorer students to get the scholarship, which he wanted removed, but was unsuccessful in doing so. The bill also includes a lower grade-point average to qualify for a Hope scholarship for needs-based college students.  Sen. Jackson pointed out that the majority of needs-based students who do not complete college is because of financial problems, not grade point average issues. 

An amendment to the bill requiring an audit of charter school performance passed, sending the bill back to the House.

Another amendment to the bill that attempted to tack on religious ‘freedom of expression’ by teachers and faculty in public schools language – added in the House - was ruled as ‘not germaine’ to the bill, because it was a funding bill, though Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said he was personally in favor of the amendment. 

Deal Adds $197 Million to 2019 Revenue Projections

On Tuesday, Governor Nathan Deal revised the revenue projection for fiscal year 2019, up an additional $197 million, on a budget that is already over $26 billion.  His revised budget - still not passed – includes  adding $167 million for public schools, restoring previously recommended ‘austerity cuts,’ but did not increase funding to charter schools.  The Senate version of the budget that passed added $17 million more for Charter Schools, which will send the budget back to the House in the final days of the session.

HB 684 is the State Budget Bill for Fiscal year 2019, which passed 54 - 1. Sen. Jackson and Sen. Watson both supported the Conference Committee report on the Governor’s revised budget.

Other Bills passing Tuesday afternoon included:

HB 189 – was tabled. There was confusion over whether the bill only affected the City of Dalton, since it was termed a statewide bill.

HB 992 – Required automated external defibrillators by some departments. Passed 51 – 0, as amended.

HB 327 – Would change the manner of determining fair market value of cars for ad valorem tax purposes. Tabled

HR 993 – Would create a business court, with statewide jurisdiction. Tabled.

HB 185 – Would revised current legislation affecting Probate Courts and judges. Tabled.

HB 871 – 50% of the price of the sale of a manufactured home would be exempt from State sales tax, to create better taxpayer equity, according to proponents. The sales tax on a manufactured home is 2 ½ times higher than the rate paid for a site-built homes, cutting the taxes paid from 7% to 5% by reducing the State portion of the sales tax due. The owner has to own the property under the manufacturer home.   30 other states have already done this. Projected to reduce state sales taxes by $5 million annually.  Passed 50 – 2.

HB 938 – Would add a sub-classification of licensed credit officers for banks, mortgage companies and rental car companies.  It passed 50 – 1.

HB – 973 – Passed 51 – 0, requiring lobbyists to agree to read and agree to the sexual harassment rules and regulations in place for employees of the General Assembly, and agree to comply. A question was asked about the enforcement penalties, and whether they were taken out by the House. Line 58 – 63 provided for sanctioning and penalties, but the Senate Ethics Commission expressed concern about due process of those lobbyists would might lose their registration, or could be fined up to $1,000.  The current Senate version passed has no sanctioning process, so the bill will go back to the House.  Rules would have to be promulgated in another session, such as setting up a ‘full and fair hearing’ process, “versus having all this aired in open court,” explained Sen. Josh McKoon.

HB 929 – Passed 43 – 4, extended taxes for water and sewer projects.

HB 713 – Would allow students who graduated from an ineligible high school to apply for a Hope scholarship with less stringent testing requirements, and would require changes to the use of the net proceeds of the Georgia Lottery Commission relative to funding the Hope program, which passed the Senate last year, as SB 5, but was not passed in the Senate. The current law requires 35%, but Lottery Commission is only paying out 25%, “ignoring the law,” said a senator who spoke in favor of the amendment.  There were five amendments, in all, to the bill.

An amendment was offered that would require students to maintain a 2.3 grade point average while in college, by State Rep. Bill Hitchens. The bill particularly affects home-schooled students.  And, there was an effort to remove the work requirement of the Hope scholarship.

An amendment by Sen. Michael Williams (a Republican candidate for Governor) would freeze rates at all Georgia colleges to the rate paid as a freshman.

HB 658 – Extends the sunset date for the excise tax paid in Cobb County for bonds for the county’s exhibition space.

HB 635 – Passed unanimously, Codifying aspects of state law and creating a multi-disciplinary statewide team, developed with Georgia Bureau of Investigation and other agencies and not profit organizations, to address adult abuse, neglect and exploitation, particularly of the elderly. It requires tracking of data on reported abuse, including sex trafficking.

HB 657 – A senate substitute version passed, sending it back to the House. This bill was a priority of the City of Savannah, and was filed in the House by State. Rep. Jesse Petrea, to make it a felony to provide a firearm – a straw purchase or a gift – when someone knowingly gives a gun to someone convicted of a felon who is unable to purchase a gun under Georgia law.  This is part of the Governor’s criminal justice reforms. Sen. Ben Watson presented the bill in the Senate. A Senator questioned, what happens when a felon has had their rights to own a gun restored.  Watson said that that would not be relevant. Passed 46 – 6.

HB 803 – Prohibits trafficking of adults, from unlicensed homes in order to take their benefits and prescription drugs, making it a crime to do so. Supported by GBI and Georgia Counsel on Aging. 

HB 938 – Affects titles of certain water vessels registered in Georgia, consistent with other states.  

HB 761 – A bill that would allow used car dealers to go to their local court house to file certificate of title documents, rather than be forced to file electronically, passed 53 – 0.

HB 714 – Updated state law to comply with Federal law. Passed 52 – 0.

HB 703 – Public Safety Committee Chairman John Alpers explained that the bill amends a previous bill that had an error, missing a comma. Passed 50 – 0.

HB 809 – Filed in the House by State Rep. Bill Hitchens of West Chatham/Effingham County, seeks to make one change in state law that says all state vehicles have to be in two-tone manner, passed several years ago, painted blue and gray.  The bills allows a single color to be used, due to budget restraints.  The cars will still have the same Georgia State Patrol markings on all new vehicles ordered. Passed 54 – 1.

The Senate broke for dinner at 6:30 p.m, and will continue to work on a long list of bills at 7:15 p.m.

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