Barbara Massey Reece, House District 11

Week of March 23-26, 2009

    The 2009 Legislative Session is expected to end on Friday, April 3rd.  The FY 2010 budget is under consideration in the Senate and must be passed by both bodies before the end of the Session.             Conference Committee work on funding a transportation plan is at a stalemate.  The House plan provides for a statewide one-cent sales tax while the Senate regional plan would allow a county or group of counties to change a tax for specific projects if voters approve.  I support the Senate’s Regional Plan since this provides local government control in choosing projects assuring, if voters approve, that tax money will be spent on projects in the local area.  Many rural legislators feel that funds for the statewide plan would mostly be spend on projects for the metro area and in highly populated areas of South Georgia.             Homestead Exemption Fails – SB 83 which provides an additional $2,000 homestead exemption was reconsidered on the House floor.  Again, it failed to get the 120 votes necessary for passage and placement on the November 2010 ballot.  While I understand this would be an unfunded mandate from the state to local governments, I have voted for this standard exemption increase twice.  This homestead exemption has not increased since 1937.             The Governor and current leadership have pushed to eliminate the Homeowners Tax Relief Grant which is funded from State revenues, thus saving each homeowner $200 – $300 on property tax bills.  The HTRG’s will be made for 2009, but will probably not be honored in 2010 because of declining State revenues.  SB 83 would force local governments to give a tax break from local funds while the Republican leadership is not willing to continue HTRG’s using State funds.  I am a sponsor of a bill which would reinstate the HTRG in future years.             Democrats have offered a plan that would provide funds for the homestead grant without raising taxes.  HB 356 would allow local governments to collect sales taxes instead of the State Department of Revenue.  It seems that when you make a purchase and pay sales tax, the business must file sales tax returns with DOR.  DOR then returns funds to local governments using a formula.  Millions in sales tax money paid by consumers are falling through the cracks of bureaucracy with local governments coming up short.             Alabama recently implemented local collections and brought in an additional $1 billion in revenue through more efficient accounting without raising taxes.  Thus far, this bill has not had a hearing, but it can be considered next year.             Recognizing Vietnam Vets – On Monday, I took the Well during Morning Orders to pay tribute to Vietnam Veterans and families who lost a member in combat.  The Vietnam conflict spanned the years from 1961 – 1975.  Fifty-eight thousand Americans gave their lives and there were 300,000 wounded.  On March 30, 1973 the last combat troops were withdrawn to return home to a country which cared little for their sacrifices and service.  Last weekend the second annual Vietnam Veterans Reunion was held in Clarksville, Tennessee.  Currently, HR 234 has been introduced in Congress to recognize these warriors and encourage citizens to observe “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” with ceremonies and activities.  Several of my House colleagues and I are working on legislation to make March 30th “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day in Georgia.”  To all veterans, your service is appreciated.             “Ephemeral Stream” – The House passed SB 155 by a vote of 106-58.  The legislation places a definition of “ephemeral stream” into law rather than simply leave it defined in rules and regulations.  In the legislation, “Ephemeral stream” is defined as a stream that under normal circumstances has water flowing only during and for a short duration after precipitation events.  Many opposed believe the legislation provides an inadequate definition of “ephemeral stream,” which is important because ephemeral streams are not subject to the state-mandated 25-foot stream buffer.  By providing an inadequate definition, it opens the door for confusing an ephemeral stream with an intermittent stream, which does require a 25-door buffer, and thereby threatens the quality of our waterways.             Georgia Retiree Health Benefit Fund – To help with federal compliance along with transparence and accounting, the house adopted SB 122.  The legislation repeals the Georgia Retiree Health Benefit Fund and puts in its place two new funds, the Georgia School Personnel Post-employment Health Benefit Fund and the Georgia State Employees Post-employment Health Benefit Fund.  These newly-created funds will continue to provide for the costs of post-employment health insurance benefits for their beneficiaries.  The Department of Community Health will be responsible for both funds.  SB 122 passed 161-1.             Darfur – The House passed SB 170, 160-1.  SB 170 is in regards to the genocide in the Darfur region in the African country of Sudan.  The legislation prohibits certain companies that have certain business operations in Sudan to bid on or submit a proposal for a Georgia state contract.  Because of the ongoing crisis, 2.7 million have been displaced and 10,000 die each month in the Darfur region.             More Sentencing Options – SB 13 passed by a vote of 144-0.  The measure allows District Attorneys to seek a sentence of life in prison without parole without having to seek the death penalty.  The hope is to allow DAs to be able to put murderers away for life and give them another tool to use instead of having to prosecute using the death penalty, which can be very costly.             Food and beverages in train stations – SB 89, which passed by a vote of 165-0 allows transit companies, such as MARTA, to sell food and beverages at their transit stations.             Medicaid and PeachCare – In an effort to prevent fraud in Medicaid and PeachCare the House passed SB 165 by a vote of 155-7.  The legislation authorizes the Department of Community Health to obtain income eligibility verification from the Department of Revenue for applicants for Medicaid and the PeachCare for Kids Program.             Sex Offenders – The House passed SB 14 which states that no person who is on the national and state sex offender registry shall be eligible for election to or service on a local board of education.  SB 14 was approved 161-1.             Home Schooled Students – SB 210 which passed 157-0 allows home schooled students to participate in the Governor’s Honors Program.             Rep. Reece may be reached at 404-656-7859 or  Rep. Reece serves on the Education Committee, State Institutions and Properties Committee, Science and Technology Committee, and the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee.  She is also Secretary of the Rural Caucus.