Legislative briefs

Governor’s failing schools plan gets final OK

The Senate gave final passage Friday to enabling legislation for Gov. Nathan Deal’s vision of a statewide “Opportunity School District” with authority to seize control of schools deemed to be perennially failing.

Senate Bill 133 and its companion piece, Senate Resolution 287, lay out a plan to give the state total authority over the schools put into the special district, and it could remove principals, transfer teachers, change what students are learning and control the schools’ budgets.

Deal’s office estimates about 140 schools would be eligible for takeover, including more than 60 in metro Atlanta. The plan would allow the state to run schools, close them, partner with local school districts to run them or convert them into charter schools. The special district would be overseen by a new superintendent who would report directly to the governor.

Opponents to the legislation say it’s an overreach of state power and doesn’t address the larger issues of poverty, which challenges students at many failing schools.

SR 287 won final passage last week from the House. SB 133 needed a final send-off from the Senate after the House changed the bill in committee.

— Kristina Torres

Speed trap bill clears House

A bill to help prevent cities and counties from operating speed traps passed the state House on Friday.

SB 134 will now go back to the Senate for approval of changes made in the House.

The latest version of the measure would force local law enforcement agencies to report how much revenue they receive from speeding tickets every year. It would also lower the cap on the portion of a law enforcement agency’s budget that can come from citing speeders, to 35 percent from 40 percent. That provision is currently known as the “40 percent rule.”

Lastly, it would increase to 20 mph from 17 mph the threshold for speeding tickets that don’t count toward the 40 percent rule.

The bill was introduced following an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis that exposed numerous police departments for raking in exorbitant fine amounts.

— Andria Simmons

‘Kia’ bill to bypass bidding process heads to governor

State agencies would be able to buy cars made in Georgia without going through the competitive bid process under legislation given final passage Friday by the Senate.

House Bill 259, sponsored by Rep. Terry Rogers, R-Clarkesville, now heads to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature. That’s likely, given Deal has supported the bill as a way for state agencies to support in-state businesses.

Kia Motors is Georgia’s only major auto manufacturer, and thousands of employees work at its West Point-based plant and a string of nearby suppliers.

The state’s usual competitive bidding process is outlined in a series of state regulations that require sealed proposals, public advertising of many contracts and other restrictions.

— Kristina Torres

Beer bill passes House, returns to Senate

Legislation that would let drinkers take beer or distilled spirits home from breweries and distilleries took another step closer to final passage on Friday.

The Georgia House voted 142-9 to approve Senate Bill 63. It would allow patrons to pay for a tour of a facility and in exchange take home up to a six-pack of beer from a brewery or up to 750 milliliters of liquor from a distillery.

The bill now goes back to the Senate, because the House made extensive changes. One major difference is the House stripped out Senate language that granted brew pubs the ability to sell its products for off-site consumption.

Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, who sponsored the bill in the House, said lawmakers needed to work hard to protect the three-tier system of alcohol sales in Georgia, where manufacturers, distributors and retailers are separate and distinct.

— Aaron Gould Sheinin

Marsh buffer bill gains final passage

The Senate gave final approval Friday to legislation re-establishing a 25-foot buffer around the state’s marshes.

Senate Bill 101, which has been subject to a see-saw battle between developers and environmentalists, now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

The measure would give the state power to review projects that gain federal permits. More importantly to environmentalists, however, is that lawmakers have received a promise from the state’s Environmental Protection Division to prevent property owners from building make-shift bulkheads along the marsh.

The buffers are considered important because they help reduce erosion and filter land-based pollutants such as fertilizer and insecticides that threaten the state’s environmentally sensitive coastal habitat.

— Kristina Torres

Bill would expand vaccinations given by pharmacists

Vaccinations for pneumonia, shingles and meningitis could be given by your local pharmacist under a bill passed unanimously Friday by the Senate.

House Bill 504 represents a compromise on an issue that has bounced around the Legislature including last year, when the Senate passed a similar measure but it failed in the House.

State law currently doesn’t allow pharmacies to offer the three vaccines covered by the bill, although pharmacists can give things such as flu shots. Supporters say expanding that list is about accessibility — especially in rural areas.n said.

Because the Senate made changes to the bill, HB 504 now heads back to the House for review.

— Kristina Torres

State ban on environmentally friendly construction wins final passage

Georgia-owned buildings would be effectively banned from using environmentally friendly construction standards known as LEED certification under a measure given final passage Friday by the Senate.

House Bill 255 now heads to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

The state’s timber industry claims the certification process discriminates against the use of local wood products that aren’t registered through the Forest Stewardship Council. According to the Georgia Forestry Association, only about 32,000 acres of the timber industry’s 20 million acres in Georgia currently meet that standard since much of the industry here uses competing guidelines.

The bill does not apply to private construction. Critics, however, said it would extend to state-sponsored construction at the state’s public universities and colleges. They called the effort unnecessary because existing law already requires the use of Georgia forest products in state buildings.

— Kristina Torres

Georgia Senate passes bill regulating Uber, Lyft

The state Senate gave its approval Thursday to a bill that would provide regulations for ride-sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, including requiring background checks for drivers.

House Bill 225, which passed the Senate by a 48-2 vote, is the culmination of efforts to require the app-based transportation industry to meet the same standards that apply to other transportation providers, such as taxis and limousine companies.

Industry leaders Uber and Lyft initially resisted the regulation. As a concession, the bill would allow the ride-sharing companies to conduct their own private background checks for drivers, instead of having them done by the state.

HB 225 also would require that drivers be at least 18 years old, have state-mandated liability insurance and have completed an extensive driving history report. The bill also would require the companies to either pay state sales taxes or an annual fee for each car in its network.

The bill now returns to the House for approval of changes made in the Senate.

— Janel Davis

Georgia Senate passes bill affecting agency that just fired director

Sweeping changes to the state’s Soil and Water Conservation Commission won passage Thursday from the Senate, a day after the commission’s board fired its executive director for the past seven years, Brent Dykes.

Deputy Executive Director Dave Eigenberg has temporarily been tasked with leading the agency, which drafts the state’s manual that outlines how to control erosion and prevent more dirt and runoff from seeping into Georgia’s waterways.

The Senate’s 31-19 vote sends House Bill 397 back to the House, despite environmentalists’ objections that it gives Gov. Nathan Deal too much control over the commission and could affect how it makes decisions affecting the state’s water quality.

Under the governor’s plan, the commission would shift from a stand-alone agency to one that’s overseen by the Department of Agriculture. It also would allow the governor to appoint whomever he chooses to its five-member board, rather than limiting his picks to the elected supervisors of the state’s 40 soil and water districts.

— Kristina Torres