Legislative Update – February 13, 2018

Bills introduced in 2018 Session:

Senate Bill 375 — “Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act” will allow a child-placing agency to decline to accept a referral from the state and decline to perform services not referred under a contract with the state based on the child-placing agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs. Essentially, this allows faith-based adoption agencies to continue to abide by their values when placing children in adoptive families. Status: was heard in subcommittee, and now will be taken up in full Senate Judiciary Committee.

House Bill 482 — “Georgia Educational Scholarship Act” allows the money provided by the state to educate a child to follow the child, if the parents choose private or faith-based schools. Various stipulations must be met. Status: has been heard in subcommittee.

House Bill 660 — Hate Crimes bill allows for a criminal to receive “enhanced sentencing” if a bias or prejudice is believed to have existed while committing a crime. What is troubling is the condition that it was the criminal’s “belief or perception” regarding the victim. This means someone could be prosecuted under this statute even if the victim is not in one of the protected classes, but law enforcement determines the perpetrator “thought” the victim was (in the protected classes). It also includes a private right of action, which means a civil suit could be brought by a private party. Protected classes include race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, mental disability, or physical disability. Status: Hearing only in subcommittee on Feb. 13, 2018.

Bills carried over from 2017 Session:

House Bill 340 — is an update to Georgia’s law regarding the taxation of vehicles (TAVT). It includes an exemption for churches and other non-profits from TAVT if the vehicle was donated to the church. Historically, churches have been exempt from vehicle ad valorem taxes, but when the TAVT law was implemented a few years ago churches were not exempted. Status: the version of this bill which passed the House and Senate did not include the correction for churches. However, a new bill is scheduled to be introduced which does include the correction for churches.

Senate Bill 17 — expands the sales of alcohol on Sundays. In 2011 the General Assembly enacted a law that allowed local municipalities to vote to allow sales of alcohol on Sundays (prior to that, there was a state-wide ban). However, it prohibited alcohol sales on Sunday before 12:30 p.m. This new bill allows alcohol sales to begin at 11:00 on Sunday morning. Status: Senate voted in favor of it 38-18. Click here to see how your Senator voted. It must now pass the House before going to the Governor.

House Bill 118 — would expand gambling in Georgia as well. It legalizes Daily Fantasy Sports leagues. Click here for an excellent synopsis of this legislation. Status: passed the House and on 3/20/17 passed out of Senate Committee, and never received a vote in the full Senate, but likely will be taken up again in 2018.

Senate Bill 233 — adds the same provisions of the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to Georgia. Status: an effort was made to attach the language of this bill to another bill during one of the final days of the session. However, it failed to receive a vote. Status: in the Senate Rules Committee.

House Bill 217 — raises the cap on the Tuition Tax Credit program from $58 million to $100 million. Status: passed the House on 2/28 and was voted down in the Senate on March 30.

Senate Bill 79 — would allow casino resorts in Georgia. It requires a change in the Georgia constitution. House Bill 158 is the companion House bill. The Senate bill is supposedly dead for 2017, fallen under the weight of reality. The reality that it will not be the economic windfall that is being promised. The reality that places like Atlantic City have acknowledged that they are not benefiting from casinos. The reality that selling casinos to voters requires a lot of smoke and mirrors and downright deception. The reality that it will bring crime, including more human trafficking, for which Atlanta has gained quite a reputation. The reality that changing the Georgia Constitution is not easy. The AJC reported that the casino bill sponsor, Sen. Brandon Beach said, “I will double down and plan to crisscross the state starting in April” to build support for the bill in 2018; which he is, of course, entitled to do. I will be crisscrossing the state, too, speaking in churches across Georgia, doing what I can to raise awareness, so that people of faith can continue to communicate to their legislators this message: “not in my state.” Status: neither the House or Senate version received a vote before the session ended on March 30, but will likely be taken up again in 2018.

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