ATLANTA — Military veterans, airplane pilots, motorists, divorced parents and public officials could all be getting relief from one of Rep. Earnest Smith’s bills pending in the House of Representatives.

Smith introduced five bills last week, all assigned to different committees. If they each gets considered, it could keep the fourth-term legislator busy.

House Bill 41 aims to clarify confusing wording in the law about whether public officials can accept a fee for giving speeches. One sentence in the current law limits the fees above $100 to statewide officeholders, and the next sentence says only statewide officials can receive any fee at all.

“It’s just one of those things that is confusing, and the high sensitivity that everyone has with respect to ethics, you want to make it as clear as possible for anyone that’s serving to not get confused about exactly what is and is not acceptable,” said the Augusta Democrat.

Smith’s bill replaces the word “honorarium” with “other valuable consideration” in both sentences.

HB 42, the Jordan Griner Act, is named for a white, Republican political operative from Hephzibah who was killed four years ago by a drunk driver. It would require a 72-hour imprisonment for anyone arrested for driving under the influence, even on a first offense.

“We’ve got to do something different to get a different result as far as drunk driving. It’s still an epidemic across the country,” Smith said.

HB 43 would allow schools to release children to either divorced parent unless a court order forbids it.

HB 44 draws from Smith’s professional background as a former air-traffic controller. It prohibits flying drones within 5 miles of an airport or higher than 500 feet.

The lawmaker said he wants to protect planes and passengers from accidents, but his measure could dampen a budding drone industry for the state. Several companies already fly research drones, taking off and landing at conventional airports. It could also limit the state’s growing motion-picture industry because filmmakers are turning more to drones for creative, aerial shots as less-costly alternatives to helicopters.

The Federal Aviation Administration prohibits commercial use of drones above 500 feet unless it has issued specific waivers, as it has for many movie makers. The agency is drafting rules to allow commercial drone flights, and state officials said last fall they hope to exploit the opportunity.

“The state is working on creating an environment that’s good for our companies so that when the FAA does pull the switch, we can pull out and start doing these commercially and that our companies here in the state will be ready, both with the product and the service companies and we’ll have people trained to fly and service those vehicles across the board,” said Steve Justice, executive director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Aerospace.

Smith’s fifth proposal, HB 45, would exempt military veterans from the state income tax. He said it is a way to attract outstanding retirees to the state.

“They will find Georgia quite inviting,” he said, noting the large military presence in Augusta, Savannah and Columbus.
However, the measure could run into trouble because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that Georgia couldn’t exempt the pensions of state workers while taxing federal retirees. Since military veterans are federal retirees and state law now taxes all retirees the same, his proposal could draw legal challenges from state workers to see if the reserve of what the court outlawed is also true.

Follow Walter Jones on Twitter @MorrisNews and Facebook or contact him at walter.jones@morris.com.

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