Post Session Recap #3
As I previously mentioned, the General Assembly passed 172 bills plus various pieces of local legislation this year. While I am unable to touch on all of the important issues these bills addressed, this week I want to continue taking the time to address several pieces of legislation that will likely have a particularly important impact on you and our state. This week we will discuss the Georgia Tax Tribunal Act of 2012, the Fetal Pain Bill, Telemarketing Oversight and Criminal Justice Reform.
Georgia Tax Tribunal Act of 2012
HB 100 creates a special tax court that will be independent from the Georgia Department of Revenue. This new court will provide a unique venue for Georgia taxpayers to resolve disputes with the Department of Revenue. The court will not hear alcohol and motor vehicle disputes, but will be available for income and sales tax disputes. There will be no juries, but evidence may be offered similar to that in State or Superior Courts. The tax courts will be staffed by persons with expert knowledge relating to taxes, and judges will be required to have specific tax-related legal experience. It is a step in the right direction to provide Georgia taxpayers with a special place for tax disputes to be heard.
HB 954 caused one of the most passionate debates of the session. With this legislation, the General Assembly decided that there is substantial evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by at least 20 weeks after fertilization. HB 954 will prohibit abortions when the probable gestational age of the unborn child is found to be 20 weeks or more except when a physician has deemed a pregnancy “medically futile,” meaning that “in reasonable medical judgment, the unborn child has a profound and irremediable congenital or chromosomal anomaly that is incompatible with sustaining life after birth,” or in reasonable medical judgment, the abortion is necessary for one of the following reasons:
- To avert the death of the pregnant woman or to avert serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment to a major bodily function of the pregnant woman. A claim of a mental or emotional condition or that the pregnant woman will harm herself does not satisfy this provision; OR
- To preserve the life of an unborn child. This change would allow an abortion in the rare case where one was necessary to save the life of one or more unborn babies in a pregnancy of twins or multiples.
When an abortion is performed on or after 20 weeks pursuant to one of these two exceptions, the physician must terminate the pregnancy in the manner which, in reasonable medical judgment, provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive, unless that manner would pose a greater risk of either the death of the pregnant woman or substantial and irreversible physical impairment to a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.
I will continue to support legislation that seeks to protect the rights of our most precious, unborn citizens and legislation which prohibits valuable taxpayer dollars from being used to fund abortions in our state.
HB 1132 will add new language regulating telemarketing and solicitation services made into and within the State of Georgia. Stipulations in this bill require telemarketers to clearly identify themselves or the entity making the call.
Additionally, Caller ID services may not be blocked or disabled by the telemarketer or solicitation service and the number displayed must be an actual working number with an accurate identity of the caller. There are a few exemptions to the requirements including existing commercial relationships.
Violations of these laws may result in $10 fines per violation and are subject to class action status.
Criminal Justice Reform
HB 1176, a comprehensive sentencing and corrections reform bill, promises to save Georgia taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, move low-level offenders permanently out of the system, and improve overall public safety.
The overall intention of HB 1176 is to strengthen penalties for violent and career criminals, while providing more effective punishments for low-level drug users and property offenders. The creation of a rehabilitation-based system for low-level offenders will free up prison space in order to keep the most dangerous offenders behind bars.
Specific initiatives of HB 1176 include creating a tougher process for probation and parole supervision, expanding proven community-based sentencing options to reduce recidivism (such as accountability courts and substance abuse and mental health programs), and holding agencies accountable for better results by implementing systematic data collection and performance measurement systems.
HB 1176 places Georgia in the company of more than a dozen states—including Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas and Kentucky—that are currently implementing criminal justice policies designed to improve public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs.
This legislation is the product of more than six months of work by the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians. This bipartisan, inter-branch Council conducted an in-depth analysis of the state’s sentencing and corrections data and met with a wide range of stakeholders including victim advocates, sheriffs, prosecutors and county officials. Members of a special joint legislative committee approved this bill before sending it to the Georgia House of Representatives where the bill passed unanimously.
The governor’s office provides a website where you can see a list of all bills that have been signed into law:
Next week, I plan to examine how the General Assembly supported Georgia’s students and valuable teachers during this legislative session. I welcome your questions and comments and encourage you to reach out to me with your ideas of specific legislation or topics that you would like me to address in future newsletters. As always it is an honor and privilege to serve you.