Legislation impacting the Judicial Branch

Each year the Georgia General Assembly passes bills that affect the judges and courts of the state. Though the General Assembly finished its 2014 session in near record time, this year was no exception. From court debt tax return setoff to veterans’ courts to new judgeships, the work of the Judicial Council and Administrative Office of the Courts is very much impacted by this year’s legislation.
 
Tax Intercept
altThe Administrative Office of the Courts was named as the sole claimant agency for the courts to make claims to the Department of Revenue.  HB 1000 allows the AOC to request tax refunds be offset based on requests by the state’s courts in order to collect court-ordered fees. Under this new law, courts could report to the AOC fines over $25. The AOC then submits the requests to the Department of Revenue. If a debtor is due a refund, the fines along with an administrative fee are directed  to the AOC, for distribution to the courts.  “This is an important step forward,” says Mike Cuccaro, “We have heard from other states that this measure will make offenders think twice about ignoring their court-ordered fines.”  Gov. Deal signed HB 1000 in Savannah, GA, on April 14 and it becomes effective on January 1, 2015.  While the bill was supported by the Judicial Council, special congratulations are due Judge Gary Jackson of the Municipal Court of the Atlanta for his tireless advocacy of this measure. 
 
Veterans Courts
On April 15, 2014, legislation was signed by Gov. Deal that allows any court with jurisdiction over criminal cases to establish veterans court divisions. SB 320 addresses the specialized treatment needs of veterans and aims to ensure that their re-entry into society is systematic, seamless, and successful.
 
“Georgia is a true military state, with more than 700,000 veterans calling it home,” said Deal. “It is our duty to give our wholehearted support to these brave men and women who so willingly and courageously put our security before their own. This legislation will provide veterans an alternative to the traditional justice system when impairments, often beyond their control, affect their transition back into society.”
 
To maintain the current and future success of veteran court programs, the Judicial Council of Georgia will adopt standards and practices based on research published by agencies, which will be regularly updated to include new and developing research.
 
Alternative Dispute Resolution
altOn April 24, Gov. Deal signed HB 438 that raised the fee charged by court referred Alternative Dispute Resolution programs to $10 from $7.50.  Mr. Shinji Morokuma, Program Director, Georgia Commission on Dispute Resolution, said of the bill, "Local ADR programs provide critical services to their courts and communities. They are funded by ADR filing fees, which are collected locally, managed locally, and spent locally.  This new law increases the filing fee cap for the first time in 21 years, which will allow local court ADR programs to maintain their fiscal health and continue to meet the high public demand for mediation and arbitration services."
 
New Judges
HB 742 provides for two additional superior court judges in the Coweta and Waycross judicial circuits.  The seventh judge of the Coweta Circuit and the fourth judge of the Waycross Circuit will be appointed by Gov. Deal for terms beginning on July 1. 
 
HB 986 provides for an additional state court judge in Lowndes County.  The new judge, whose term begins July 1, will be appointed by the Governor.
 
Misdemeanor Probation Bill (HB 837) Vetoed
The Governor issued a veto statement regarding HB 837:
 
House Bill 837 provides updates and certain expansions to the role of private companies in the administration of probation services in Georgia. There is language in this legislation that would exempt certain key information about private probation services from the Georgia Open Records Act. I favor more transparency over private probation services and therefore I am not in favor of this information being exempt from the Georgia Open Records Act. In addition, it is my understanding that the Supreme Court of Georgia has under its consideration an appeal that would address the role of private probation services and, while the current law pertaining to private probation services remains in effect, this legislation seeks to have a preemptive impact on any decision in that appeal. With these considerations in mind, I VETO House Bill 837.
 
The trial court councils, the AOC and County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council are examining the veto message and the performance audit referenced by the Governor to assess next steps.
 
For a full view of the legislation that impacts the judiciary, go here.
For a full view of the legislation signed by Gov. Deal, go here.

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