The pace is picking up at the Capitol, and only five legislative days remain before Crossover Day. This is the last day a bill can be passed in its chamber of origination in order to “crossover” to the House for consideration, and vice versa. Legislators are keenly aware of the limited time we have left to make effective changes in Georgia.

This week we passed one of the most important pieces of legislation this session: the Amended Fiscal Year 2016 Budget. The Senate approved the House amendment to the Senate Substitute of HB 750. The Senate agreed to add an additional $1.23 billion in revenue spending, bringing Georgia’s total funding to $23.06 billion. While this is a great accomplishment, there is still much work to be done as we prepare to review the 2017 General Fiscal Year Budget.

The Senate has also approved legislation to protect Georgians most closely held religious beliefs. House Bill 757 prevents pastors, ministers and other religious clergy from being forced to step outside their religious beliefs when performing marriage ceremonies. The legislation was combined with a Senate bill commonly known as the First Amendment Defense Act, which added language further protecting the free exercise of religion. HB 757 now also prevents state or local governments from taking discriminatory action against individuals or faith-based organizations with a sincere religious belief about lawful marriage. The legislation will now go back to the House for final approval.

Other bills receiving Senate approval last week include:
• Senate Bill 329: Under this bill, students can be awarded a high school diploma if they have completed post-secondary dual credit coursework and have earned certification to work in an “in-need” industry as described by the Technical College System of Georgia. This bill has been sent to the House and is awaiting a committee assignment.
• Senate Bill 270: This bill exempts qualified retired law enforcement officers from firearms licensing and carry restrictions in Georgia. This bill also extends these benefits to former law enforcement officers who previously worked out-of-state but are now citizens of Georgia. The bill has now been read for the first time in the House and is being reviewed by the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.
• Senate Bill 282: Also known as the firearms non-discrimination act, this bill makes it unlawful for businesses providing credit or financial services to discriminate against any person, business, public entity or trade association engaged in the lawful sale of firearms or ammunition. This bill is currently under review by the House Committee on Banks and Banking.
• Senate Bill 320: This bill updates Georgia law to treat foreign issued driver’s licenses as valid in the state of Georgia. Existing law requires foreign drivers to have an international driving permit. This bill has been read for the second time in the House and a vote is expected shortly.
Although there is a still lot of work to be done this legislative session, I want you to know I am never too busy to answer your questions or hear your concerns about proposed legislation. As always, it is an honor and a privilege to represent Senate District 53 at the Georgia State Capitol.