The 2012 session of the Georgia General Assembly concluded yesterday. Attorney General Sam Olens worked closely with legislators on many key bills that were passed by the General Assembly and now head to the Governor’s desk.

HB 397: The first major revision of Georgia’s Open Meetings and Open Records Acts in over a decade won sweeping approval in both the House and Senate. HB 397, which clarifies and strengthens Georgia’s Sunshine Laws, will increase government transparency and provide the Attorney General’s Office the tools necessary to enforce the law. Attorney General Olens began working with bill sponsor Rep. Jay Powell and stakeholders shortly after taking office in January 2011. The final bill protects the rights of Georgians to an open government while recognizing the need for efficient government and the confidentiality of sensitive information. “I greatly appreciate the many hours Representative Jay Powell dedicated to perfecting HB 397 and shepherding it through the legislative process,” said Olens. “It was a pleasure to work with the dedicated stakeholders, including the Georgia Press Association, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the First Amendment Foundation, ACCG, GMA, and many other key groups. Their tireless efforts ensured that the final product was a fair and balanced bill that serves all Georgians well.”

HB 237: Presently, Georgia law only criminalizes fraud during the mortgage process, but specifically does not penalize similar fraud in the foreclosure process. HB 237, sponsored by Representative Rich Golick, will make foreclosure fraud a crime in Georgia. “During the recent housing crisis, foreclosure fraud has been an enormous problem in Georgia, but we have not had the tools to prosecute abuse,” said Olens. “HB 237 will offer new protections to Georgia borrowers during every stage of the lending process and provide the tools necessary prosecute misconduct.”

SB 181: SB 181, sponsored by Senators Charlie Bethel and Tommie Williams, makes clear that prosecutors may not hire private lawyers on a contingency-fee basis to handle civil forfeiture cases. Olens issued a letter last year stating that the practice “runs contrary to the national standards governing state prosecutors and may constitute a due process violation of the U.S. and Georgia constitutions.” The legislation, which was introduced last year, says that no lawyer hired to prosecute forfeitures can be paid “on a contingent basis from proceeds arising in or resulting from a forfeiture action” or under “an hourly or fixed fee arrangement that is contingent from proceeds” from the case. This ensures that the exercise of prosecutorial authority, even in the civil arena, will remain fully motivated by the interests of justice and not personal financial gain.

“I am pleased that the Law Department has had a successful legislative session with the passage of several key pieces of legislation,” said Olens. “I appreciate the strong support of Law Department priorities by Governor Nathan Deal and the House and Senate leadership. I am also exceedingly proud of the great work of the talented and dedicated lawyers of the Law Department, who contributed much time and effort in assisting the General Assembly during this legislative session.”