Hightower pre-filed House Bill 32 last Thursday for consideration in the 2013 Georgia General Assembly session, which convenes next Monday. Georgia legislators are allowed to file legislation early (pre-file) starting the previous November for the upcoming House session.
“Some constituents came to me because they were having difficulties with license renewals,” he said. “We thought legislation to fix it was going to pass in the last session, but it didn’t make it out for a vote. Secretary of State Brian Kemp has made it high priority this year.”
Hightower said the problem is caused by previous legislation that requires holders of Georgia professional licenses to submit proof of citizenship each time a license is renewed.
He said a 2011 law required anyone applying for or renewing professional licenses to provide a "secure and verifiable" document proving their U.S. citizenship or legal presence in the country.
"Several state agencies complained that requiring U.S. citizens to re-submit the documents each time they requested or renewed a benefit or license within the same agency, created extra work that causes delays in processing benefits," Hightower said.
“This took an automated process and made it manual,” he said. “That resulted in five times longer wait times for renewals and greatly increased the workload for the Professional Licensing Board Division during times of strained budget conditions.”
Hightower said HB 32 would require the submission of these documents only one time to the same agency by U.S. citizens, rather than each time, thus streamlining the process.
He said the licenses involved include those for nurses, plumbers, electricians, barbers and many other professions requiring a state license from the secretary of state.
However, Hightower said applicants who are not U.S. citizens would have to re-submit the proof of their legal status each time they renew a professional license or benefit, because legal presence in the country and work authorization may have expired since the previous application.
Hightower said Kemp came to him for help on drafting the legislation since Hightower already had background knowledge of the problem.
“I’m thankful to have the opportunity to work with Rep. Hightower to draft this legislation,” Kemp said Thursday. “This bill will eliminate needless government red tape and help Georgians get to work faster.”
“This bill will substantially cut the amount of red tape and allow people to get the licenses they need and get back to work,” Hightower said. “I worked very closely with the secretary of state, and he has been a great asset to me in getting this bill prepared.”
The office of Secretary of State also worked with Georgia business leaders, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses, to draft this bill, Kemp said.
“This legislation is of paramount importance to small businesses and licensed professionals in Georgia, “ said Kyle Jackson, Georgia NFIB director. “We simply cannot afford to sideline job creators because of government regulation at a time when our state desperately needs new jobs. I appreciate Secretary Kemp’s leadership on this issue and look forward to working with the legislature to pass this legislation during the 2013 session.”
Hightower, a Carrollton attorney, was first elected to office in a Jan. 3, 2012, special election to replace Rep. Tim Bearden, who resigned to accept a state appointment as director of the Georgia Public Safety Training Center. Hightower was re-elected, without opposition, in the July 31, 2012, Republican primary and the Nov. 6, 2012, general election.
Kemp has been secretary of state since January of 2010. The duties of his office include conducting elections, registration of corporations and regulation of securities and professional license holders. The office also oversees the Georgia Archives.