Committees, Programs & Sections

Legislative Update, Final 2014 Update (03.25.14)

The 2014 Regular Session of the Georgia General Assembly adjourned sine die last Thursday, March 20, after a Session that seemed longer than it actually was. The State Bar of Georgia and the legal profession as a whole enjoyed an extremely successful Session, and I am pleased to report the highlights below.

The FY15 Budget passed by the General Assembly includes the Bar’s request for an increase in funding for legal representation of victims of domestic violence. That program, administered through the Administrative Office of the Courts, will receive last year’s funding level plus an additional $386,000. While this increase represents half of the Bar’s original request, we are very grateful for the increase and share the Legislature’s confidence that the money will be well spent for its incredibly important purpose. The Appellate Resource Center, another funding request from the Bar, was also funded in the Budget.

HB 654, the State Bar’s testamentary guardianship bill, did not pass out of Senate Rules in time for a floor vote. However, House Judiciary Chairman Wendell Willard amended a bill in the House with the testamentary guardianship language and that bill secured passage and was sent to the Governor’s desk. SB 364 and SB 365, bills that contain the third phase of the Governor’s justice reform and reinvestment initiatives, were overwhelmingly passed by both chambers.

HB 889, the Bar’s unauthorized practice of law bill, and HB 685 (the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act) did not pass this Session. The Bar’s legislative team will continue to work with the Office of Legislative Counsel, the bills’ sponsors and the appropriate Bar Sections to perfect the language in these bills so that they can be pre-filed before the beginning of the 2015 Regular Session.

In other news, I am very pleased to report that SB 209, the bill that provided immunity from unauthorized practice of law lawsuits for providers of legal self-help documents and products, did not pass in the final hours of the Session. As you may recall, the House tabled that bill on March 6, which is where it remained. HB 643, the E-Discovery Bill, failed on the Senate floor on Day 39. SB 320, the bill that authorizes veterans’ courts in Georgia, did, however, pass this Session. 

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Legislative Update, Week 9 (03.14.14)

The General Assembly was in session Monday through Thursday of this week, with Thursday completing Legislative Day 38. Lawmakers will return next Tuesday, March 18, for Day 39 and next Thursday, March 20, for Day 40, Sine Die. 

In State Bar news, SB 364 and SB 365, the bills that contain the third phase of the Governor’s justice reform and reinvestment initiatives passed out of the House Juvenile Justice Committee on Wednesday and they currently sit in the House Rules Committee awaiting a floor vote.  HB 654, the State Bar’s testamentary guardianship bill, is currently in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting a floor vote in that chamber.

SB 209, the bill that gives providers of legal self-help documents and services immunity from unauthorized practice of law lawsuits, remains on the House table after being tabled on March 6. The Bar’s legislative team continues to closely monitor that situation.

The FY15 Budget is in Conference Committee to negotiate the differences between the House version and the Senate version. Conferees will work through this weekend. The Bar’s legislative team is working closely with the conferees to attempt to secure the Bar’s requests for increased funding for legal services for victims of domestic violence and for the Appellate Resource Center.

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Legislative Update, Week 8 (03.07.14)

This past Monday was Crossover Day, so lawmakers stayed at the Capitol well into Monday night voting on bills to ensure they would stay alive this Session. They returned Tuesday and worked through today, bringing us to Legislative Day 34.

Yesterday the House took up SB 209, which the Bar opposes. This bill provides immunity from unauthorized practice of law lawsuits for entities that provide legal self-help documents and products, so long as the document or product disclaims that it does not substitute for the advice of an attorney. After a lengthy and spirited debate, the House voted to table the bill. We are pleased with this outcome and will closely monitor the bill to see if it is brought back to the House for consideration.

In addition, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed HB 654, the State Bar’s testamentary guardianship bill. It now sits in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting a floor vote. If the Senate passes the bill, it will head to Gov. Deal’s desk for signature.

This week also saw the passage of the FY15 full budget by the Senate. Now that versions have passed both chambers, conferees will be appointed and begin crafting a conference committee report. We will continue to work with these appropriations conferees to attempt to secure the Bar’s funding requests for increased funding for legal services for victims of domestic violence and the Appellate Resource Center.

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Legislative Update, Week 7 (02.28.14)

Lawmakers were in Session Monday through Wednesday of this week, and they will return this coming Monday, March 3, for Crossover Day (Day 30). 

On Tuesday of this week, HB 643, the House’s E-Discovery bill, passed out of the House and was sent to the Senate. Also on Tuesday, SB 354, an alternative E-Discovery bill drafted by Sen. Bill Cowsert, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and currently sits in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting a floor vote.

On Wednesday, SB 364 and SB 365, the two bills that contain the third phase of Governor Deal’s justice reform and reinvestment initiatives, passed the Senate unanimously. They are now in the House and will likely receive a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee sometime next week.

HB 889, the bill that creates a cause of action with damages for those harmed by the unauthorized practice of law, still sits in the House Rules Committee and the legislative team is working to get that bill out so it can receive a floor vote on Monday.

Also this week, the Conference Committee Report for the FY14 Supplementary Budget was adopted by both chambers and was sent to the Governor’s desk for signature. The Senate will take up the FY15 Budget on Tuesday of next week. We are optimistic that the State Bar’s request for increased funding for legal services for victims of domestic violence will remain in the budget, and we will continue to work with appropriators on that issue. 

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Legislative Update, Week 6 (02.21.14)

After the winter weather kept them out most of last week, the General Assembly returned this week for a very busy five-day legislative week. They will return next Monday through Wednesday for Days 27-29 and then adjourn until Monday, March 3, which will be Day 30 – Crossover Day.

On Tuesday of this week, HB 889, the bill that allows for damages for those harmed by the unauthorized practice of law, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee. It currently sits in the House Rules Committee, and we hope that it will come to the House floor sometime next week.

On Wednesday, HB 674, the bill that dedicates funding for public defenders and prosecutors in juvenile court, passed out of the House Juvenile Justice Committee. It now sits in the House Rules Committee awaiting a floor vote. Also on Wednesday, the Judicial Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee passed the judicial budget out and on to the full committee. The budget includes the Bar’s request for increased funding for legal services for victims of domestic violence. We will continue to work with the Senate appropriators to attempt to ensure that this important funding remains intact. Finally, Wednesday also saw a Senate Judiciary Non-Civil Committee hearing on SB 364 and SB 365, the bills that contain the third phase of the Governor’s criminal justice reform initiatives. The Committee passed those bills unanimously and they now sit in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting a floor vote.

On Thursday, HB 504, the bill that allows evidence of failure to wear a seatbelt, and HB 643, the E-Discovery Bill, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee. Both of those bills now sit in House Rules.

If you have any questions related to the Bar's legislative agenda, please contact Thomas Worthy, the State Bar of Georgia’s Director of Governmental Affairs, at thomasw@gabar.org.

View the weekly video update.

Legislative Update, Week 5 (02.14.14)

Severe winter weather turned what was supposed to be a four-day work week for the General Assembly into a two-day work week. Both chambers were forced to adopt an adjournment resolution on Tuesday to ensure the safety of members and staff. They will return Monday, Feb. 17, for Day 22.
 
On Monday, HB 643, the E-Discovery Bill was passed out of the Lindsey special subcommittee. It will be taken up by the full House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 2 p.m. The House Judiciary Committee will also take up HB 889, the State Bar’s Unauthorized Practice of Law Bill at that same hearing.
 
HB 674, the State Bar’s bill that dedicates funding for prosecutors and defense attorneys in juvenile court passed out of the Atwood subcommittee on Monday and will be taken up by the House Juvenile Justice Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 3 p.m.
 
On Monday, Feb. 17, the FY15 Budget will be on the House floor. The budget currently includes the State Bar’s budget requests for the Georgia Appellate Resource Center and increased funding for legal services for victims of domestic violence. The State Bar’s legislative team will work closely with Senate appropriators to try to keep these items in the budget once it crosses over after passage.
 
If you have any questions related to the Bar's legislative agenda, please contact Thomas Worthy, the State Bar of Georgia’s Director of Governmental Affairs, at thomasw@gabar.org.

View the weekly video update.

Legislative Update, Week 4 (02.07.14)

On Monday morning, Rep. Lindsey’s special subcommittee held a hearing on HB 643, the E-Discovery bill. At the hearing, the subcommittee received testimony from lawyers on both sides of the issue. A committee substitute reflecting changes to the language spurred by that testimony is currently being drafted. It will be heard in the same subcommittee on Monday, Feb. 10, at 8 a.m.

The State Bar’s Testamentary Guardianship bill, HB 654 was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon and taken up by the House this morning. It passed the House unanimously and now heads to the Senate. HB 889, the State Bar’s bill that provides damages for those harmed by the unauthorized practice of law was passed out of Rep. Jacob’s subcommittee this afternoon and now heads to the full House Judiciary Committee for a hearing sometime next week.

HB 674, the bill that dedicates a funding source for prosecutors and defense attorneys in juvenile court will be heard in Rep. Atwood’s subcommittee of Juvenile Justice on Monday at 9 a.m.

After the Senate passed the 2014 Supplementary Budget this morning, focus now turns to the 2015 Budget. The Public Safety Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing on Thursday afternoon. At that hearing, the Bar’s legislative team testified on the need for an increase in funding for legal services for domestic violence victims. We will continue to monitor  that request throughout the budgetary process and work hard to ensure that the funding is restored to pre-recession levels.

If you have any questions related to the Bar's legislative agenda, please contact Thomas Worthy, the State Bar of Georgia’s Director of Governmental Affairs at thomasw@gabar.org.

View the weekly video update.

Legislative Update, Week 3 (01.31.14)

On Monday morning, Rep. Lindsey’s special subcommittee held a hearing on HB 643, the E-Discovery bill. During this meeting, Rep. Willard presented the bill but the subcommittee did not receive any testimony. The subcommittee will hold another hearing at 8 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 3. The subcommittee will receive testimony from the public at this time. 

On Monday afternoon, Rep. Fleming’s subcommittee held a markup on HB 654, the Testamentary Guardianship bill. After making some slight changes to the burden of proof requirement, it was voted out by the subcommittee and will be heard by the full House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 2 p.m.

Inclement weather forced the House and the Senate to suspend business for Wednesday and Thursday, but because an adjournment resolution for the week had already been adopted, those two days counted as legislative days. As a result, today marks the end of Day 14.

Today, Rep. Weldon introduced HB 889, which provides a civil cause of action for persons damaged by someone practicing law without a license. We expect that bill to move quickly and hope that it will be heard in a House Judiciary subcommittee sometime next week.

If you have any questions related to the Bar's legislative agenda, please contact Thomas Worthy, the State Bar of Georgia’s Director of Governmental Affairs at thomasw@gabar.org.

View the weekly video update.

Legislative Update, Week 2 (01.24.14)

After taking Monday off for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Tuesday. This is the first time in recent memory that the General Assembly has worked on Week 2 instead of taking the week off for budget hearings. Also on Tuesday, Gov. Deal signed HB 310 into law, aligning the state and local election calendar with the federal calendar mandated by Judge Steve Jones’ order last year. Party primaries will now officially occur on May 20, 2014, instead of in July. As I mentioned last week, this abbreviated election schedule will help ensure a speedy 2014 Regular Session.

The House Appropriations Committee worked this week to finalize the 2014 Supplementary Budget and the House passed it this morning. It now heads across the Rotunda to Senate Appropriations, which will begin work on it next week. This milestone demonstrates how fast lawmakers are working, as the House passed the amended budget over a month earlier this year than it did last year.

In State Bar legislative news, the Fleming Subcommittee of House Judiciary held a hearing yesterday afternoon on HB 654, the Testamentary Guardianship bill. After hearing testimony from probate judges and family lawyers, the subcommittee requested that a new committee substitute be drafted to reflect the issues discussed by the witnesses, and the subcommittee could vote to send that new substitute to the full committee as early as Monday afternoon. The new committee substitute for HB 1, the Civil Forfeiture Reform bill, was heard by the Jacobs Subcommittee of House Judiciary this afternoon. At the hearing, Chairman Wendell Willard presented the bill and discussed the consensus building that has taken place since last year. The subcommittee heard testimony from many stakeholders but took no vote. We expect it to be sent to the full committee as early as next week. The Lindsey Special Subcommittee of House Judiciary will hold a hearing on the E-Discovery bill (HB 643) Monday morning at 8:30.

If you have any questions related to the Bar's legislative agenda, please contact Thomas Worthy, the State Bar of Georgia’s Director of Governmental Affairs, at thomasw@gabar.org

View the weekly video update.

Legislative Update, Week 1 (01.17.14)

This week marked the beginning of the 2014 Regular Session of the Georgia General Assembly, and lawmakers began work almost immediately.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed HB 310 by a vote of 38-15. The bill moves the party primaries from July to May 20. Primary runoffs, if necessary, would take place on July 22. The 2014 general election will still be held on November 4, but any runoffs arising from the general election would be put back from December to January 6, 2015.  The legislation stems from a federal court order requiring Georgia election officials to wait at least 45 days between the primary and general elections and any subsequent runoffs to allow Georgians overseas time to mail in absentee ballots.

On Wednesday, Governor Deal delivered the State of the State address and released his budget recommendations to the General Assembly. In his address, the Governor rolled out his plan for expanded K-12 and technical college funding as well as highlighting this year’s criminal justice reform efforts. Those efforts, which he discussed in depth at the Bar's Midyear Meeting last week, will focus on reducing recidivism and strengthening the prisoner reentry system throughout the state. It is designed to complement the bipartisan adult sentencing reforms of 2012 and the juvenile justice reforms of 2013, both of which were approved unanimously. At first glance, the budget looks favorable for both the legal profession and the judiciary and the Bar’s legislative team will continue to monitor it as it moves through the appropriations committees of each chamber.

The House took up and passed HB 310 by a vote of 159-1 today. We expect it to be immediately transmitted to the Governor and signed by him upon arrival. Because of the accelerated election schedule created by the bill, we anticipate a quick legislative session so lawmakers can return to their districts in time to raise money and campaign.

In related State Bar news, the House Judiciary Committee introduced a committee substitute to HB 643, the E-Discovery bill, yesterday. Chairman Willard established a special subcommittee for the purpose of hearings on this new substitute. That subcommittee will be chaired by Rep. Edward Lindsey and members will include Rep. Stacey Evans, Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, Rep. B.J. Pak and Rep. Andy Welch. We expect to see a committee substitute to HB 1, the Civil Forfeiture Reform bill, introduced by the House Judiciary Committee next week.

If you have any questions related to the Bar's legislative agenda, please contact Thomas Worthy, the State Bar of Georgia’s Director of Governmental Affairs at thomasw@gabar.org

View the weekly video update.

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