The headlines for this legislative session will be dominated by a handful of big issues. Here are a few good bills that deserve more attention than they’ll get.
Solar Power Free-Market Financing Act: This is a holdover from 2014, when Rep. Mike Dudgeon, R-Johns Creek, couldn’t assuage the concerns of the power companies about his bill to allow homeowners and businesses to finance the purchase of solar-power equipment. It’s back this year as House Bill 57, and the interested parties have signed off on a text that caps the capacity of financed equipment. This bill is a sound way to help an alternative power source grow without public subsidies or risk.
Georgia Right to Try Act: Also from Dudgeon, this bill follows the lead of at least five other states in permitting terminally ill patients to try a medication that has cleared the Food and Drug Administration’s initial screening phase for toxicity. The drug’s effectiveness may not have been proven yet, but patients facing death by an irreversible disease and few if any FDA-approved options don’t have the luxury of waiting out a full process that can take several years. Like many state bills dealing with federal laws or regulations, the benefits of HB 34 may go only so far. But any good that comes from the bill would seem to outweigh any negative consequences.
The “Beer Jobs Bill”: This measure by Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Atlanta, would loosen — just a tad — the restrictions on Georgia’s emerging microbrew and craft-brew industry. Visitors to breweries, such as Atlanta’s Sweetwater or Monday Night Brewing, could taste up to 72 ounces of beer and buy up to 144 ounces to take home by can, bottle or growler. This idea has been opposed by wholesalers as an attack on Georgia’s “three tier system” of alcohol distribution (although Georgia’s wineries already enjoy a similar provision). But while SB 63 enables brewers to boost their sales just when they are trying to grow their businesses, wholesalers and retailers also stand to benefit from future sales if the consumer likes what he tastes.
Ballot Access Reform Act: Do you wonder why there aren’t more independent candidates, when so many people say they’re sick of the Republicans and Democrats? One reason is Georgia has some of the nation’s strictest ballot-access rules for third-party candidates. HB 58 by Rep. John Pezold, R-Fortson, would lower the threshold for these candidates to get on the ballot. Instead of needing petition signatures from 5 percent of all registered voters eligible to vote in the race, a candidate would need signatures equal to 2 percent of the total votes cast in the last election for the office. Example: In my state House district last year, an independent candidate needed 1,776 signatures to get on the ballot. Under this law, he would have needed less than 500. This could bring competition for seats at the General Assembly, 80 percent of which had only one candidate on last November’s ballot, as well as congressional seats.
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