WEEKLY LEGISLATIVE REPORTRepresentative Barbara Massey ReeceWeek of May 3, 2010 The 2010 session of the Georgia General Assembly came to an end late in the evening of April 29, several hours after lawmakers finalized a $17.9 billion state budget for fiscal year 2011. Having started Jan. 11, this was the longest legislative session on record since the 1880s. The new budget reflects an overall revenue reduction of more than $3 billion from two years ago. The Republican majority approved a hospital tax and fee increases totaling around $275 million but refused to consider measures that would improve sales tax collections already paid by consumers or roll back hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits approved for big business over recent years. As a result, this budget will cause more layoffs and furloughs for teachers and other state employees and shift the tax burden to local property owners. Public school funding through the Quality Basic Education formula is slashed by another $527 million. The budget now goes to the governor for his signature. He can also veto specific-line item appropriations. The new fiscal year begins July 1, 2010. Trauma Care FundingGeorgia voters will have a chance to approve a reliable funding mechanism that would help expand the state’s trauma care network following passage of SR 277. The proposed constitutional amendment would implement a $10 fee on auto license tags to bring in $80 million each year for a trauma care trust fund. The proposal will be on the General Election ballot this November and requires a majority approval. Property Tax AssessmentsLawmakers gave final passage to comprehensive property tax reform legislation April 29. SB 346 is aimed at protecting taxpayers from unfair assessments and guaranteeing the right to appeal. The bill requires that every property owner receive an annual Notice of Assessment that includes the estimated property tax and expands the appeal time from 30 to 45 days. All relevant sales, including distress sales, must be included when determining Fair Market Value. Other House ActionIn other action during the final two days of the session, the House:
- Approved HB 1069, which includes a number of tax breaks and exemptions but eliminates a $26 tax refund for low-income Georgians.
- Rejected the governor’s attempt to push through legislation that would have based teachers’ job evaluations, in large part, on student test scores. SB 521 never made it to the House floor because it did not have enough support to win approval.
- Approved SB 308, which expands the number of public areas where persons with firearms licenses can carry guns, and SB 291, which would authorize the carrying of firearms in some areas of airports. SB 308 was amended to include provisions from similar House legislation that I co-sponsored. The bills now go to the governor for his signature.
- Approved SB 299, addressing problems with so-called “zero tolerance” school disciplinary laws, would prevent the immediate jailing of a student without a hearing and give judges more discretion as to how they handle cases. The zero tolerance laws were intended to crack down on serious charges of having weapons in school but have instead often resulted in students being criminalized for minor and insignificant infractions.
- Approved SB 360, which bans motorists in Georgia from texting while driving, and HB 23, which bans teenagers from talking on cell phones while driving. A violation of either law, if signed by the governor, would result in a fine of up to $150 and one point on the driver’s license of the offender. Members of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) at Pepperell High School have been active in having this legislation introduced and working to secure passage of the bill.
- Approved an amended version of SB 364, which would increase the penalties for criminal offenses in massage parlors and spas. The Senate agreed with House amendments, and the bill now goes to the governor.
- Approved SB 480, which would create a new state Council of Economic Advisors to advise the governor on expected state revenues as well as department funding needs each fiscal year. I voted against this legislation because it is an unnecessary expansion of government. Already, the governor has access to a multitude of financial and economic advisors, and the House and Senate each have their own budget office. This new council will simply add more bureaucracy and more opportunities for the governor to appoint friends and political supporters to a costly state board.
- Approved SR 821, which would change the Constitution to allow the state Department of Transportation to sign multi-year contracts without having the entire dollar amount of the contract set aside at the beginning. Supporters of the measure say the move would free up millions of transportation dollars that cannot now be used. The constitutional amendment must be approved by a majority of Georgia voters in November.
National Day of PrayerThe House adopted HR 2157, which I co-sponsored to recognize May 6, 2010, as the National Day of Prayer and call upon Georgians to join in this important observance. This tradition dates back to George Washington and the Continental Congress which set aside a day of prayer in 1775. In 1863, President Lincoln signed a resolution designating a national day of prayer. Later, Congress unanimously passed a bill proclaiming the National Day of Prayer. It was signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1952. The Resolution notes that as American troops continue fighting for liberty throughout the world, Americans will celebrate the freedom to assemble, worship, and pray on this 59th Annual National Day of Prayer. Election QualifyingOn April 27, I qualified as a candidate for re-election in House District 11, without opposition. I look forward to serving another term as your State Representative. I also wish to thank this newspaper for allowing me to keep you informed through these reports during the 2010 session. Please contact me whenever I can be of service. Rep. Reece may be reached at 404-656-7859 or firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.