2017 Georgia Legislative Session: what to look out for

Tandra Smith

Though it’s been a little over two weeks since the beginning of the 2017 Georgia Legislative Session, there have already been various bills introduced that can affect both students and Georgia residents as a whole.

Potential casino bills

Senate Bill 79, also known as the “Destination Resort Act” and House Bill 158, would allow the construction of up to two gaming “destination resorts” or casinos, one located in Atlanta, and the other located in either Savannah, Augusta or Columbus.

Sponsored by state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta and Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah respectively, both bills would allow the gambling proceeds to help fund the HOPE Scholarship, as well as, a new needs based scholarship.

According to the AJC, 70 percent of proceeds would go to the HOPE scholarship while the other 30 percent would go towards the new needs-based scholarship. In addition, the “resorts” would be taxed at 20 percent, rather than the industry standard of 12 percent.

Opponents of the bills cite crime and moral concerns, but Beach and Stephens see huge job creation and tax revenue opportunities.

Campus assault investigations

House Bill 51, sponsored by Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, would limit the role universities/colleges play in alleged rapes and the disciplining of alleged rapists.

Under the bill, the local district attorney or law enforcement agency would be given the authority to determine whether or not to conduct an investigation or prosecution of the case. Any employee or official that receives the information of a rape, either perpetrated by a student or acted upon a student, would be required to report the incident to the local DA or law enforcement agency, including police.

However, HB 51 would limit any on-campus investigation of the incident to campus agencies that are staffed with state-certified officers.

According to onlineathens.com, colleges and universities would be unable to pursue any final disciplinary action against students charged with a felony until the student is either sentenced, found guilty or enters a plea of no contest, in which they to do not accept or deny responsibility of the charges.

Sanctuary campuses

House Bill 37, also sponsored by Ehrhart, would cut state funding for private institutions that broke the law to protect the undocumented students attending. The goal of the bill is to cut down and reduce the number of “sanctuary campuses”.

The term derives from cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, among others, whose local governments have various procedures and regulations in place to protect immigrants.

The issue with sanctuary campuses has been on the rise as of late. The numbers of protests for such campuses at colleges has grown since Donald Trump’s election, according to a report by CNN.

“Such withholding of state funding shall include funds provided to the private postsecondary institution directly as well as funding for scholarships, loans and grants,” the bill said.

Recently, Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia was dealing with this issue. According to The Emory Wheel, while Emory will not be called a “sanctuary campus”, it will continue to support undocumented students enrolled at the school.

A report by the Pew Research Center estimates that at least 200,000 undocumented immigrants are currently enrolled in college. The numbers could be higher or lower, but information on this subgroup is hard to find, for many legal reasons.

Needs based HOPE scholarship

Touched upon earlier, Senate Bill 82, sponsored by Sen. Lester Jackson, D – Savannah, would create a new needs based HOPE scholarship and grant, eligible for individuals claimed by their parent as a dependent for 24 months prior to the first day of classes, as well independents. For both cases, you or both of your parents combined must make less than $75,000.

According to the bill, for each semester of HOPE eligibility, the need recipient would receive an amount determined by the Georgia Student Finance Commission (GSFC) and based on the student’s financial standing.

According to the AJC, last year, the lottery earned $1 billion for Georgia’s education. The HOPE scholarships funds various Pre-K programs, as well as grants and scholarships for Georgia students in private and public institutions.

Though the legislation session has just begun, it’s clear that from just these introduced bills that the state of Georgia might be undergoing many changes before the year ends.