General Assembly breaks after sending 137 bills to Gov.

Published 7:04 pm Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The first part of the 153rd session of the Georgia General Assembly ended last Thursday, and more than 130 bills have been sent to Gov. Nathan Deal for consideration.

A bill that started a lot of debate and conversation was House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act of 2015. The bill saw a lot of changes over the session, and it sparked a lot of criticism.
The Bainbridge City Council, the Decatur County Board of Commissioners and the Decatur County Board of Education each adopted resolutions formally opposing earlier versions of the transportation bill that severely altered local sales taxes on fuel and would potentially take more than $600,000 in tax revenue from the BoE.
After a lot of back and forth, the Georgia Senate and Georgia House of Representatives agreed on a version that would leave local option sales taxes, including E-SPLOST, intact.
“I think the biggest thing is the transportation bill,” said Senator Dean Burke, who voted in favor of the bill last week. “Basically, I think we’ll see some projects move forward. We have a lot of bridges that are old and need improvement, infrastructure.”
“Unlike health care and education, there aren’t entitlement mandates that transportation spending keep up with the population growth in our state,” Gov. Deal said in a statement. “The gasoline tax has long paid for our roads; it’s the most fair fee that you can create because those who use the roads are the ones who pay for them. But our gas tax has stayed the same since the early 1970s.
“Over that period of time, with inflation and the significant increase in fuel efficiency, drivers are paying significantly less per mile traveled. We not only lacked the resources for new transportation projects, but had also reached the point where we couldn’t afford to maintain the roads and bridges we already have.”
Deal requested an additional $1.5 billion in transportation funding, and HB 170 is currently projected to generated almost $1 billion by altering how the state gas tax is calculated.
Almost $700 million is expected to come from a shift to an excise tax of 26 cents per gallon of gasoline and 29 cents per gallon of diesel.
If signed into law as expected, the act will remove the four percent state sales tax on gasoline, leaving just the excise tax and local sales taxes.

Medical marijuana
The coveted title of House Bill 1 went to Haleigh’s Hope Act this year. The House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the medical cannabis oil bill.
“The main focus is people that are having seizures,” Burke, who voted against both version of the bill, said. “The expansion of the bill that came later added a lot of other diagnoses. I’m not against those people getting help, but it’s a little bit of ahead of the curve.”
Burke said that he was in favor of the bill before it was expanded to allow those suffering from more conditions than just severe seizures to use cannabis oil.
The bill would allow Georgian’s suffering from certain conditions to possess up to 20 fluid ounces of a “low THC oil.” THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is a chemical in marijuana that is responsible for the drug’s psychoactive effects, the high users experience.
Haleigh’s Hope Act was originally introduced last year and was named for a Georgia girl who suffers from severe seizures that such medical cannabis oils are used to treat.

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Other bills
In recent years, Atlanta has become a hub for human trafficking, and existing legislation was tightened to require convicted traffickers to register as sex offenders.
Burke said that the passed legislation should provide more protection as it establishes the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund.
“It is a big deal in Atlanta,” Burke said “and it’s certainly a horrible thing for kids to be kidnapped and sold. It’s hard to imagine, but it is in Atlanta.”