The 2016 session of the Georgia General Assembly reached the halfway point on Feb. 11.
The pace has quickened considerably as legislation is passing out of committees in the House and Senate and coming to the floor for debate and vote. With only 20 working days to complete our business, and “crossover day” legislative day 30 looming, each day brings a greater sense of urgency. This week the House saw bipartisan support and passage of several important bills that will affect all Georgians.
Religious freedom is an issue of great concern to many Georgians. I was honored to co-sponsor and speak in favor of HB 757, known as the Pastor Protection Act.
HB 757 assures members of the clergy that they will not be required to perform any marriage which violates their faith. The bill further protects churches, synagogues and other places of worship as well as religious organizations from being required by state or local government to host an event which violates their religious doctrine.
The Pastor Protection Act also protects businesses from any ordinance which might require them to be open on a day of rest — Saturday or Sunday. We saw members from both sides of the aisle take to the well to speak in favor and express their support for this legislation this week.
As a pastor, I firmly believe that no religious official should be forced to perform any religious ceremony that is in opposition to his or her beliefs. We must continue to protect our religious freedom and the great tenants upon which our country was founded.
HB 757 passed unanimously.
In our efforts to increase transparency in Georgia’s school systems, the House also unanimously passed HB 659 this week. HB 659 would require each local board of education and state charter school in Georgia to make financial information available for public access as a way to provide transparency within our public schools.
As such, local boards and state charter schools would be required to publicly post this information to their website, if they have one, for each individual school in their district. This legislation would require the posting of the costs of all materials and equipment, staff salaries and benefit expenditures, professional development including annual training and tuition, facility maintenance and small capital projects, and new construction or major renovation on a cost-per-square-foot basis for each individual school.
Similarly, the local school board would be required to publicly post their annual budget, along with audits, ratio of expenditures to revenues, total dollar amount of local property tax revenue the school system is authorized to collect in addition to the total program mill levy, and the total dollar amount of all other tax revenue collected to their website as well. Education funding accounts for more than half of our state budget each year and transparency of those funds is essential.
As your representative, I believe you have a right to know how your tax dollars are being spent in your local schools, but more importantly, by passing this legislation, we can continue to serve the best interests of our students and teachers at a state and local level.
Another measure that passed unanimously was House Bill 767, a bill to ensure the safety of our state’s utility service workers. This bipartisan legislation adds utility service vehicles and workers in the fields of electric, natural gas, water, waste water, cable, telephone or telecommunication services to the list of those covered under Georgia’s Spencer Pass Law.
The law requires drivers to make a lane change, if possible, when approaching any stationary towing, recovery or highway maintenance vehicle parked on the shoulder of the highway. If changing lanes is impossible, or unsafe, the driver must slow to a speed less than the posted speed limit and be prepared to stop, and violators would now be subject to a fine of up to $250.
By incorporating utility workers into the Spencer Pass Law, we will make working environments safer for these workers, encourage safety on our roadways — and ultimately save lives, and I am always proud to support legislation that will save lives.
The legislative session continues to move forward and as always, your input is invaluable to me. It is a great privilege to serve you in the State House. Please contact me with your thoughts 404-656-5087 or [email protected] Thank you for allowing me to serve you!
Randy Nix is representative for state District 69 in the Georgia House of Representatives.