On Monday, January 29, the Georgia General Assembly reconvened at the State Capitol for the fourth week of the 2024 legislative session. This week, the House convened for four days and reached Legislative Day 14 by the end of our week, which means we are now more than a quarter of the way through the legislative session. Perhaps the most significant news this week came on Tuesday morning when my colleagues and I learned the heartbreaking news that we had lost one of our own, a dedicated statesman, the honorable House Rules Chairman, Richard Smith (R-Columbus). While we mourned the loss of our friend and colleague, we continued our legislative work as Chairman Smith would have wanted and gave passage to several bills this week and also saw Governor Kemp sign one of the first bills into law from this session.

Born in Wrightsville, Georgia, Chairman Richard Smith was no stranger to public service, serving in numerous roles throughout his career, both at the local and state levels. Our colleague was a member of the Georgia General Assembly for 20 years and a dedicated representative to his constituents. On Tuesday morning, Governor Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp joined us in the House Chamber to reflect on Chairman Smith’s life and service to our state and his community. Speaker of the House Jon Burns also recounted his admiration and respect for Chairman Smith, and members of the Columbus House Delegation reflected on his leadership and service to the community. With a heavy heart, we bowed our heads to remember Chairman Smith and his family during this time. 

Following this news, the House adopted a revised adjournment resolution, House Resolution 978, that amends the current schedule for the legislative session. This update to our session schedule was made to allow members of both the House and Senate to attend Chairman Smith’s funeral and pay our respects. With that, the House will not be in session on Monday, February 5, 2024, and will now be in session on Friday, February 16, 2024, to make up for this change. 

As we carried on with our legislative business for the week, the House took up House Bill 878 to provide the proper procedure for motorists passing a United States Postal Service (USPS) vehicle. Current law includes procedures that motorists should take when passing sanitation vehicles, but this bill would update current law to include procedures for passing USPS vehicles that are in the process of delivering mail. Due to a number of accidents in these situations, HB 878 would require a motorist to slow down and, if safe, pass on the left adjacent lane as they approach a postal service vehicle with its flashing lights on. If the motorist is unable to pass the USPS vehicle, this legislation would require them to slow down, stop and wait for the postal service vehicle to re-commence its route. This change in our law would provide greater safety for our postal service workers, as well as other drivers on our roadways. This bill passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 165-1. 

On Wednesday, House Bill 976 passed almost unanimously to address concerns related to election security. This bill would require all election ballots to be printed on paper that includes a visible watermark security feature, and this visible watermark would identify the ballot as an official Georgia ballot. Currently, all ballots have an invisible watermark that is not visible to the human eye, but this bill would ensure that a watermark security feature would be visible to the naked eye. If this bill receives final passage and is signed into law, this enhanced security feature would be implemented in time for the general election in November 2024, and the low, one-time cost to implement this change would be included in this year’s amended budget. Election security continues to be a topic of discussion amongst the Georgia General Assembly and Georgia’s voters, and this legislation seeks to address some of those concerns and restore confidence in our elections. 

We also unanimously passed House Bill 985, which would abolish the Georgia Higher Education Assistance Corporation and transfer its obligations and liabilities to the Georgia Student Finance Authority. This corporation no longer has a purpose due to the retirement of portfolios and programs administered by the corporation, which is the reason this legislation is needed. Currently, there is approximately $28 million in reserves in the corporation that could be released to the Georgia Student Finance Authority and utilized for education purposes if the corporation is abolished. These funds would transfer to the Georgia Student Finance Authority and would be held in a separate reserve, and the Georgia Student Finance Authority would not be able to utilize these funds without direction from the governor and General Assembly. If HB 985 receives final passage and is signed into law, this would go into effect on June 30, 2024. 

We also passed the following House bills during the fourth week of session:

  • House Bill 881, which would amend the provisions that govern the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission (PAQC) to remove the requirement that the Supreme Court of Georgia review and approve the rules and regulations of the PAQC. The grounds for discipline would also be amended to clarify that a mental or physical incapacity must adversely affect the performance of the district attorney’s (DA) or solicitor general’s (SG) duties in order to be punishable. Further, medical leaves of absence would only qualify as a ground for discipline if the absence, or the aggregate time of the absences, is at least 10 months or more in a 12-month period. The bill would clarify that decisions by the PAQC hearing panel are appealable to the superior court of the county or counties in which the DA or SG practices or practiced in, with the appeal using an arbitrary, capricious or abuse of discretion standard. That decision could be immediately appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia;
  • House Bill 884, which would increase the number of superior court judges in the Douglas Judicial Circuit from three to four. The fourth judge would be appointed for a term beginning July 1, 2024, continuing through December 31, 2026. Their successor would be elected at the nonpartisan judicial election in 2026;
  • House Bill 905, which would remove the authority for administrative officers and quasi-judicial officers to exercise zoning powers in specified circumstances. The bill would remove the authority for quasi-judicial boards or agencies to hear and render decisions on special administrative permits and conditional use permits;
  • House Bill 906, which would increase the number of superior court judges in the Tifton Judicial Circuit from two to three. The third judge would be appointed for a term beginning July 1, 2024, continuing through December 31, 2026. Their successor would be elected at the nonpartisan judicial election in 2026.

In addition to voting on the bills mentioned above, my colleagues and I also joined Governor Brian Kemp as he signed House Bill 30, legislation addressing antisemitism in our state and adding antisemitism as a category covered by our hate crimes law, on Wednesday. This was an important step for the Jewish community in Georgia, many of whom were on hand at the Capitol for this historic bill signing ceremony. This bill immediately became law upon Gov. Kemp’s signature.  

Also, this week, my colleagues and I took time to recognize and honor our United States Armed Forces who gave the ultimate sacrifice to serve our country and protect its citizens. On Sunday, January 28, three Army reservists stationed at Fort Moore, just south of Columbus, Georgia, lost their lives in a drone attack while stationed overseas in Jordan near the Syrian border. Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23, of Savannah; Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, 46, of Carrollton; and Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders, 24, of Waycross, all Georgia residents, gave their lives in service to our great nation. On Wednesday morning, my House colleagues and I paused for a moment of silence to remember these three brave Georgians whose legacies shall not be forgotten. On that same day, the House also recognized the Third Infantry Division of Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, one of the most decorated infantry divisions in the history of the United States, during a special invitation resolution in the House Chamber. The Third Infantry Division has one of the most successful combat records of any United States Army division and has served terms in both world wars, Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq. Brigadier General Jeremy Wilson, Deputy Commanding General for Maneuvers, addressed the House to express his gratitude to the State of Georgia for their continued and consistent support of our men and women in the United States Armed Forces. House Resolution 907 was read and presented to the Third Infantry Division, recognizing January 31, 2024, as Third Infantry Division Day at the State Capitol. 

The Georgia House of Representatives will resume its legislative work on Tuesday, February 6 to begin our fifth week of session. The pace under the Gold Dome is surely picking up, and next week promises to be another busy week on Capitol Hill. As your state representative, I hope that you will reach out with your questions or concerns regarding any legislation that we are considering before session ends on March 28. You are welcome to schedule a phone call or plan a visit to the State Capitol to discuss matters that are important to you and your family. You can reach my Capitol office at 404-656-0152 and via email at dale.washburn@house.ga.gov.  

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative. 

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