Of the bills proposed and supported by Bartow County legislators, a crime bill by State Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville) of the 14th District, relating to the creation of a new murder charge, was one of the bills passed Monday night.
“I had a bill that got through yesterday that had to do with criminal justice and child abuse, actually. It would have created a crime called murder in the second degree, and essentially what would happen is if a child was killed by cruelty to children in the second degree, then that death would be charged as murder in the second degree,” Coomer said. “Currently, under Georgia law it sits under the felony murder, or murder statute, but because second-degree cruelty to children is a crime that arises from someone’s negligence — in other words the person doesn’t intend to kill the child, but they’ve done something negligent that results in a child’s death — then in some parts of the state instead of being prosecuted as a murder crime, it’s being prosecuted as an involuntary manslaughter.
“Involuntary manslaughter has a sentence range of one year to 10 years, whereas murder has an automatic life sentence as a punishment for conviction of any murder crime. So second-degree murder would get prosecutors an appropriate vehicle to charge these cases across the state, and if convicted a person would serve a sentence of 10 to 30 years for causing the death of a child.”
Creating the second-degree murder charge is something he has thought about for some time, Coomer said.
“I’ve been thinking about the statutes, the problem with the statutes and the gap that it created with some prosecutors and the unequal treatment cases were getting around the state. So I wanted to address it,” he said.
With the bill passing unanimously in the House, Coomer believed it would be well-received in the Senate, and he hoped Gov. Nathan Deal would sign it into law.
State Rep. Paul Battles (R-Cartersville) of the 15th District had a number of bills he was involved with on various committees, such as those relating to ad valorem taxes and retirement, make it through the House before or on crossover day. Among those bills was HB 295, which is intended to streamline the ad valorem tax process.
“It really gives clarity to the process from the beginning of the appraisal and to the assessor’s office all the way through any appeal process it might have,” Battles said.
However, Battle’s attempts to pass HB 713, or the Full Accountability in Collection of Taxes Act of 2014, were unsuccessful. The FACT Act, which was intended to give county and municipal governments greater insight into their sales tax revenues, did not make it to a vote on the House floor.
“We’re going to do a little more study over the summer. We’re working with the department of revenue and we’re hoping the department of revenue is going to be able to provide information that both the county and city is looking for without running the risk of some violations or security violation. The privacy issue is what we’re really concerned about. So we’re basically going to be working on that in the summer and I believe by next year we will have something to satisfy our local governments as well as the department of revenue,” he said.
If passed, the act would have broken down how much sales tax businesses within a county or city were reporting to the state, thereby giving officials a full picture of where their sales tax revenues were coming from and which businesses could be underreporting. In the meantime, Battles continued, the Georgia Department of Revenue found a stopgap measure to partially satisfy officials.
“With this reporting ... we’re sure that every business is in fact reporting to the DOR and that in turn we will get a printout as we get our check from the DOR. It will say all of these businesses are within this check. Not necessarily the amount, but, yet, they did report their sales tax and use tax to the DOR,” Battles said. “We in turn are letting you know that there is one of the businesses that has accidentally reported that’s collected in another location.
“It will be a long way from where we are right now, but it’s still not as much as — of course, Bartow County, well, a lot of counties and municipalities wanted to know everything. They wanted to know the amount as well as the vendor retail store that was collecting those sales taxes.”
Bartow County’s third representative in the House, State Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) of the 16th District, failed to return a call seeking comment on the Legislature’s progress.
On the other side of the State Capitol, Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) of the 14th District, said there were two bills he was happy the Senate passed.
“For me, the autism bill and Senate Bill 98 both were very dear to me and I’m glad to see both of them have been sent over to the House. Obviously my fellow Sen. Tommie Williams, it’s his granddaughter and the Ava’s Law bill as it’s tagged for autism, is very important and that means insurance companies will cover autism. With Senate Bill 98, [it] says insurance plans no longer cover abortions. That’s an elective procedure and these plans don’t cover other elective procedures,” Thompson said.
Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) of the 52nd District, is one of SB 191’s co-sponsors. According to the Georgia Legislature’s website, SB 191, or Ava’s Law, was last read and referred in the Senate on Feb. 22 and no later action was taken.
Looking ahead, Thompson said he would be carrying a bill relating to the funding of public schools.
“My first bill that I will carry, it will be coming, it already came out yesterday, and that simply deals with public schools. That would be public schools or charter schools, in any school that receives ... state and federal funding, must have an open forum ... so that their budget is transparent. Right now that is not law. All your other authorities have to do it. We’ve talked to the board of education, we’ve talked to superintendents and they’re fine with it,” he said.
Coomer said SB 349, relating to the reorganization of community service boards to make them more efficient and more responsive, was something he was looking forward to seeing in the House. Overall, he said, the “compact” legislative session caused first by the May 5 primary and further shortened by two weeks of snow-induced shutdowns has been good for the state.
“So I think the good, positive result for Georgia is we had less legislation and the legislation we had was mostly narrowly tailored, focused to individual changes that needed to be made to fix our particular problems in code, and there weren’t a lot of really grand agenda items that I saw this year. ... Even the governor’s legislative agenda was more focused on fixing problems that existed than it was on making grand changes or creating any kind of new legislative dimensions in any particular area,” he said.