Legislature to tackle immigration, tax reform

Published 2:29 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Even against Mother Nature’s best efforts to prevent the start of the 2011 General Assembly legislative session, my fellow state representatives and I were able to call the 151st Georgia General Assembly to order on the constitutionally mandated day—the second Monday in January, which fell on Jan. 20 this year.

That first week, we were sworn into office and received our legislative committee assignments. I was assigned to the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs (secretary), Health and Human Services, Economic Development and Tourism, Retirement, and Human Relation and Aging (vice chairman) committees. We also received the governor’s budget proposals for the fiscal years 2011 and 2012 state budgets during the first week. We then used the second week of session as an opportunity to hear from Georgia’s state agencies on the governor’s budget proposals.

Monday, Jan. 24, marked the beginning of the third week of the 2011 legislative session. Traditionally the third week is a time when committees begin to meet to review and amend legislation. Despite the slow start caused by the snow and ice that covered much of Georgia over two weeks ago, we were able to begin the committee process in earnest this week.

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While passing a balanced state budget is still our No. 1 priority, other vital issues remain at the forefront of this year’s legislative session. Everyday new legislation addressing those issues is drafted, introduced and assigned to the various committees in the House for review. Among these are legislation addressing issues like illegal immigration, tax reform and health insurance. With that in mind, I would like to make you aware of some important matters that will arise in the next few weeks of session.

Illegal immigration

Taxes and illegal immigration are always sensitive issues. However, the effects of the national economic recession brought to light the need for both immigration reform and tax reform in Georgia. That is why the General Assembly created the Special Committee on Immigration Reform and the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians during last year’s legislative session.

Co-chaired by Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City), the Special Committee on Immigration Reform worked through the summer and fall to study the economic impact of illegal immigration in Georgia.

Currently, there are an estimated 400,000 plus illegal immigrants in our state. Though illegal immigrants do not pay state income taxes, they do utilize state resources that are funded by taxpayer dollars. As a result, classrooms are more crowded, our health care system is at its limits, transportation infrastructure is overburdened and our law enforcement community is working feverishly to do more with fewer resources. The current economic conditions make it clear that Georgia literally cannot afford to continue this drain on our already limited resources. With this in mind, Rep. Ramsey took the findings from the immigration reform committee and sponsored HB 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011.

HB 87 strives to protect taxpayers from the unlawful burden of funding services for illegal immigrants. It includes measures to expand the use of the E-Verify system to private employers, requires secure and verifiable identification for official purposes, and helps local law enforcement agencies handle the various issues associated with illegal immigration. It is important to note that this legislation will not affect the legal migrant workers who come to Georgia through federal work programs.

Tax reform

The Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians was a non-partisan committee made up of business leaders and economic experts.

The members of this tax council volunteered months of hard work, spent reviewing Georgia’s tax structure. They traveled all over Georgia listening to the interests and concerns of people from throughout the state.

The council concluded its work and released a report recommending numerous changes to our current tax system shortly before the current legislative session began. Those recommendations are now under review by the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure. This bi-partisan joint committee will now determine how to move forward with the recommendations of the tax council. Though I am still reviewing the Council’s proposal, I think it is important that we consider these recommendation in their entirety. It’s only when we look at the whole picture that we can see how the recommendations would benefit Georgia taxpayers and create a fairer tax system.

Other issues

Healthcare will also receive a great deal of attention throughout this year’s legislative session.

HB 47, for example, would allow insurance companies licensed in Georgia to sell health insurance products that are approved for sale in other states. By doing this, Georgia would create a more open insurance market with greater competition, which would ultimately result in less expensive health insurance for Georgians.

As these and other pieces of legislation begin to make their way through the legislative process, I will continue to send updates to keep you apprised of the major legislation being considered at the state capitol.

In return, I hope that you will alert me to any questions or concerns you may have about any issue that affects your family or community. You can reach me at my Capitol office at (404) 656-0152.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

Rep. Gene Maddox