Georgia PTA Legislative Update, January 2014

During the legislative week of January 21-24,  the house and senate spent little time in the chambers at the beginning with legislative action increasing towards the end of week. The senate and house education committees held there meetings on Day 6 and the Governnor signed HB 310, moving the primary and qualifying dates, so that change is now complete.

The Education Appropriations Subcomittee met on Day 7 to vote on their recommendations of the amended 2014 Budget. This budget included a Commission Charter School. Also, the House Appropriations made few changes to the Governor’s recommendations.  The amount for charter systems and the special needs vouchers dropped a little as the enrollment numbers were increased. The house vote passed.

On Day 9, The House passed the supplemental budget today 163-1 and immediately sent it to the Senate.  It is expected to be voted out of the Senate this week. Also, two House Education Subcommittees will meet this week to discuss a few bills. The Academic Support Subcommittee will meet today and hear HR 486, the proposed constitutional amendment to allow certain cities to start a school system.

The Academic Achievement Subcommittee will meet Thursday to hear HR 1109 and HB 802, amending the e-SPLOST provisions to allow up to 50% of the proceeds to be used for certain educational programs and materials.
There was lots of discussion to address variuos weapon issues as defined by state law in a school safety zone. HB 826 revises nieteen code sections to address the problem(s). The Senate discuss SB 321, this would allow a student to choose to have a disciplinary hearing before non-schools officials who would make a recommendation to the superintendent as to what action to take; however, the superintendent would make the final decision.

A few years ago a bill was passed to provide extra pay for beginning math and science teachers. HB 832 would create a similar plan for special needs teachers.

Senate Education & Youth Committee
The Senate Education & Youth Committee heard three bills:

Sen. Charlie Bethel presented SB 288, related to athletic associations’ financial disclosures. GHSA is the largest athletic association the bill applies to but is not the only one.  Sen. Bethel reviewed the information available now from GHSA but did not think that was enough transparency for taxpayers.  GHSA already has an audit done within the 90 day limit in the bill and provides it to its board but does not post it.  The Committee saw no reason not to go ahead and post it and gave the bill a unanimous “Do Pass.”  The bill goes to Senate Rules.

Sen. Mike Dugan told the Committee his SB 283 came largely from a Texas statute and doesn’t do anything that can’t be done now.  “It provides clarity for an already acceptable practice,” he said.  Since there was a good discussion on what is and is not allowed in displays of a religious nature and conflicting court decisions on the subject, it was unclear what “an already acceptable practice” looks like.  The bill got its “Do Pass,” however, and goes on to Senate Rules.

Sen. Josh McKoon did not receive the same response on SB 289, related to inspirational messages by students. He said the bill is mostly the same as a Florida statute passed in 2012 and so far unchallenged.  Committee members asked good questions about the meaning of phrases such as “inspirational message.”  They also struggled with the idea of their being no oversight of the students involved.

Sen. Jesse Stone asked if Sen. McKoon was amenable to adding definitions, but he was not.  Chairman Lindsey Tippins assigned it to the School Choice and Policy Subcommittee for further work since he did not believe it would pass if a vote were taken.

House Education Committee
This Committee spent its time organizing and assigning bills. Rep. Mike Dudgeon is now Vice-Chair of the Committee. He replaces Rep. David Casas. Rep. Tommy Benton will continue to serve as Secretary. Chairman Brooks Coleman said his three priorities for the session are the flexibility bill which is in Senate Ed, this year’s Title 20 clean up bill, and more discussion on common core.

They will continue to meet on Tuesdays but will try to avoid conflicting with the Senate Ed meeting — they were at the same time last week.  They adopted a couple of new rules for themselves.  Anyone bringing a substitute bill to the Committee must provide it at least one hour before the meeting to allow time to make copies.  Amendments can be brought without that notice.  The Committee plans to be better about having copies for the audience and may provide some copies electronically.  The Chair, Vice-Chair, and Secretary will review all bills and decide which ones to assign to a Subcommittee and which will not be heard.

Education Bills
There were several education-related bills introduced.

HB 793, Fiscal Accountability Act, prohibits all local and state entities from accepting federal funds for any purpose or in any form unless it has been expressly and specifically approved by an Act of the General Assembly.  That would definitely keep them busy.

HB 802 and HR 1109 are a proposed constitutional amendment and the enabling legislation to implement it if passed. It would amend the provisions for the e-SPLOST, add a category of educational programs and materials to the allowable uses for up to 50% of the proceeds, and define this new category with seventeen items.  This is an extensive rewrite of the current statute, so this is a preliminary summary as we continue to review the bills.

HB 811 authorizes local boards to allow advertisements on school buses and leaves it to the boards to set the terms and conditions for the ads.

SB 301 would amend the minimum facilities requirements to allow schools to be built of wood.

New Schedule
The House passed a new calendar but the Senate has not yet acted on it.  The General Assembly will not take a break until Valentine’s Day when they will take a long weekend.  That will take us to Day 24 on February 18th.