March 3 marked the 30th legislative day of the 2014 session. Known as "Crossover Day," the critical point in the session is the last chance for bills to pass the legislative chamber from which they originated.
After Crossover Day, all legislation passed by the House must "cross over" to the Senate, and vice versa.
Any bill that has not been passed by either the House or Senate by the end of this day will have little chance of becoming law this year. Due to the deadline, we worked long hours to ensure that many important pieces of legislation were considered by the Georgia House.
I was pleased to get two additional bills that I authored passed in the House on Crossover Day, HB 870 and HR 1183. In 1998 the voters of Georgia authorized the creation of the Brain Spinal Injury Trust Commission.
The commission is made up of members that are appointed by the governor and those that serve as a result of the position they hold as directed by law. The commission receives funding by adding a 10 percent surcharge to DUI conviction fines. The money is used to assist those who have received a devastating brain or spinal injury. An individual can apply for up to $15,000 to help with various expenses. This could include purchasing a wheelchair, making their home handicap accessible or purchasing software that would allow a paraplegic to communicate.
Over the past five years, the amount being collected by this fund has decreased by more than 23 percent.
At the same time the number of people receiving a brain or spinal injury has continued to increase. Currently, there is about a $250,000 annual shortfall to fulfill the needs of those injured. One of the reasons for the decrease in funding is that many DUI cases are now pleaded down to reckless driving.
HR 1183 would allow the voters of Georgia the opportunity to extend the current 10 percent surcharge on a DUI to also include a reckless driving conviction. We estimate that this would fill the funding gap without using taxpayer dollars.
HB 870 is the legislation that would allow for its implementation, if HR 1183 is passed by the voters.
Now that Crossover Day has come and gone the Senate is starting to hear more House bills.
Already the Senate has passed two of the bills I carried in the House.
House Bill 719 addresses the Georgia Supreme Court decision from October of last year concerning Local Option Sales Tax agreements between counties and cities was passed in the Senate.
It now goes to the governor for his consideration, and I am hopeful it will become law soon.
House Bill 740 also passed the Senate. This is the bill I authored and carried in the House that will allow active duty military personnel to obtain hunting and/or fishing licenses in Georgia regardless of where they live without having to pay an out-of-state rate.
This bill has also been sent to the governor for consideration. I anticipate that the Senate will take up at least one of my other bills this week on the Senate floor, and that I will be presenting my other bills in Senate committees this week.
After Crossover Day, we also began reviewing and voting on Senate Bills in the House. One of those bills, Senate Bill 23, aims to speed up action in reported missing person cases.
The bill prohibits Georgia law enforcement agencies from establishing a "minimum waiting period" before they act on a missing person report. The legislation defines a "medically endangered person" and adds these individuals to the provisions of the Mattie's Call Act. Mattie's Call is a law enforcement initiated alert system that is used to locate missing elderly or disabled persons.
Meanwhile, our colleagues in the Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2015 budget this week.
The full fiscal year budget uses a projected state revenue estimate to guide state spending from July 1 to June 30 of the following fiscal year. The Senate passed a slightly different version of House Bill 744 than we previously passed in the House, and it will now move to a House and Senate Conference Committee to work out a final spending plan to submit for a final vote of the full legislature.
In addition to passing bills last week, we also received some news related to the deepening of the Port of Savannah. The Obama Administration's 2015 fiscal year budget request was released, and it only appropriated $1.62 million for pre-construction, not the construction funds the state was expecting.
The news was disappointing, as we have been expecting $400 million from the federal government to be designated to the project over the next few years. So far, Georgia alone has reserved $231 million to go towards the port, and we are planning for another $35 million this year. Even through tough budgetary years, Georgia has remained committed to appropriating funds to the deepening of the Port of Savannah.
Rep. Kevin Tanner can be reached on his cell phone at (678) 776-5059, at the Capitol at (404) 656-0152 or by email at email@example.com.