WEEKLY LEGISLATIVE REPORT

Representative Barbara Massey Reece

Week of April 26, 2010

 

After three years of trying to reach agreement on a solution to the state’s transportation funding problems, a majority of the House of Representatives and the Senate gave final approval April 21 to HB 277. I realize much work and negotiations between the Republican leadership and the Governor went into this legislation.  I had hoped for a reasonable plan but was not able to support the bill due to concerns of a growing bureaucracy and fairness in taxation with equitable benefits. Also, the transportation sales and use tax has a duration of 10 years.

 

Under the legislation, Georgia will be divided into 12 regions, each of which will hold a referendum in 2012 for a special 1 percent sales tax to be used for transportation improvements within that region. Our region is composed of 15 counties ranging from Fannin, Gilmer and Pickens in the Northeast to Haralson and Paulding to the South near the metro area. In 2012, when the referendum is held, the four largest counties of Paulding, Bartow Floyd, and Whitfield will contain over 50 percent of the registered voters and could greatly influence the results. In addition, these counties will collect the majority of the tax because they are home to a diversity of retail businesses. Will there be an equitable distribution of tax revenue for projects in smaller counties and outlying areas?

 

The process to follow appears to be cumbersome. Each county will have two representatives on the Regional Roundtable.  The 30 members must reach agreement on a plan to benefit the region.  In addition, they must also design the plan so it will be acceptable and approved by state transportation officials. 

 

Regions that are not able to agree on projects or whose voters reject the referendum in 2012 will face a penalty.  Regions not implementing the transportation tax will pay a higher local match for maintenance and improvement grants from the state Department of Transportation. 

 

Yes, Georgia needs a transportation plan and funding.  Atlanta needs free of gridlock-perhaps this plan can help Atlanta.  But I see little advantage for outlying areas in this legislation-other than those communities already in close proximity to major routes.    

 

HB 277 now goes to the governor for his signature, but I believe there were better options available, including a proposal to dedicate the “fourth penny” of the state’s motor fuel tax, which is already being collected, to transportation.

 

Ethics Legislation

The House and Senate also sent new ethics legislation to the governor’s desk for his signature on April 21. SB 17 doubles the fines for late reporting and other violations of campaign disclosure rules, demands timely reporting of expenditures by lobbyists and makes sexual harassment by legislators a punishable offense. I am pleased that provisions from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Wendell Willard’s ethics proposal, which I co-sponsored, were included in the final version. A downside to SB 17 is that it would require a citizen filing a complaint to pay the official’s attorney fees if the Ethics Commission determines the complaint is frivolous. That could cost Georgia residents tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and deter citizens from filing complaints.

 

Amended FY 2010 Budget

On April 21, the House gave final approval to the supplemental budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. HB 947, the amended version of the fiscal year 2010 budget, reduces overall spending by $1.5 billion from the budget’s original form passed last year. The Senate signed off on the plan Tuesday, so the bill awaits the governor’s signature.

 

Other House Action

In other action last week, the House approved the following legislation:

 

  • HB 16, which would prohibit the electronic tracking of the location or movement of another person without that person’s consent.

 

  • HB 344, which would provide immunity from lawsuits to voluntary physician assistants in safety net clinics.

 

  • HB 883, the Sanitary Activity for Food-Processing Enterprises (SAFE) Act, which gives the Commissioner of Agriculture authority regarding safety plans in the processing of food products.

 

  • HB 908, which would allow local school systems to increase class sizes over the next three years. I voted against this legislation because, while understanding the difficult financial situation that local schools are in, larger class sizes are the last thing our students and teachers need. The state has caused the budget problems for local schools through QBE funding cuts, and we should instead focus on helping our schools reduce class sizes.

 

  • HB 1179, which would require hospitals to offer annual flu shots to their employees.

 

  • SB 6, which would increase the penalties for violations related to driving with a restricted license.

 

  • SB 340, which would require public and private schools to adopt a reporting system for high school juniors, sophomores and freshmen for the purpose of determining their HOPE Scholarship eligibility.

 

  • SB 346, which changes how property owners appeal the assessed value of their parcels. It extends the period for appealing property valuation from 30 days to 45 days.

 

  • SB 409, which would require that any tax break or exemption granted to a business that uses “raw forest products,” such as a biomass energy plant, must also be granted to the owner of the property where that product is harvested.

 

  • SR 822, which would urge the Department of Transportation to seek a waiver from the Federal Highway Administration in order to allow retail developments in rest areas along interstate highways.

 

Dead Peasants Bill

I am opposed to any effort to enact the “dead peasants” bill in the final days of this legislative session. HB 1380 would supposedly enable the state to raise revenue by using the state Employment Pension Trust Fund to purchase life insurance policies on current and retired state employees, with the state government as beneficiary. The bill failed to get out of committee earlier in the session, but according to the Georgia State Retirees Association leadership, a move is afoot to attach the proposal to other legislation in the form of an amendment.

 

Final Week of Session

The General Assembly reconvened on Tuesday, April 27, for the 39th legislative day of the 2010 session. Thursday, April 29, is scheduled as the 40th and final day.

 

Rep. Reece may be reached at 404-656-7859 or barbara.reece@house.ga.gov. 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.