2015 Legislative Session

By Ashley G. Stollar, Communications/Outreach Specialist II

Each year the Georgia General Assembly passes bills that affect the judges and courts of the state. The General Assembly finished its 2015 on April 2. From judicial pay raises, traffic cases involving juveniles, and creating an additional judgeship, the work of the Judicial Council and Administrative Office of the Courts is very much impacted by this year’s legislation. The Governor has 40 days after the last day of the legislative session to sign or veto bills.
Judicial Pay Raises, New Superior Court Judge – HB 279 provides for a state salary increase for justices of the Supreme Court, judges of the Court of Appeals, and judges of the Superior Courts, as well as a daily expense allowance for appellate judge who live 50 miles or more from the State Judicial Building. Also, superior court judges in circuits with accountability courts are provided with an additional state supplement to their salary.
HB 279 also provides for an additional superior court judge in the Western Judicial Circuit.
The Judicial, District Attorney, and Circuit Public Defender Compensation Commission is created by HB 279 to study the compensation structure of judges, district attorney, and circuit public defenders. The Commission is also charged with evaluating caseload and the distribution/allocation of such officers and jurisdiction.
Judicial Disqualification – HB 207 restores the third-degree standard for judicial disqualification based on degrees of relationship with parties. Previously the standard was a relationship within the sixth-degree of the judge for judicial officers, grand juror, or trials lawyer.
Traffic Cases involving 17-year-old drivers – HB 361 clarifies that 17-year-old drivers will be treated as adults for traffic offenses.
Fish and Game Law – SB 62 removes certain limitations on the jurisdiction of the probate courts over game and fish violations, including first violations and hunting deer at night with the aid of a light.
Order to Apprehend, AIDS disclosure – HB 119 authorizes probate judges to disclose otherwise confidential AIDS information of mentally ill persons who are to be apprehended by law enforcement officers.
Misdemeanor Probation Sentencing – HB 310 provides statutory authority for tolling sentences where the probationer has been provided notice and an opportunity to be heard.  HB 310 creates the Department of Community Supervision and transfers the functions and appropriations of the County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council and the Georgia Commission on Family Violence to the new agency.
Council of Accountability Court Judges – HB 328 creates the Council of Accountability Court Judges based on recommendations of the Georgia Council of Criminal Justice Reform.  HB 328 transfers statutory responsibility of accountability courts from the Judicial Council to the Council of Accountability Court Judges. Permits a local governing authority, with recommendation of the court, to contract with any person doing business within or outside the state for the collection of delinquent fines.
Safe Carry Protection Act – HB 492 clarifies the exemptions contained within OCGA § 16-11-139 including correction contradictory language about fingerprinting requirement for renewal licenses. Requires superior and state court judges who become aware of a conviction to notify the probate judge. The Council of Superior Court Judges and Council of State Court Judges are required to provide procedures to carry out this requirement.
Judicial Opinion – SB 99 requires a party who alleges that a judge expressed an opinion regarding whether a fact has been proved make a timely objection, outside the jury’s presence, and inform the court of the specific objection and the grounds for such objection. If the objection is sustained, the court may give a curative instruction to the jury or declare a mistrial. Where the judge expressed an opinion as the guilt of the accused, the law requires a new trial to be granted.
Budget – Each year the General Assembly appropriates funds to the Judicial Council. Funds appropriated for FY 2016 totaled $15,411,761. The Judicial Council received $13,163,230 and the remainder is for projects such as Accountability Courts, Appellate Resource Center, the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education, and the Judicial Qualifications Commission.
Enhancements in the FY 2016 budget included:
$10,000    Council of Magistrate Court Judges - for information technology to support web hosting for the Access to Courts Filing Wizard
$193,126   Civil Legal Services for Victims of Domestic Violence - for grants for civil legal services to victims of domestic violence
$100,000  Cold Case Project  - in conjunction with other agencies serving children in state custody, which will seek to identify children most likely to age out of foster care without a family
$277,167  County & Municipal Probation Advisory Council - for three new compliance monitor positions and operations to effectively and efficiently register and regulate misdemeanor probation providers
$7,500  Georgia Council of Court Administrators - to improve and expand training for members of the Georgia Council of Court Administrators
$120,000  E-Filing Portal - for the Statewide E-filing portal implementation  
Adjustments for the FY 2016 Budget included:
Employer share of the Employees' Retirement System
Accountability Courts $6,126
Judicial Council and Council of State Court ERS eligible county employees $329,738
Judicial Qualifications Commission $2,015
Merit-based pay adjustments and employee recruitment and retention initiatives eff. 7/1/2015
Accountability Courts $2,136
Judicial Council $43,218
Judicial Qualifications Commission $702                                                           
$809,110            Employer share of the Judicial Retirement System for the Council of State Court Judges           
$43,951             Agency premiums for Department of Administrative Services administered self-insurance programs 
$5,859               Teamworks billings

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