‘Crossover Day’ really kept your legislators busy in Atlanta

Published 9:42 am Friday, March 16, 2012

This has been a very busy week under the Dome.

Wednesday, March 8, marked the 30th legislative day of the 2012 session. Known as “Crossover Day,” this critical point in the session marks the last chance for most bills to pass the legislative chamber where they started. This is because, by the end of Crossover Day, all legislation passed by the House must “cross over” to the Senate, and vice versa. As a result, any House bill that has not passed the House by the end of Crossover Day will have little chance of becoming law this year. Due to this deadline, the House worked long hours this week, debating and voting on lengthy lists of pending legislation.

Of all the legislation passed on Crossover Day, the most important was House Bill 742, the Fiscal Year 2013 (FY 2013) state budget. The Georgia Constitution requires only one thing of the General Assembly — to pass a balanced state budget. The FY 3013 budget directs spending for all state agencies, departments and programs from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013. The $19.2 billion state budget has a slight increase from the FY 2012 state budget; however this 2013 budget reflects our state operating at 20 percent less per capita than a decade ago.

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As your state representative, I want you to know that I am committed to education and recognize that it is one of our most important funding priorities. With this in mind, I am happy to let you know that the FY 2013 budget includes an increase in funding for state education programs. Thanks to this added funding, we were able to bring back 10 days of instruction to our Georgia Pre-K program — days that were cut in the FY 2012. This brings the Pre-K year to 170 days of instruction and nine professional learning days. We followed Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposal in funding a reading mentor program. The House budget plan also includes $112.5 million to fully fund K-12 enrollment growth and pay increases for teachers based on their training and experience. It includes an additional $3.5 million for the school nurse program.

In addition to education, the FY 2013 budget also expands funding for important health programs. One such issue of great importance to us is the state medical student residency program. Through this funding, the state will attract future doctors to Georgia, with nine new osteopathic residency slots, 214 additional residency slots in southwest Georgia and Gwinnett County, and increases housing support for third- and fourth-year medical students. Also appropriated through the FY 2013 budget is funding for two new Federally Qualified Community Health Centers, in high-need areas of the state.

Moreover, the FY 2013 budget increases funds necessary for keeping Georgians safe. Funding increases for our state’s public safety include an increased gas allowance for state troopers, which will help keep our troopers patrolling our roads despite rising gas prices. An extra $10 million was also added for accountability courts. These highly specialized courts will provide the state with a more cost-efficient system in penalizing non-violent, first-time offenders who may be suffering from mental illness or drug addiction.

While accountability courts are one step towards combating drug problems in our state, we also passed legislation this week to ensure children in need receive the care they deserve and are not robbed of the public benefits meant to provide basic necessities by drug addicted parents. House Bill 861 would accomplish this by requiring applicants seeking cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to pass a drug test before receiving any public funds. This simple measure would ensure drug addicts do not abuse taxpayer dollars to support their illicit habit. If a TANF recipient that has dependent children fails the drug test, the funds for the children would be reallocated to another caring adult who will ensure the children’s needs are financially covered by the TANF funds. In this way, the program would help children of addicts by identifying those caught in such a situation and making sure those children receive the proper care they deserve.

In addition to protecting children from the harms of drug abuse, we passed House Bill 1114 to protect the elderly and infirm from dangerous organizations that assist others in committing suicide. Under HB 1114, anyone who knowingly assists in a person’s suicide would be charged with a felony punishable by one to 10 years in prison. This measure was introduced after the Final Exit Network assisted a 58-year-old man in committing suicide in Cumming, Ga.

Also passed this week, an important bill carried by myself and strongly supported by Rep. Darlene Taylor, was House Bill 685 — the Dog Owner’s Responsibility Act. Responding to requests from law enforcement and private citizens, this bill clarified and defined issues concerning vicious and bad dogs, while giving great care to protecting family pets and service dogs. It will also help to protect children and adults from owners who do not control vicious and dangerous dogs.

This week we also passed legislation to protect Georgians from the growing problem of metal theft. With metal prices at an all-time high, many criminals have begun stealing appliances, cables, copper wiring and other recyclable metal to sell for a quick profit. This crime wave has hit our communities, especially our rural churches, especially hard. HB 872 would combat metal theft by requiring metal sellers to show a valid ID and a work order or receipt to prove the metal was not stolen. Metal recyclers must also maintain a record of all purchases, so that police may more easily investigate metal theft incidents. As HB 872 makes its way to the Senate and our law enforcement officers continue to fight metal theft throughout Georgia, we encourage you to visit www.stopmetaltheft.com to learn how you can protect your home from metal theft.

Finally, as a primary recommendation from the 2010 Joint Tax Reform Council, the Georgia Tax Tribunal Act was passed by the House. HB100 will provide a low-cost mechanism for Georgia’s citizens to resolve disputes involving taxes that are currently administered under the Department of Revenue. In order to be appointed to the tribunal, a person must have eight years of experience as a tax attorney. This ensures citizens will be able to come before an expert to handle challenges to state tax assessments and denials of state tax refund claims. The tribunal will not have the ability to determine the constitutionality of statutes, nor will it replace existing procedures for administratively solving disputes prior to the issuance of a final assessment or refund denial. This tribunal does not limit a citizen’s ability to file their matter with the Superior Court and all decisions of the tribunal are subject to appeals to the Superior Court. This measure is the result of our citizens voicing their concerns and their representatives finding a way to assist.

Now that Crossover Day has passed, the FY 2013 state budget and all other House bills are now in the Senate. While there, House legislation will once again go through the committee process before making its way to the Senate floor for consideration. The same will happen for the bills passed in the Senate. We will have hearing in our House committees to review and vet the Senate bills. Only if the House and Senate can agree on identical versions of the legislation will they be sent to the governor for consideration.

Our remaining 10 legislative days of this session will be used to consider legislation already passed by the Senate. Please let us know if you have any comments or questions regarding any Senate legislation that is now in the House. As the Senate bills begin to make their way through the House committee process, we will be sure to consider your comments.

You can call me at his my Capitol office at (404) 656-0152. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

Gene Maddox, R-Cairo, is the representative for State House District 172, which includes all of Decatur County.