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Weekly legislative update: Session comes to end

Randy Nix

State representative

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The 2016 Georgia General Assembly is down to the last two days (as of Monday)! We have accomplished quite a bit and this past week was an eventful one.

The budget is still in a House/Senate conference committee and the conferees are working almost nonstop to reconcile differences. This is critical because the only constitutional requirement we have for the session is to pass a balanced budget. Several bills regarding a wide variety of issues were passed this week that will now go before Gov. Deal for his signature.

I was honored to be the House sponsor for Senate Bill 364, which passed unanimously. This legislation amends the “Quality Based Education Act,” to revise annual performance evaluations for public school teachers and state mandated testing.

SB 364 would revise evaluations so that student growth would account for 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, down from the current 50 percent. Additionally, the test component of principal evaluations is lowered from 70 percent to 40 percent.

Other important provisions of SB 364 are: reduction of the number of state mandated tests from 32 to 24 for students in grades K-12; urges State DOE and local school systems to move all testing as close to the end of the school year as possible; adds formative testing in 1st and 2nd grades to measure progress and early learning to guarantee that all students are proficient in reading by third grade and proficient in math by fifth grade.

The bill is the result of multiple meetings with teachers, administrators, parents, and advocacy groups from across the state who gave input and opinions on what should be revised in the current evaluation and testing systems. Our teachers greatly influence the youth in our state, and as such, we want to provide them with the resources to have the best opportunity to succeed in the classroom so that our students have the best opportunity to succeed in the future.

As the culmination of almost two years of debate and discussion, the House and Senate passed an amended version of HB 757, formerly the Pastor Protection Act — of which I was a sponsor — now known as the Free Exercise Protection Act. This bill is a good-faith effort to protect religious liberties while specifically preventing discrimination.

This bill also does not impact businesses or commercial transactions. HB 757 is the result of extensive negotiations and discussions that included House leadership, Senate leadership, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, the Governor’s Office, the faith community, the business community and other interested stakeholders.

The bill adopts the federal law protecting citizens from unfair treatment by the federal government and provides citizens the same level of protection from state and local governments. Simply put, it requires that for a state or local government to override a person’s religious rights, there must be an important reason and it must be implemented in as narrow of a way as possible.

By design, the bill does not affect the commercial marketplace nor does it include any provision that would allow private businesses such as restaurants to refuse to serve any customer. I believe this is a very balanced approach to a very complicated and emotional issue.

The House also passed a measure this week to toughen the penalties for criminals who commit domestic violence in Georgia. Senate Bill 193 would make it a felony if a person commits family violence and has a previous conviction for family violence battery in Georgia, or in any other state.

Prosecutors would be able to issue repeat family violence offenders a felony instead of another misdemeanor, closing a loophole that previously allowed some offenders to receive misdemeanor charges upon their second family battery conviction.

The bill would also make the crime punishable by one to five years in prison. This legislation would strengthen our judicial system and punish violent, serial criminals, while also protecting those who they seek to harm.

A resolution also passed which would allow the Coastal Regional Commission to oversee the implementation of the Coastal Georgia Greenway and create a comprehensive plan to implement the trail and to file a report regarding its progress. SR 730 also encourages the General Assembly to make annual appropriations over the next 10 years to support the completion of the Greenway.

As always, your concerns, questions, and input are very important to me and invaluable as I continue to strive to represent you to the best of my ability throughout the remainder of the session. Please contact me with your thoughts at 404-656-5087 or randy.nix@house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to represent you!

Editor’s note: Clarification in parenthesis.

Randy Nix is representative for state District 69 in the Georgia House of Representatives.