Rep. Barbara Massey Reece
Leaders of the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure announced March 24 they will move forward with legislation that would implement some, but not all, recommendations made by the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians to rewrite the state’s tax code.
Those recommendations, introduced earlier in the session in the form of HB 385, included a reduction in the state income tax from 6 percent to 4 percent while reinstating the 4 percent state sales tax on groceries and imposing new taxes on a wide range of items and services not presently taxed, including satellite television service, automobile sales from one individual to another, haircuts and oil changes.
Under the new proposal unveiled by the special legislative committee, the income tax rate would be cut only to 4.5 percent, and the tax on groceries would not be reinstated. The new bill would also exclude the council’s recommendation to charge sales tax on items sold as fund raisers for non-profit organizations, such as Girl Scout cookies. The new taxes on most other items remain intact in the committee version.
The committee’s proposal leaves out the council’s recommendation for eliminating or phasing out various sales tax exemptions that have been enacted over the years, with committee leaders saying those will be evaluated later. The new bill does include a tax exemption on the cost of energy used in the process of manufacturing.
With the legislative session now in its final seven days, the tax revision bill is expected to come before the House of Representatives and the Senate sometime during the week of March 28.
Sunday Alcohol Sales
The House Regulated Industries Committee voted March 21 to move forward with legislation that would authorize county and city governments to hold public referendums to allow local voters to decide whether to legalize the package sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday. SB 10, which has the strong support of business organizations including the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, would authorize referendums on Sunday package sales of beer, wine or liquor in cities or counties where those products are legally sold the rest of the week. Under the bill, Sunday sales would be limited to the hours of 12:30 to 11:30 p.m. County commissioners or city council members in each community would have to take action to call for the referendum, the date for which would be set by the Election Superintendent in accordance with current law. SB 10 now awaits a vote by the full House, scheduled for March 28.
Certified Teacher Pay
House members voted March 21 to approve a resolution stating the House is committed to restoring the 10 percent pay supplement for educators who earn certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The pay increase was eliminated two years ago in state budget cuts. HR 248 encourages educators to keep seeking board certification, with the salary bonus intended to be restored “at the earliest possible date, as funding permits.”
Criminal Justice Reform
Before the “cross-over day” deadline on March 16, House members passed legislation to create the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians. This council will study criminal justice reform during the interim and make legislative recommendations to a joint legislative committee before the 2012 session. The intent of this bill, HB 265, is to find solutions that will allow the state to ensure public safety while decreasing the cost of our corrections system. It is imperative that we look at these reforms. Georgia currently spends more than $1 billion a year and has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the nation. However, recent studies suggest that an estimated three-fourths of the state’s prison population is believed to have some type of drug addiction, which could be treated at much lower costs than imprisonment. For example, Georgia pays $49 per day per inmate housed in a state prison, compared to $1.50 per day for probation supervision or $16 per day for community treatment at a Day Reporting Center. HB 265 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
Also last week, the House approved HR 459, which supports the Georgia Professional Standards Commission rule change on certificate upgrades for advance degrees, and HR 491, which encourages the development of performance-based coaching programs for principals and other administrators to improve teaching and learning in the public schools. By a vote of 86-80, House members defeated HR 381, which would have encouraged Congress to make changes to the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.
General Assembly Online
Throughout the session, you can read the details and check the status of legislation and watch live broadcasts of House and Senate proceedings and committee meetings online at www.legis.ga.gov. Monday, March 28, was the 34th legislative day of the 2011 session of the Georgia General Assembly. Lawmakers will be in session the entire week, with Friday, April 1, being Day 38. The legislature will be in recess the entire week beginning April 4 then return on April 12 for Day 39 and April 14 for the 40th and final day of the session.
State Rep. Barbara Massey Reece represents the 11th District (Chattooga and Floyd counties) in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact her at 512 Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; by phone at 404-656-7859; or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.