Though some members stepped in their role either just before or even after session had begun, most were able to jump in the action by voting to approve the $41 billion budget for the state of Georgia and weighing in on some of the headline-making bills this year — mainly the controversial gun bill and the much-discussed ethics reform bill.
State Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs) took office about a third of the way into the session after
Sean Jerguson left the post to run for former Sen. Chip Rogers’ (R-Woodstock) seat.
“It was a huge learning curve, but a lot of people helped to make sure I was plugged in immediately,” Turner said, thanking his colleagues for their help.
Other first-term legislators, Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton) and Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta), shared their thoughts on some of the bills under consideration this session.
House Bill 142, which limits individual lobbyists from spending more than $75 on a public official at a time, was passed Thursday. Now headed to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk, the legislation is the first measure requiring lobbyists to publicly report expenditures if they want to spend more than the proposed cap.
In a Facebook post just hours after Sine Die, Turner said he was proud of the ethics reform package passed unanimously by both the House and Senate, saying the bill “sets a cap on the gifts that lobbyists can distribute to legislators while at the same time respecting the God given rights of private citizens to peaceably assemble, associate with one another, and petition their government” and doesn’t “place hurdles in front of citizen activists.”
Turner said he was proud of his colleagues in the House for striking that balance to allow citizens to make their voices heard without necessarily having to register as a lobbyist.
“It was a pretty big deal for my objectives in the House,” Turner said. “Some provisions I had some heartburn over, but the final product I can proudly stand on.”
Beach said he also supported the cap, noting that on the first day of the session, the Senate passed a rule stating they could not accept gifts over $100.
“I think it’s a strong ethics law that will bring a trusting government back to the people,” Beach said.
Ballinger said she thought the bill may not be perfect, but is a step in the right direction.
“I don’t think it was everything everybody wanted, but there was a lot of compromise and back and forth,” she said.
Ballinger added the media has turned the term “lobbyist” into an “ugly word.” She noted that by voicing their concerns, citizens do in fact lobby, but added all Georgians have a right to advocate for causes on their own dime.
“There are citizen activists at the Capitol on their own steam, paying for their own expenses. They are down there because they are passionate on a particular issue,” she said.
However, Senate Bill 101 hit a rift after both sides couldn’t agree on a major provision of the bill to allow weapons carry on college campuses.
SB 101 would have also allowed school districts to train and arm certain school employees and allowed guns in churches with approval from the church.
Turner said he was “disappointed” in the turn taken with the debate on the gun bill.
“We voted twice in the House for a major expansion on people’s right to defend themselves but we were not able to see that come to fruition,” he said. “That was disappointing. But we’ll pick it up on the first day (of session) next year and continue on.”
Ballinger said the additions by the Senate, including a requirement to provide a training course for those wishing to carry on campus and limit it to those over the age of 25, were seen as too restrictive of citizens’ rights by members of the House.
“They didn’t feel it was moving ball forward as far as Second Amendment rights,” she said.
Beach said his main bill this session, Senate Bill 141, known as the Patient Injury Act, will go into a health subcommittee for consideration for next legislative session.
The bill would discourage the frequent practice of doctors to perform what is known as “defensive medicine,” or medical tests performed essentially to prevent a potential lawsuit, by creating an administrative panel to handle medical malpractice claims.
Beach said he will meet with the subcommittee several times off-session to vet the bill and determine the governance and fee structure. He said he plans to invite trial lawyers to the meetings, many of whom came out against the measure when it was proposed during this year’s session.
“I really want this to be a win-win proposition” Beach said. “We can’t continue on the path we’re going and have health care costs continue to rise, rise, rise. We have to work to continue to cut costs out of the system.”
Ballinger was also able to pass two bills of her own, including House Bill 480, which allows victim advocates to accompany a child during his or her testimony in a sexual offense case.
“Before, in that one crucial moment, (the child’s) one friend in process had to leave,” Ballinger said. “Now, they can stay there and offer support.”