(Note: I've added an update about how each item turned out.) Most of this year’s highest-profile bills, from transportation to education to the budget, cleared the Legislature before today’s session finale. Here are some others that, in legislator-ese, deserve a “do pass” recommendation -- and some that don’t.
Do pass the substitute to House Bill 17: The “Hidden Predator Act” allows an adult to sue a person who may have molested, raped or committed another sexual crime against the plaintiff when he/she was a minor. This has the potential to bring a measure of justice for people who have suffered horribly.
It also had the potential, initially, to open wide the door to jackpot justice against companies, churches and other entities the defendants might have worked or volunteered for when the crime was committed. The Senate’s version of the bill made the minimum changes needed to limit suits to truly negligent entities. The bill shouldn’t move forward without them. (Update: The substitute was adopted.)
Do pass the substitute to Senate Bill 4: This legislation sets a number of parameters for very large (10,000 acres) redevelopment projects involving “surface transportation.” It’s nicknamed the “Beltline Bill” after the only current project that qualifies.
The House substitute addresses a problem that arose with the Atlanta Streetcar, requiring government to bear the costs of any necessary utility relocations. That’s the right thing to do, rather than forcing private firms to pay for part of the project against their will. (Update: I haven't seen a copy of the final text, but the two sides reportedly reached an amicable compromise .)
Do pass the substitute to SB 63: The “Beer Jobs Bill” would allow craft brewers and distilleries to sell some of their wares to folks visiting their facilities, rather than only through the three-tier system of wholesalers and retailers. This measure is long overdue, chiefly because the wholesalers and retailers -- and the politicians to whom they contribute large sums of campaign funds -- have resisted change. That needs to stop today. (Update: The bill, while not what brewers originally wanted, passed.)
Do not pass HB 439: Imagine a state program to subsidize the investments Mark Cuban makes on “Shark Tank,” without the state profiting, and you have a sense of what the “Georgia New Markets Jobs Act” would do. The bill would funnel money via insurance tax breaks to firms that ultimately lend money to small businesses in low-income and rural areas.
But oversight is scant, and a similar federal program has long been blasted as wasteful crony capitalism by conservatives such as Sen. Tom Coburn. Georgia has rejected similar bills in the past; this version is too similar to them to merit a better fate. (Update: Unfortunately, this bill passed.)
Do not pass SB 129: What? I’m now opposing the “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act” after supporting it for more than a year?!?
Even before the hysteria that invaded Indiana after that state passed a similar bill, it was clear GOP leaders in Georgia were loath to pass a “clean” version of the bill. While well-intentioned, anti-discrimination amendments to the bill were so broad as to allow all sorts of future mischief unrelated to what we’d recognize as discrimination. Better to come back in 2016 with a well-vetted, broadly accepted plan to address genuine concerns without codifying a blueprint for undermining religious liberty. (Update: While I wish I hadn't had to take this position, the bill was indeed shelved until next year.)
Four out of five ain't bad.