Rep. Barbara Massey Reece| Legislative Report | February 25, 2011
The House Appropriations Committee voted Feb. 24 to approve legislation that would enact Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed reductions to the HOPE Scholarship program. In promoting HB 326, the Governor said the cutbacks would save $300 million in Lottery revenues, which have not kept up with college tuition increases in recent years, putting the HOPE program in financial peril.
HOPE distributions would be reduced for most recipients under the Governor’s plan from 100 percent of tuition to 90 percent. Only those students with a grade point average of at least 3.7 and an SAT score of at least 1,200 or 26 on the ACT entrance exam would continue to have all of their tuition costs covered. HOPE funds for books and fees would be eliminated, and eligible class hours would be capped at 127. These cutbacks would affect the state’s current HOPE scholars as well as future recipients.
The legislation also proposes a 1 percent loan program designed to provide additional financial assistance to college students. Those loans would be forgiven if the recipients becomes certified and teaches math or science in a public K-12 school.
Additionally, the Governor has proposed reducing Georgia’s pre-kindergarten program, also funded by Lottery proceeds, from 6.5 hours to 4 hours per day.
The proposal would also limit bonuses paid to Georgia Lottery employees to no more than 25 percent of their base salary and would lower the Lottery sales commission paid to retailers from 7 percent to 6 percent.
HB 326 now awaits a vote by the full House of Representatives.
Tree Removal Approved
A divided House voted Feb. 24 to approve legislation that would allow the removal of trees adjacent to billboards on state rights-of-way along Georgia roads. Under HB 179, outdoor advertising companies would be allowed to remove all trees and vegetation within a “target view zone” along the highway where a billboard is located. The measure also specifies that road signs would have to be lowered to a maximum height of 75 feet.
I voted against the bill because it gives preferences to billboard companies that are not given to other business owners, including tax credits for disposing of signs that have fallen into disrepair. I agree with the environmental groups and garden clubs throughout the state who want to keep the current restrictions on tree removal, which protect the beauty and aesthetic quality of our roadways. After the 98-69 vote of approval, HB 179 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
On Feb. 23, the House voted to approve legislation that calls for a review of and possible revisions to the state’s Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula, which is used to determine the amount of funding the state allocates to local school districts. HB 192 would create a 27-member commission to review the QBE formula, which was established 25 years ago and, according to some legislators, is now out of date and ineffective. Under the legislation, the commission would be required to complete its study and make recommendations to the General Assembly by the end of 2012. HB 192 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
Also last week, I co-sponsored two education-related proposals. HB 310, the “End to Cyberbullying Act,” would prohibit harmful actions toward students through electronic communications which interfere with students’ education or create an intimidating or threatening educational environment in our schools. HB 312, the “Protecting Public School Funds Act,” would repeal the current law giving tax breaks for contributions to private school scholarships. HB 310 was referred to the House Education Committee, and HB 312 was referred to the House Ways & Means Committee.
Early Voting Reduction
House members voted Feb. 22 in favor of legislation that would reduce the early voting period for Georgia elections to 21 days prior to Election Day, down from the current 45-day period for in-person absentee voting. HB 92, intended to help counties reduce costs associated with the longer early voting period, would also establish one Saturday for early voting prior to each election. The proposal now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
General Assembly Online
Throughout the session, you can read the details and check the status of legislation and watch live broadcasts of House and Senate proceedings online at www.legis.ga.gov. Lawmakers were scheduled to return to the Capitol on Monday, Feb. 28, for Day 20, marking the halfway point of the 40-day session.
State Rep. Barbara Massey Reece represents the 11th District (Chattooga and Floyd counties) in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact her at 512 Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; by phone at 404-656-7859; or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.