Another legislative session comes to an end

Published 8:06 am Tuesday, April 3, 2012

When the final gavel sounded at midnight on Thursday, March 29, the House and Senate completed the 40th legislative day and the 2012 legislative session came to an end. This last day of session is known as “Sine Die,” a Latin term meaning “without assigning a day for further meeting,” which is how we adjourned year-ending sessions.

As we went into this final day, we had already addressed most of the major issues for this year. The state budget, reforms of our state tax code, and legislation to allow parents more options for the creation of charter schools had all previously received final approval from the House and Senate. While passing legislation of such importance before the final day was a major accomplishment, there were still many key issues to address as of Thursday morning.

We still needed to give final passage to criminal justice reform, improve our laws to help fight the growing problem of metal theft, and establish a tax court to help efficiently resolve disputes with the Department of Revenue. Those issues and more awaited our attention on Sine Die, which is why we worked from 9:30 a.m. until so late into the night, before finally gaveling the 2012 legislative session to an end.

For the first time in recent memory, the House passed the state’s annual state budget early in the session. The Fiscal Year 2013 (FY 2013) state budget, House Bill 742, will guide state spending from July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2013. While the $19.3 billion state budget reflects a slight increase from the FY 2012 state budget in base funding, it should be understood that the FY 2013 budget maintains per capita state spending at levels that are well below what they were a decade ago.

Although lean, the FY 2013 budget funds important investments, like the 214 additional medical residency slots. For south Georgia we were able to secure $716,954 in funding for developing programs for medical residency in internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, general surgery and emergency services that will train approximately 160 of the residents. A consortium for South Georgia includes John D. Archbold Memorial Hospital, South Georgia Medical Center, Colquitt Regional Medical Center, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and Tift Regional Medical Center, who will work together on this project.

Also included is an increased gas allowance for state troopers to account for recent increases in gas prices. While these investments in health and public safety are important, education was a top priority in the FY 2013 state budget. Some noteworthy funding increases in education include financial support for a reading mentor program, the school nurse program, and 170 days of instruction and operating costs in our Georgia Pre-K program, as well as fully funding K-12 enrollment growth.

Earlier this session we also passed legislation to improve Georgia’s education system by allowing for greater school choice. If approved by Georgia voters in November, House Resolution 1162 along with its enabling legislation, HB 797, would allow the state to approve charter schools when requested by parents. While the constitutional amendment included in HR 1162 does not allow the state to use local school board funds for state created charter schools, the measure will ensure existing state sponsored charter schools can continue to provide an excellent education to Georgia students. The measure also clarifies our constitution so that we maintain a system of checks and balances in our state education policies.

After years of research and debate, this year we also passed historic tax reform that benefits individuals and businesses across the state. House Bill 386, also known as the Georgia Jobs and Family Tax Reform Plan, implements a variety of tax reform measures, including the reestablishment of the state’s tax holidays on school supplies and energy-efficient products. The legislation even reduces the marriage penalty in our income tax and replaces the sales tax and the annual “birthday” property tax on motor vehicles with a simple one time title fee of 6.5 to 7 percent.

HB 386 also includes tax reforms that will promote job creation by eliminating the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, allow certain projects of regional significance to exempt construction materials from the state sales tax, and lower the state tax on aviation fuel. It also revises Georgia’s cobbled together agricultural tax exemptions into three broad input exemptions that would ensure fairness and consistency within Georgia’s number one industry.

Moreover, it would eliminate the sales tax exemption on goods used for film production, cap the retirement income exclusion for seniors, and implement an e-fairness policy that puts local businesses on an equal playing field with internet businesses outside of Georgia that currently avoid collecting the sales tax. Together, these tax reforms create a comprehensive shift in Georgia’s tax policy, which will create a modern tax code that benefits families and improves the economic environment for businesses that create jobs for Georgians.

In addition to reforming the state’s tax code, we also passed legislation to reform Georgia’s criminal justice system. House Bill 1176 is a comprehensive sentencing and corrections reform bill that promises to save Georgia taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, move low-level offenders from expensive prisons to cost-efficient accountability centers, and improve overall public safety.

These reforms would concentrate Georgia’s limited prison space on those violent and career criminals, create tougher and more effective probation supervision, and improve community-based sentencing options. The bill also holds agencies accountable for better results through data collection and performance measurement systems. If approved by Governor Deal, HB 1176 will place Georgia in the company of more than a dozen states, including Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas and Kentucky, that are implementing criminal justice policies designed to improve public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs.

On Day 40 we passed House Bill 872 to help combat metal theft, a serious crime that has become a widespread problem across our state. This crime has been devastating to rural churches as well as to construction sites. HB 872 would make it more difficult for metal thieves to profit from their crimes by requiring metal sellers to show a valid ID and a work order or receipt to prove the metal was not stolen. The legislation would also ensure metal recyclers maintain a record of all purchases, so that police may more easily investigate metal theft incidents.

Finally, this session, we also passed legislation that will make it easier for Georgians to dispute a claim with the state Department of Revenue. House Bill 100 establishes a Georgia Tax Court that will be solely designed for lawsuits with the state Department of Revenue. Although the court will be located in Atlanta, it will be authorized to hold hearings in other parts of the state so that individuals can avoid the typical bureaucracy that comes with working through other types of courts.

Additionally, and of great importance to me was HB 685. This important legislation addresses the serious issue of Responsible Dog Ownership. It identifies vicious and dangerous animals and places responsibility with the owner.

Also included in this year’s business were numerous bills for local legislation. Most of these bills were related to redistricting and making adjustment to the local county and school board districts. Each of these bills were carried jointly and passed unanimously.

Now that each of these bills has passed the Georgia General Assembly, they must be considered by Gov. Deal. As stipulated in our state constitution, the governor has 40 days to sign or veto each of the pieces of legislation. This means that if the governor signs or fails to veto a bill or resolution by Tuesday, May 8, it will become state law.

With the future of these bills in the hands of the Governor, the General Assembly’s 2012 legislative session has adjourned sine die. Although the session is over, we encourage you to continue contacting us with any questions or concerns that you might have regarding your state government. We will be spending a lot more time in the district now, so feel free to contact us locally.

Contact Rep. Taylor at her Capitol Office at (404) 656-0177 or email to darlene.taylor@house.ga.gov or locally at (229) 225-9943; Rep. Maddox can be contacted at his Capitol office at (404) 656-0152 or email to gene.maddox@house.ga.gov.

Thank you for a successful legislative year and for allowing us to serve as your representatives.

Gene Maddox, R-Cairo, is the representative for State House District 172, which includes all of Decatur County. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, is the representative for State House District 173, which includes portions of Grady County and Thomas County.