Renee Unterman for Atlanta Jewish Times

Sen. Renee Unterman appears at the rally launching her sex trafficking legislation late in 2014.

The Georgia General Assembly session opened with a lot of talk about altering the state’s tax credit program for private schools but ended without any changes to the finances of the student scholarship organizations.

Under the program, nonprofit organizations such as the ALEF Fund accept donations and distribute the money to affiliated private schools for student scholarships. Donors get a dollar-for-dollar credit on their state income taxes.

The program has been a boon for Jewish day schools and preschools and hundreds of their students since 2008. But the program is capped at $58 million in tax credits statewide, and the state received paperwork for donations topping that cap Jan. 1, the opening day.

Lawmakers talked about increasing the cap to meet the demand and about altering the program so that a donation of $1 would be worth a tax credit of only, say, 70 cents. But the legislature never seriously considered any such proposals, so the cap and credit remain unchanged for next year.

There was more action for other legislation of interest in the Jewish community:

  • Senate Bill 1, known as Ava’s Law, passed both chambers and, with the signature of Gov. Nathan Deal, will require insurance coverage of autism-related services for children 6 and younger. Proponents argue that the legislation, which will slightly increase the cost of health insurance, will prove a major money saver in the long term because early services for children with autism will decrease or eliminate the need for services as adults.
  • Sen. Renee Unterman’s S.B. 8 and Senate Resolution 7, which target child sex traffickers, won passage. S.B. 8 will create a legal safe harbor for the child victims of sex trafficking, providing them services to lead normal lives and extending the statute of limitations for legal action against their abusers. S.R. 7 will let voters decide whether to amend the Georgia Constitution to create a dedicated fund to pay for the services under S.B. 8.
  • S.B. 129, the religious liberty legislation that sparked the most controversy and debate this session, never made it out of committee in the House after an amendment introduced by Rep. Mike Jacobs added an anti-discrimination clause to the bill. The legislation’s sponsor, Sen. Josh McKoon, toyed with the idea of attaching the measure to an unrelated bill, but instead the issue is likely to arise again next year.