Private School Vouchers — The House passed HB 100 Monday, February 24th by a vote of 98-69. Last session the General Assembly adopted HB 1133 which gives private citizens and corporations income tax credits for donating money to nonprofit scholarship organizations that provide scholarships to parents who want to pull their children out of public schools and send them to private ones. HB 100 seeks to expand on the provisions of HB 1133, which passed by one vote in 2008, by making it easier for small business to take advantage of the tax credit program. Furthermore, it streamlines the process to create scholarship organizations and for donors to get approved for the tax credits. Under HB 1133 there is a $50 million cap on the total amount of credits available.The measure is also in conflict with Governor Perdue’s legislation that would limit scholarships to students that qualify for school lunches and places a cap on the total value of the scholarships available. I voted and spoke against this legislation. It diverts funds going to Georgia’s public schools which is wrong when the state is facing an almost $3 billion shortfall. In addition, the Governor’s budget cuts $285 million from Georgia’s schools this year, which is on top of $1.6 billion since 2003. The $50 million being allocated for the tax credits would be better spent on school nurses, which are slated to be cut by the state, or keeping more teachers from losing their jobs. Vouchers are also untested and un-proven. With vouchers, there is no tracking of educational outcomes and no accountability. Democrats have always made improving public education for Georgia’s children and helping classroom teachers a priority, not passing private school vouchers. An economic recession is not the time to be taking away funding that could be dedicated for critical needs in education. Attending Technical Colleges — To utilize Georgia’s outstanding technical colleges for teenagers the House adopted legislation Wednesday, February 25th allowing students in their junior or senior year of public high school to study at a technical college. HB 149 allows students in these grades to attend, if accepted, post secondary colleges or school and receive high school credit that would count towards their graduation. Unlike joint enrollment, this legislation allows students to leave high school entirely to complete the necessary graduation requirements. The Georgia Department of Education would use state funds to pay for the tuition, or the amount the school pays for the student’s high school education, whichever is less. High schools would also get to keep a $200 record keeping fee for all participating students. HB 149 passed 154-6. I supported this bill in committee and on the floor vote.Sales Tax Holiday – HB 120, which passed Monday 165-0 will continue the annual sales tax holiday for school supplies and energy and water efficient products. The dates for the school supplies exemptions are July 30 – August 2. The products which will be exempt from state and local sales taxes during this time are clothing and footwear with a sales price of $100.00 or less, computers and computer accessories with a sales price of $1,500.00 or less, and general school supplies with a sales price of $20.00 or less. The sales tax exemptions for energy and water efficient products with a sales price up to $1,500.00 when purchased for home or personal use are October 1 – 4, 2009. I voted for this bill.Student Fitness Tests — Also passed in the House Wednesday, February 25th was HB 229 by a vote of 116-42. HB 229 seeks to keep students fit by requiring local school systems to have an annual fitness assessment and to comply with state physical education instruction requirements. Results would be reported annually to the Governor. I support this bill. Transit Advertising — The House also passed HB 101, 156-0 on Wednesday, February 25th. This bill allows for advertising in or on transit agencies vehicles and facilities. With the exception of MARTA, advertising on transit agencies vehicles and facilities is currently not allowed. I voted for the bill.Magistrate Judges — The House passed HB 156 on Monday, February 24th by a vote of 163-0. This bill provides that elected magistrate judges who are performing ordered military duty may continue in office and be eligible for reelection during such duty. I voted for the bill.Weight Inspector — Another piece of legislation passed Monday, February 24th was HB 343 which creates the position of “weight inspector” for the Motor Carrier Compliance Division of the Department of Public Safety. The weight inspectors will fixed scales facilities and are authorized to enforce non-criminal provisions relating to commercial motor vehicle weight, registration, size, and load and assess a civil penalty for violations. HB 343 was passed 168-1. I voted for the bill.