Last week the Gold Dome featured not only interesting bills introduced and passed out of the various committees and respective House and Senate chambers, but it was also Qualifying Week for candidates vying to run for office in November general and special elections. Federal, state and local candidates along with their supporters crowded the third floor halls of the Capitol seeking to retain their current seat, run for higher office, or challenge an incumbent. The Georgia primary will be held on May 19, 2020 for federal, state, and local elections.

Qualifying to keep her job in Washington is businesswoman Senator Kelly Loeffler, appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp last December after Sen. Isakson's retirement. Rep. Doug Collins, one of President Donald Trump’s top allies in Congress, recently announced his campaign against GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Nineteen other major and third-party candidates also qualified to run in the November special election to fill the remainder of Isakson’s term. Prominent Democratic contenders running for this office are well-known Pastor Raphael Warnock, endorsed by former candidate for governor Stacey Abrams and former Augusta State Senator and U.S. Prosecutor Ed Tarver. As a special election, there will be no primary.

Sen. David Perdue, who is running for re-election, has seven Democratic candidates seeking to run against him. Among those challenging Perdue, who seeks his second term, include, former Lieutenant Governor candidate and political newcomer Sarah Riggs Amico, and former congressional staffer, Jon Ossoff, who notably ran in a special election for Congress against Republican Karen Handel in 2017.

In the Georgia General Assembly, 211 incumbents in the House and Senate are expected seek reelection. Of the 48 incumbents in the Senate, early numbers indicate that 31 will face a primary and/or general election opponent from a major party. In the House, 99 of the 163 incumbents are expected to face major party opposition in the May 19 primary and/or general election.

Early voting is currently underway in Georgia from March 2-20, 2020 for voters to cast their ballots for the Presidential Primary on March 24, 2020.

Environment – House Bill 927

Sponsored by Rep. Don Parsons (R-44), the bill passed by the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee requires companies to tell the state and public when there’s an ethylene oxide leak. Currently, the state requires reporting when there are more than 10 pounds emitted over 24 hours. If this bill becomes law, it requires companies to report any ethylene oxide release within 24 hours. However, the bill has to be passed by the House chamber and Senate to make it to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk.

Judiciary – Senate Bill 224 

Sponsored by Sen. Tyler Harper (R-7), the bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. It changes the scope of the felony charge aggravated assault in regards to brandishing a firearm. Currently, in the state of Georgia, prosecutors must prove murder is the intent of an individual brandishing a gun before they can be found guilty of aggravated assault. Moreover, the bill allows all licensed firearm owners to carry weapons into places of worship unless the congregation adopts a policy forbidding them. Currently, the law allows licensed firearm owners to bring a gun into a place of worship only if an individual has the permission of the governing body. Lastly, the measure would allow firearm owners to carry weapons into court buildings when there are no judicial proceedings, and officers of the court are not conducting official business. Current law bans guns from courthouses at all times.

Health & Human Services – Senate Bill 393Senate Bill 435, and House Bill 823

Introduced by Gov. Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp to target the recent up-tick in human trafficking, they were successful in their efforts to push three pieces of legislation and have one cleared through the Legislature’s two chambers. SB 393 allows district attorneys to request assistance from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's lawyers in prosecuting crimes related to sex trafficking and gangs. SB 435 focuses on creating a way to vacate the prior conviction for offenses committed by individuals charged while they were victims of human tracking. HB 823 passed the House and would prohibit anyone convicted of human trafficking from getting a commercial driver's license if the conviction involved driving a commercial vehicle.

Healthcare – House Bill 1094

Sponsored by Rep. Houston Gaines (R-117), along with Speaker David Ralston (R-7), the bill will provide all eligible employees of the state, including eligible employees of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government for paid parental leave for qualifying life events after six continuous months of employment with the state. The benefit will be available for the birth of a child, placement of a minor child for adoption, or placement of a minor child for foster care with the employee. If HB 1094 becomes law, nearly 250,000 state employees will now be eligible for paid parental leave for 120 hours.

Education – House Bill 444 – Georgia Dual Enrollment Program

Introduced by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-34), the bill allows high school students to take college courses at the expense of the state. Participation in this program has nearly doubled since 2016; this expansion increased spending of the state’s general fund by more than 325 percent over five years. If this legislation becomes law, it will cap that spending and restrict students to 30 college credit hours. Students would be responsible for any excess cost. Keep in mind; the program would be limited to only 11th-grade and 12th-grade students.

Transportation – House Bill 847

Sponsored by Rep. John Corbett (R-174), the bill requires anyone found transporting hemp to have a license. Previously, the language supported jail time or fines for possessing hemp illegally. This legislation would put Georgia in compliance with federal hemp regulations and allow colleges to process and research hemp. The bill passed the House and must be approved by the Senate before reaching the governor’s desk.

Education – Senate Bill 386

Sponsored by Sen. Renee S. Unterman (R-45), this legislation would expand the state-funded private program to include students that fall under the federal Rehabilitation Act, regulated by Section 504, and informally known as “504 plans.” Students with 504 plans are eligible for accommodations, such as extended testing time. Primarily this bill will grant students with learning disabilities with temporary access to public funding for private school tuition. Currently, only students identified by public schools as having special educational needs qualify to get direct state funding to attend private school.

Firefighters – Senate Bill 342

Sponsored by Sen. Burt Jones (R-25) and backed by Miller County Fire Chief Craig Tully, this bill establishes training and certification rules for volunteer fire departments in Georgia that are separate from those required for full-time professional fire departments. Currently, volunteers receive the same kind of rigorous training performed by professional firefighters. The legislation would hand over the oversight functions to a new seven-member Georgia Volunteer Fire Service Council tasked with establishing training programs for volunteer firefighters and certifying individuals who have received training as a federal firefighter. The bill prohibits persons with felony convictions from joining a volunteer firehouse unless more than five years have passed since the conviction. If it becomes a law, the bill allows individuals interested in joining their local volunteer fire departments to do so without a high school diploma or a GED. Currently, volunteers are required to receive a minimum of twenty-four hours of training a year.

Transportation – House Bill 105

A bill initially sponsored by Rep. Sam Watson (R-172), in response to House Bill 276, House Bill 105 relates to disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Michael. The bill moved out of a Senate committee this week with an additional purpose – to add a 50 cent fee and a 25 cent fee for pooled rides to rideshare services in Georgia. This Wednesday, the Georgia Senate pushed HB 105 forward. If the bill becomes law, it will take effect April 1. These fees collected go toward infrastructure across Georgia.

Health and Human Services House Bill 1114

Sponsored by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-43), this bill provides postpartum care for mothers for a period of six months following the date the woman gives birth. Currently, pregnant women in Georgia households that earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for Medicaid. Their insurance covers doctor visits, prescription drugs, and hospital services, including labor and delivery up to two months after they give birth. If HB 1114 becomes law, Medicaid recipients will be covered for a year after they give birth.