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Committee Workday: It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

What Does it Mean to “Christmas Tree” a Bill? 

During the final stretch of a legislative session, it is common to see some bills evolve into “Christmas trees.” This holiday terminology derives from the practice of amending legislation with language from multiple separate bills, similar to how one would hang ornaments on a tree. Most commonly, amendments are taken from bills that failed to pass as standalone measures.   

Several bills heard in committee became Christmas trees. In other instances, committee members removed the original bill language in its entirety and replaced it with provisions from other bills.  

Senate Education, Part I 

In an attempt to move as many bills as possible before the end of the session, the Senate Education & Youth Committee held two meetings.  

During the first meeting, the following bills passed: 

HB 81 by Rep. John Corbett (R-Lake Park) changes Capital Outlay eligibility criteria for low-wealth school districts. Qualifying districts are those currently ranked in the bottom 25 percent of districts for purposes of sales tax revenue or property values and those ranked in the bottom quartile of these metrics for the three most recent school years. The legislation assigns the State Board of Education (SBOE) oversight authority to make related rules and regulations and says that such rules should prioritize districts with the lowest tax revenue if available state Capital Outlay funding falls short of requests for grants. The bill also specifies that school systems with consolidated facilities making use of these grants may do so only if the facilities are more than 35 years old. Finally, if a low-wealth Capital Outlay grant meets a school district’s needs, the system will be ineligible for another grant for 10 years.  

It was noted that the language of this bill had already been added to HB 318,  but the committee decided to pass HB 81 in case HB 318 fails to achieve the final passage. HB 81 now moves to Senate Rules.  

HB 987 by Rep. Chas Cannon (R-Moultrie) revises the “qualified local school system” definition by reducing the minimum required millage rate or equivalent millage rate from 14 mills to 10 mills. This reduction would allow systems to further lower millage rates and remain eligible for equalization funding, a billion-dollar state program for which more than 128 of Georgia’s 180 school districts are eligible. The bill also contains a “clawback" provision for the state to recover 25 percent of equalization funds for districts that dip below 10 mills. 

Rep. Cannon stated that the 10-mills limit is a compromise position and may be further lowered in the future if tax digests continue to improve. Buddy Costley with the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (GAEL) testified on the bill and answered questions clarifying its impact.  

The bill was then passed out of committee to Senate Rules.   

HB 282 by Rep. Mesha Mainor (R-Atlanta) was heavily revised and now carries the language of several bills. Her initial bill requires districts to offer a course on career readiness. Mainor added language from another of her bills, HB 127, which requires schools to improve IEP interpreter services by adhering to interpreter standards created by the SBOE. The bill also includes language that gives patriotic societies priority in using school facilities during non-instructional time, as defined in Title 36 of the US Code. If a local school board denies access to a patriotic society priority, the reason for the denial must be given in writing. Lastly, the bill would modify the founding philosophies and principles coursework to include the use of an interactive taxpayer receipt and budget web applications.  

Sen. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) offered an amendment to remove the prohibition on school boards covering the health insurance costs of school board members’ families. This amendment was accepted, and the committee approved the bill on HB 282's way to Senate Rules.  

HB 51 by Rep. Clay Pirkle (R-Ashburn) allows school districts to transport students in vehicles other than school buses. This transportation option is currently only open to students experiencing homelessness and special education students. Pirkle described the legislation as providing school districts with added flexibility to transport students to school and school-related activities. The SBOE would set the minimum standards for vehicles and drivers. The bill also includes language allowing the Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) to affiliate with the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS).

Since HB 51 received committee approval, it moves on to Rules.   

Senate Ed, Part II 

HB 579, sponsored by Rep. Carter Barrett (R-Cumming), revises administrative processes for Georgia’s existing special needs private school voucher program, adding timelines to the required provision of calculated scholarship amounts, adding appellate rights for incorrect scholarship amounts and requiring private schools to list student conditions they serve. It also requires the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) to track some demographic data of participating students.  

Through a series of questions, Sen. Freddie Simms (D-Dawson) demonstrated that private school students are not required to take the same tests as public school students, nor is comparable information collected on private school students utilizing the voucher.   

During public comment, Stephanie Tanner from the Georgia School Boards Association reiterated GSBA’s stance against voucher programs. She spoke in support of additional transparency and accountability for private schools taking part in these voucher programs. Tanner stated that GSBA is neutral on HB 579.  

The bill passed with a minor amendment to change specific dates and is now in Senate Rules.  

HB 1104 by Rep. Omari Crawford (D-Decatur) requires schools to make mental health resources available to student-athletes. The legislation would mandate no additional athlete screenings. 

Later in the meeting, Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming) proposed an amendment to this section of the bill. The amendment removed private schools from the requirements, and references to mental health were replaced by terminology regarding suicide risk and prevention. Provisions relating to health care providers and liability protections were also removed. 

Beyond this original purpose, the bill also became a vehicle for multiple other controversial measures: 

  • SB 365 by Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming) requires schools to provide parents with an option to receive an email notification each time their student obtains school library material, and such email notice shall include, as applicable, the title, author, genre, and return date of the school library material. 

  • SB 532 by Sen. Clint Dixon (R- Gwinnett) prohibits sex education in public schools before sixth grade. It further requires that all proposed sex education curricula be made available for public comment before implementation, and students may not receive sex education instruction without making the curriculum available to the student’s parent for review and receiving the parent’s written consent. The bill also states that no school would be required to provide sex education. Instruction on child abuse or menstruation would not be affected by these provisions. 

  • SB 438 by Sen. Carden Summers (R-Cordele) would prohibit student-athletes who are born male but identify as female from participating in any female-only athletics and would prohibit students from using multiple occupancy bathrooms and changing areas designated for the other biological sex.  

Language allowing charter schools to use teachers and staff employed by an education service provider was also added to HB 1104. 

Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) noted that while provisions of the modified bill required significant reporting requirements for schools, the version of the bill was introduced and passed on the same day by the committee without significant disclosure to the public.  

When offered the chance to have it removed, Rep. Crawford reiterated his opposition to the additions to HB 1104 and asked that his original bill advance.  After heated debate, the amended bill moved forward to Senate Rules along a party-line vote.   

Impact Fee Constitutional Amendment Passes House Committee 

The House Governmental Affairs Committee approved both SB 208 and SR 189 by Sen. Dolezal. The bill proposes a state constitutional amendment, which, if approved by voters, would allow the levy of school impact fees for new residential development. Dolezal said the resolution and companion legislation are necessary for fast-growing areas of the state in which existing residents carry the burden of financing the creation of new schools to serve families who purchase new construction. Some committee members expressed concern that the legislation is narrowly tailored to apply only to Forsyth County, the county Dolezal represents. Rep. Joseph Gullet (R-Dallas) said that while failing to meet the threshold outlined in the bill, Paulding County has grown quickly and could benefit from this type of program if the threshold was lower.  

The legislation now moves to House Rules, which will likely schedule it for a floor vote. Proposed constitutional amendments must pass the House and Senate by a two-thirds majority.  

School Mapping and Traffic Camera Bills Progress 

The House Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee passed SB 97 by Sen. Jason Anavitarte (R-Dallas). The bill now appears to include language from HB 348 by Rep. J Collins (R-Villa Rica), which would change components of school speed zone operations, including the use of speed cameras and related penalties and fees. School zone speed cameras could operate one hour before and one hour after the start of school and one hour before and two hours after school dismissal.   

The committee also passed SB 406 by Sen. Dixon, which would create standards for a floor plan mapping system in Georgia schools. The bill is intended to provide more detailed and up-to-date maps for first responders during emergencies using an app-based program. It will be integrated into public safety platforms. The cost averages $3,500 per school, and purchasing the system would be optional. 

The bill was amended to address concerns from speakers and committee members. These amendments sought to make these maps easier to use by removing specific layers, prohibiting the disclosure of school mapping data to the general public, and clarifying provisions about updating parties about map changes.

PSERS Improvement Bill Clears House Committee  

The House Retirement Committee passed SB 105  by Sen. Larry Walker III (R-Perry), seeking to increase Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) members' monthly benefit multiplier from $16.50 to $17. The bill also sets this amount as the minimum multiplier allowed by law. While permanent or one-time increases in benefits can be funded by legislative appropriations, the monthly PSERS benefit amount could not fall below $17 per year of service. This increase would apply to all current and future PSERS retirees.  

PAGE Legislative Services Specialist Josh Stephens spoke in support of the bill, stating that the workers covered by PSERS work very hard and deserve the proposed benefit raise.  

Upcoming Schedule  

Wednesday, March 20 - Legislative Day 37 

  • 4 p.m. Senate Education & Youth Committee, 310 CLOB

Thursday, March 21 – Legislative Day 38 

Monday, March 25 -- Committee Workday

Tuesday, March 26 -- Legislative Day 39

Thursday, March 28 -- Legislative Day 40, Sine Die


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