WEEKLY LEGISLATIVE REPORT

Representative Barbara Massey Reece

Week of April 5, 2010

 

The General Assembly is in official recess until Monday, April 12. Only seven legislative days remain in the session, with plenty of unfinished business, including the budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2010 and the annual budget for fiscal year 2011, remaining to be addressed.

 School Bullying Legislation

The House of Representatives voted March 30 to approve legislation that would require school officials to notify parents when their child is involved as either the victim or instigator of bullying. Under an amended version of SB 250, the state Department of Education would have until January 2011 to develop an anti-bullying policy that can serve as a model for local school systems.

 

The policies would include age-appropriate consequences for bullying in grades K-12. Current policies deal with bullying only in grades 6-12. The measure passed as an amendment to legislation dealing with disruptive behavior on school buses. SB 250 now goes back to the Senate for final action.

 Other House Action

In other action last week, House members approved:

 

  • SB 206, which would require the Department of Audits and Accounts to conduct a yearly review of the financial impact of tax breaks and exemptions on the state budget and provide a report to the governor’s Office of Planning and Budget for inclusion in his annual budget report. SB 206 goes back to the Senate for final approval of House changes to the bill.

 

  • SB 296, which would change the name of the Office of Treasury and Fiscal Services to the Office of the State Treasurer.

 

  • SB 319, which would expand the definition of textbooks to include computer hardware and technical equipment to support the use of non-printed or digital content.

 

  • SB 341, which would require recipients of the $500 HOPE Scholarship voucher awarded to high school dropouts who obtain their GED and want to continue their studies to have lived in Georgia for at least 12 months. The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

   Hospital Tax Update

Like the House did a week earlier, the Senate voted April 1 to approve Gov. Perdue’s proposal for a 1.45 percent “bed tax” increase on Georgia hospitals, a plan that would bring in approximately $169 million in new tax revenue in an effort to offset the state’s Medicaid deficit. The Senate amended HB 307 to repeal the state’s insurance premium tax sometime in the future when the state’s reserve fund exceeds $500 million. But the next day, House Speaker David Ralston announced he would rule the Senate amendment as non-germane, sending the issue back to the Senate and into an uncertain future.

 Transportation Funding

HB 1218, which is Gov. Perdue’s transportation funding proposal calling for an optional sales tax in predetermined regions, failed to pass the House before “cross-over” day and is considered dead for this session. The legislation had already been amended so much in committee that the governor’s floor leaders said he would veto it if it had passed. That does not mean lawmakers have given up on transportation funding this year. The legislative leadership has already appointed conference committees to work on two alternative proposals that passed the House and the Senate in different forms last year: HR 206 and HB 277.

 Committee Progress

Two of the House committees I serve on were busy in recent days. The House Education Committee approved HB 11, which would eliminate criterion-referenced competency tests (CRCT) in grades 1-2. A House Science & Technology Subcommittee approved SB 470, which would make it illegal to prevent reasonable efforts to block the installation, execution or disabling of a covered file-sharing program on computers, and SB 406, which would enable online voter registration. The Secretary of State’s office estimates that online voter registration will reduce the cost of paper registration from 83 cents per registration to 3 cents per registration. We amended SB 406 to ensure verification of U.S. citizenship and Georgia residency for those registering online.

 Census Reminder

This year, the federal government is conducting the 2010 Census. The census is a count of everyone residing in the United States. All U.S. residents must be counted, including both citizens and non-citizens. The census is important for a number of reasons. It will determine state population counts and determine representation in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as boundaries for state and local legislative and congressional districts. Census data also guides planning for new hospitals, roads, job training centers, schools and other programs essential to communities. Your participation is particularly important in this year’s census. Georgia is poised to pick up one or two congressional seats, expanding our representation in Congress.

You should have received your census questionnaire by mail sometime last month. If you do not receive a questionnaire, you will be able to pick one up from several public sites. Households should complete and mail back questionnaires upon receipt. Households that do not respond may receive a replacement questionnaire in early April. Census takers will visit homes that do not return questionnaires to take a count in person.

I encourage everyone to participate in the 2010 Census. It is critically important and only takes a few minutes. For more information, visit www.census.georgia.gov.

  

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.