Last week, the Georgia General Assembly Democrat leadership decided to recess on Thursday and Friday. This week we will not meet until Thursday. Then, to really ignore the peoples business, the Democrat leadership has told us that we will be off the entire week of March 11.
The reason still is very simple. They need more time before the legislative redistricting maps are approved by the federal courts in Washington, DC. The Democrat leadership wants to delay the completion of the session in hopes that the courts will rule on the acceptance of the Congressional, Senate, and House redistricting plans.
The courts are in their final days of the trial to determine the legitimacy of the legislative reapportionment maps. I think it is safe to say, based on commentary from the courts, they refuse to agree that African-American participation in our political process is propelled by the strength of the Democrat Party vs. the election of African-Americans. The courts do not seem prepared to set a new precedent by diluting black voting strength to allow for more Democrats to be elected. This is specially noted in the redistricting of the Senate maps. We are waiting for the courts to rule.
In legislative action last week, one bill we dealt with highlighted minor traffic laws. HB 1110 would clarify language dealing with truck operators who refuse to stop for inspection, measurement, or to be weighed. Current code only requires trucks to submit to the direction of an authorized official, but does not include language on signs or other signals. Failing to stop at these signals could result in up to a $200 fine. The bill also makes it illegal for drivers to use specially coated covers for license plates, which are used to prevent traffic light cameras from reading the plate. We unanimously passed this bill.
We also took up legislation to help stiffen penalties for the situation at the Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Ga. Most of us were shocked that the operator of this crematory had used a loophole in the Georgia Code to avoid inspection of his operation. Based on that, we implemented a new set of laws dealing with crematoriums.
First, we closed the loophole that required owners to have inspections if they were opened to the public. Tri-State claimed that they only dealt with funeral homes, so they were exempt from inspection. Now, anybody performing cremations are subjected to state inspection.
Secondly, we drafted legislation making it illegal to mutilate, desecrate, throw away, or abandon a human body or body parts. Not included were interment, entombment, burial at sea, or scattering of cremated ashes. Violations of this new statute would be considered a felony with a prison term between one and three years. We also now require crematory owners to certify that the remains included in the vessel are those of the deceased. We unanimously passed HB 1481.
One bill that we passed provided to be the most controversial of the year so far. It dealt with sovereign immunity for cities and counties. Under current law, if a city or county vehicle causes an accident, the city or county can claim sovereign immunity and be exempt from having to pay any damages.
Most cities and counties are responsible and carry a level of insurance. However, there were two noticeable exceptions - Atlanta and Savannah. Most members of the House believed that all cities and counties should carry some level of insurance. However, most members recognized that this was an unfunded mandate and we had to be prudent so that smaller counties and cities would not face bankruptcy because of insurance premiums.
Through a contentious amendment process, we agreed to cap settlements at $500,000 and phase in the law over several years. Final passage was 151-24.
lease do not hesitate to let me know your position or feelings on these or any other issue. If you would like to reach me, please call me at (404) 656-0325 or write me at: State Rep. Ben Harbin, 612 LOB, State Capitol, Atlanta, Ga., 30334, or email me at bharbin@legis. state.ga.us.
(Ben Harbin represents the 113th Georgia House District and serves as chairman of Columbia Countys legislative delegation.)
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