Lawmakers hear State of the Judiciary message
On Feb. 4, Chief Justice Hugh Thompson of the Supreme Court of Georgia delivered the annual State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the House and Senate. Declaring the judicial system in Georgia as sound and strong, Chief Justice Thompson praised the state's successful expansion of specialty courts, also known as accountability courts, which represent a cost-effective justice alternative for non-violent offenders.
Some specialty courts, such as drug and mental health treatment courts, hold offenders accountable through court-supervised treatment programs. Veterans' courts match military veterans who are non-violent offenders with supportive volunteers who are dedicated to keeping our veterans on the right path by mentoring them through the program. More than 5,000 Georgians have had their cases handled by a total of 116 accountability courts to help reduce the taxpayer burden of incarceration.
Chief Justice Thompson also reported that some areas of rural Georgia are facing challenges regarding access to justice. Six counties have no lawyers at all, and 20 counties have fewer than five lawyers, resulting in a growing number of citizens coming to court without legal representation. The Chief Justice asked the General Assembly to support newly introduced legislation (HB 236
), which would create a pilot program to assist law school graduates with repaying their college loans if they agree to work in an underserved county for at least five years.
Education bills move through committee
The House Education Committee has favorably reported legislation that would waive certain residency requirements so that children of active duty military personnel in Georgia will be able to receive special needs scholarships. HB 62
addresses the fact that military families are often required to relocate across the country and would ensure that these children would not be denied certain educational opportunities as a result.
The Education Committee also voted to approve HB 65
, which is designed to increase transparency in local school boards by requiring the boards to hold at least two public meetings before adopting any budget. This would give taxpayers, parents and other citizens the opportunity to see and provide input as to how education dollars are being utilized.
HB 62 and HB 65 now await action by the full House of Representatives.