One of the most well-known of the 2013 bills is House Bill 35, introduced by Rep. Paul Battles, R-Cartersville, which would give school systems the ability to arm administrators. When he was working on the bill, Battles said, he was careful to select a group of school employees who did not have regular contact with children but were still in the buildings on a daily basis. That criteria left him with administrators, who would undergo yearly certifications similar to police officers.
However, he was sure to make the program an option for school districts.
“So what I did, in the very beginning of it, it says ‘may.’ This is not a piece of legislation that mandates that they have to comply with it. They can accept it or not,” Battles said. “Some may have some resistance to it, maybe they don’t have the [police] coverage, but if they decide they still don’t want to do this, they don’t have to.
“So it is a may, not a shall. If they decide to do it, then this is the process they’re going to go through.”
Battles also was named chairman of the House Retirement Committee this year. While the state retirement fund has enough funding near term, he said the committee would have to continuously work in order to ensure the state would not build up a large budget shortfall. Battles also serves on the Higher Education Appropriations Committee, which will be working on its budget this week, he added.
Such statewide budget issues have become freshman Rep. Trey Kelley’s focus in the session’s first weeks. He said the legislature will have to find ways to reduce costs across the board by cutting programs other than education and Medicaid.
“While Georgia revenues are growing, our costs for some of the big line items, like education, correction and Medicaid, continue to rise much more rapidly than what our revenue streams are, and so I’m sure we’re going to see another reduction for most agencies and departments at the state level,” Kelley, R-Cedartown, said. “The appetite really isn’t there to cut eduction so I don’t think that’s something we’ll look at, but when that’s off the table, you know you’re only dealing with a little under 50 percent of the remaining state expenditures. It ends up meaning cuts for just about everywhere else.”
To increase state revenues and stimulate economic growth, Kelley said he was supporting the Georgia Downtown Renaissance Act as a co-sponsor.
“It’s going to offer some specific tax credits for individuals, or businesses, who are willing to make investments in our downtown communities. I think this is a great piece of legislation and something that will benefit all of Georgia, but specifically the 16th District and northwest Georgia,” he said.
Kelley also said he supported reducing the amount of paperwork business owners had to handle in the course of working with the state. In a similar move, Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, supports eliminating a requirement for state certified professionals, or those using public benefits, to prove their citizenship when renewing a license or application.
“The law that was passed, basically, I think it was an unintended consequence that every time you go to renew a license or apply for a public benefit you have to prove your citizenship,” Loudermilk said. “Well, that causes some problems, as you can see with the Department of Motor Vehicles last year.
“Once you’ve proven your citizenship that typically doesn’t change, so you shouldn’t have to prove your citizenship every time you go to apply for something.”
A second legislative act Loudermilk supports is allowing military-trained individuals over the age of 18 to apply for concealed carry licenses. The present law only allows those older than 21 to apply.
“The reason we’re doing that, there’s a lot of jobs available in security, security services, executive protection, private investigation, that type of thing and these guys, most of them are required to carry a gun. ... The security firms would like to use guys coming back from Afghanistan. They’re very highly trained, they’ve already been in critical situations,” Loudermilk said. “These guys, some of them are 19, 20 years old, but we’ve given them a fully automatic weapon and had them patrolling the most dangerous streets in the world where they have to make instant life or death decisions. But when they come back home they’re not responsible enough to carry a gun.”
In a separate move, Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, is supporting further legislation to assist veterans in finding jobs.
The proposed bill would make it easier for veterans to use their military training as job experience if they apply for an entry-level position in certain trades. The same bill would also make it easier for a veteran’s spouse to use out-of-state certification in Georgia when applying for a job.
“If the bill passes and is signed into law by the governor, the state of Georgia would recognize those other state certifications for military spouses who are in Georgia by virtue of their spouse’s military assignment or orders. ... It is intended to make Georgia more job-friendly for veterans,” Coomer said. “We have the fourth largest veterans population of any state in the union. In terms of just raw numbers, not as a percentage of the population ... we expect somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 leaving the military in Georgia in the next four years.
“At the same time there are literally tens of thousands of skilled labor positions that are going to go unfilled if we don’t find laborers who qualify for those positions and get them to work in Georgia.”
Coomer also plans to push a second boating under the influence bill through the House. An effort to lower the blood alcohol content for boaters from .10 to .08 was attempted last year, but it did not make it through both the House and the Senate.
“In the last two years or so there have been a number of pretty visible fatalities and serious boating accidents in which alcohol was a contributing factor in the cause of the accident. Boating under the influence is a pretty serious issue in Georgia,” he said.
Coomer added he was honored to be working as the governor’s floor leader during the 2013 session.
“It’s a significant honor to be included in that group of people who are charged with shepherding the governor’s legislation through the House and Senate. The good thing is, I’m working for a governor whose agenda I really can dig into and really believe in. It makes it a lot easier to really champion his legislative package than it would be if I was working for somebody I didn’t agree with,” he said.
To reach one of Bartow County’s local legislators, see page 4A of today’s edition for contact information.