Overview of 2013 Legislative Session, post-Crossover Day
(APN) ATLANTA — The Georgia General Assembly wrapped up its Crossover Day on Thursday, March 07, 2013, which was the thirtieth day of the forty-day legislative session. This is the last day that legislation has to pass in either the State House or State Senate in order for the legislation to be taken up this year in the other respective chamber.
This article presents an overview of legislation that was considered, and the status of that legislation, including bills regarding Fulton County, MARTA, charter schools, workers’ rights, and the HOPE Scholarship.
HB 170 – TO RAISE HOMESTEAD TAX EXEMPTION IN FULTON COUNTY – FAILED
HB 170, sponsored by State Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton), would have imposed a cap on certain millage rates imposed by Fulton County; and would have increased the homestead exemption from the current amount of 30,000 dollars to 60,000 dollars after a two year phase-in period.
The legislation was withdrawn in the House on February 25, 2013, and was recommitted.
Jones introduced subsequent legislation, HB 541, to do the same thing, but it did not come up for a vote in the House.
HB 171 – TO REFORM THE FULTON COUNTY COMMISSION – PASSED, SENT TO SENATE
HB 171, sponsored by State Rep. Lynne Riley (R-Johns Creek), would re-shape the Fulton County Board of Commissioners (BOC), eliminating one at-large seat that is currently held by Commission Robb Pitts (District 2 at large); creating a new sixth District seat to be located in North Fulton; and redrawing the district map to draw Commissioners Emma Darnell (District 5) and Bill Edwards (District 7)–the Board’s two progressive champions–into the same District.
The legislation passed the State House on March 01, 2013, on a vote of 99 to 54.
However, the legislation will likely face challenges under the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 on the basis that it reduces the ability of minority voters in Fulton County to elect the Representative of their choice.
First, the new maps would reduce the number of candidates Black voters in Atlanta and South Fulton can vote for from three to two [that is, from two at-large seats and one District seat, to one at-large seat and one District seat].
Second, the new maps would force two Black incumbents, who have been selected by minority voters to represent them, to run against each other, without requiring any White incumbents to run against each other.
Section 5 of the VRA, which requires that Georgia and other states and jurisdictions receive preclearance for any and all election changes to the US Department of Justice, is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court of the US.
If Section 5 is upheld by the Court, the new Fulton County map would continue to require pre-approval by the USDOJ. In the unlikely event Section 5 is not upheld, the USDOJ could still bring Section 3 litigation, seeking injunctive relief from a federal court specific to the Fulton County map.
HB 172 – LEGISLATION ALTERING EMPLOYEE CLASSIFICATIONS AND PROTECTIONS IN FULTON COUNTY – FAILED
HB 172, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta), would have made changes to Fulton County’s civil service system for employees, to where any employee hired after the adoption of the bill would have been automatically placed in an unclassified status. It stated that any current employee who is in a classified status but who accepts another position within Fulton County Government would have been placed in an unclassified status at that time. It also provided that employees may be dismissed, demoted, or disciplined for any reason or no reason without notice, explanation, or appeal.
It did not come up for a vote in the State House.
HR 275, 276, 277, 278, 279 – LEGISLATION TO RE-CREATE MILTON COUNTY – FAILED
Various pieces of legislation to pave the way for the re-creation of Milton County out of north Fulton County, including House Resolutions 275, 276, 277, 278, and 289, did not come up for votes in the State House.
The identical bills would have allowed for counties that previously existed, and that had historically merged into other counties, to re-create themselves through a voter referendum.
HB 264 – LEGISLATION TO REFORM MARTA BY REQUIRING PRIVATIZATION – PASSED, SENT TO SENATE
HB 264, sponsored by State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven), would revise the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority Act of 1965, to make numerous changes.
Of the major changes, first, the bill would make further changes to the Board of Directors, which Jacobs had already successfully worked to reduce in size in previous years..
City of Atlanta would retain three appointees to the MARTA Board.
DeKalb County would retain four appointees, and instead of the Board of Commissioners of Dekalb County appointing all four, they would appoint three, while the fourth appointment would be made by a consortium of mayors of cities in DeKalb County.
Fulton County would retain three appointees. However, instead of the Board of Commissioners selecting all three, a consortium of mayors of cities in north Fulton County would select two; and a consortium of mayors of cities in south Fulton County–along with the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners and any Commissioners representing south Fulton County–would select the third.
The governor shall also get to appoint one voting member who lives DeKalb County or Fulton County.
In addition, the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Executive Director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority shall continue to serve as non-voting members.
The MARTA Board was an issue that came up in the 2012 Legislative Session, but legislation to restructure the Board was defeated.
The bill would also provide for staggered terms for board members and provide for a limit on re-appointment of board members.
The bill would provide for a method for Clayton County, Cobb County, or Gwinnett County, to join the Authority, by submitting to the voters the respective county a ballot referendum.
Voters in Clayton County supported a non-binding referendum to join MARTA in 2010, with seventy percent of voters in favor.
The bill would remove restrictions on the operation of private enterprises.
The bill would change retirement plans for future MARTA employees, by suspending defined benefit plans for future employees.
The bill would provide for the privatization of certain services: specifically, accounts payable,
payroll processing, human resource benefits administration, employee recruiting and staffing, employee data and records management, telephone maintenance and support, information technology service desk, end-user computer support, workers’ compensation claims administration, customer care telephone hotline, paratransit bus service, and the interior cleaning of buses and trains.
The privatization follows from a management audit done by KPMG, a consulting group, that reported that MARTA spent 50 million dollars above the national average for employee benefits, and could save between 60 million and 142 million dollars over five years by outsourcing many functions. MARTA currently has an annual operating deficit of 30 million dollars.
On March 02, 2013, the Board of Directors of DisABILITY LINK, a disability rights advocacy group based in Decatur, voted to oppose privatization of paratransit services.
“Transportation is a public service and a human right. Privatization adds the profit motive. In order to make money, service will likely be cut, fares may be raised, and safety could be compromised. MARTA tried privatization before with DAVE Transportation in the 1990’s, it failed and since then, MARTA has run paratransit services,” DisABILITY Link said in a statement.
The bill would revise procedures for the collective bargaining process and the appointment of an arbitrator.
The bill would to provide for a three-year suspension of MARTA’s state-imposed restriction on how it spends its sales and use tax proceeds. MARTA is currently required to spend fifty percent of its sales and use tax revenue on capital improvements. The legislature has previously waived the requirement for certain temporary periods in the past.
The legislation passed the State House 113 to 57 on February 21, 2013, and has been sent to the Senate.
HB 361 – LEGISLATION TO HARM UNIONS – PASSED, AMENDED, SENT TO SENATE
HB 361, sponsored by State Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta), originally included language that revived a debate from 2012, regarding providing for criminal trespass and criminal conspiracy charges aimed at protesters who engage in civil disobedience in the State of Georgia.
“A person may be convicted of both conspiracy to commit criminal trespass and the completed crime of criminal trespass, in which event such separate crime of conspiracy shall be a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature,” the original HB 361 stated.
However, that language was removed from the bill after a Committee hearing.
Still, the legislation is opposed by union groups such as the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council of the American Federation of Labor – Council of Industrial Organizations. Among other things, the legislation requires that union members reauthorize any deduction of union dues from their paychecks no less frequently than once per year.
HB 361 passed the State House in a vote of 110 to 57 on March 04, 2013.
HB 362 – LEGISLATION TO RESTRICT LOCAL GOVERNMENTS FROM LIMITING CERTAIN PUBLIC WORKS CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS TO CERTAIN VENDORS – PASSED, SENT TO SENATE
HB 362, also sponsored by Rep. Lindsey, would require that local governments put any public works construction contracts out for competitive bidding.
“It would restrict the ability of local communities to hire skilled, local workers for construction projects and open the door to contractors from out of state—many of whom would give big money to state politicians in return—to come into Georgia and make a quick buck using a less-skilled workforce,” the AFL-CIO said in an email to supporters.
Earlier this year, the City of Atlanta passed legislation to increase First Source Hiring for the City, which gives preferential treatment to local workers for development projects using taxpayer dollars. The city legislation established a new program within the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency called Atlanta City Build, where local workers will be trained for such jobs.
Georgia STAND-UP had advocated for the new policy.
Currently, the City of Atlanta is also considering setting aside jobs for local workers in the context of the proposed deal for a new Falcons Stadium in Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood.
HB 362 passed the State House in vote of 110 to 59 on March 04, 2013, and it currently heads to the State Senate. However, the bill has been referred to the Senate Urban Affairs Cmte, which is chaired by State Sen. Ronald Ramsey (D-Decatur) and is populated nearly completely by Democrats.
Jim Galloway, a blogger for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, speculated that the Lt. Governor referred the bill to the Urban Affairs Cmte in order to kill it, and thus save the Falcons Stadium deal from possibly falling apart.
HB 123 – PARENT TRIGGER LEGISLATION TO ALLOW EASIER CONVERSION OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO CHARTER SCHOOLS – PASSED, SENT TO SENATE
HB 123, also sponsored by Rep. Lindsey, as previously covered by APN, would allow for a process by which a majority of parents at a traditional public school could petition to convert the school to a charter school.
It passed the State House on March 05, 2013, 97 to 74.
HB 372 – HOPE SCHOLARSHIP CHANGES – PASSED, SENT TO SENATE
HB 372, sponsored by Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), makes further changes to the HOPE Scholarship since those enacted in 2011. It lowers the grade point average required for students to receive the scholarship if they attend a technical college, from the current 3.0, back to the previous standard of 2.0.
It passed the State House on March 07, 2013, 169 to 1.