WEEKLY REPORTFebruary 23, 2010
On Thursday, February 11 the House passed the 2010 supplemental budget. I voted against the supplemental budget with 43 other Representatives. Passing the supplemental budget was irresponsible. It will require our teachers to take additional furlough days and close the Summerville Crime Lab.
Last week, the House and Senate agreed to a two week break in session.  The Legislature is recessed until Monday, March 8 for the 21st day of the 40 day session.  Committees will continue to meet for work on the FY 2011 budget and other legislation.   Revenue collections for the first seven months of fiscal year 2010 (July 2009 through January 2010) are down 12.9% from the same period in 2009.  Although the House and Senate have passed different versions of the Amended FY 2010 Budget, final passage will be delayed until February’s revenue collections are reported.   Many legislators feel the Governor set the revenue estimate too high.  If tax collections continue to be low, additional cuts may be made. The original 2010 budget passed last year was $16.1 Billion.  As revenue collections declined, Governor Perdue issued across the board cuts to all departments.  Now the Legislature has trimmed the budget to $14.6 billion. I could not support this budget because of deep cuts to education and public safety.  Teachers and staff will be asked to take three more furlough days by the end of the school year.  This is a critical time for student learning as they prepare for end of year tests.  The budget does not contain three months of operating funds for the Summerville, Columbus, and Moultrie Crime Labs.  Last fall, the Governor’s Office advised the GBI to proceed with plans to close them March 31. Thus far, despite the work of many seeking to keep the crime labs open, funds have not been found. 
HB 1028 clarifies a provision in the Forest Land Protection Act of 2008 so that the party breaking the covenant pays the penalty.     
The House passed HB 122, which requires counties and municipalities with an annual budget exceeding $1 million to post the budget on a single searchable website, accessible by the public, their annual budget and annual audit report.  
House Bill 991, which passed, changes provisions applicable to the renegotiations of distribution of joint county and municipal sales tax collections. Currently, should an agreement not be reached by the second year following a decennial census, the distribution certificate expires and the local governing authorities do not receive the tax proceeds until the distribution certificate is renegotiated. The bill provides for judicial proceedings should the parties involved not be able to reach an agreement after sixty days of non- binding arbitration or mediation.  
We also passed House Bill 665, which provides for a pilot program for the 2012 general primary and general election for the electronic transmission of absentee ballots by military and overseas citizens. Implementation of its provisions is subject to the availability of funding.  
House Bill 1029 passed on Wednesday. The Forest Land Protection Act passed in 2008 provided that when breach of a forest land covenant occurs following the transfer of a portion of the tract to another owner, the penalty and interest shall be paid by either the acquiring owner or the transferor, whichever breached the covenant. However, Dept. of Revenue rules and regulations promulgated on this act provide that if the penalty and interest is not satisfied by the breaching party then the local governments may seek recovery from the non-breaching party’s property interest, and may file a lien against that property. This bill clarifies that only the portion on which the breach occurred will be subject to penalty and interest, and only that portion of the land may be subject to a lien.  
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. For every person counted in the census, Georgia receives almost $1,700 per person per year in federal funds for transportation, water and sewer projects, community centers, and health clinics.

     During the 2000 census, Georgia was undercounted by 122,000 people.  This is equivalent to the city of Athens, Georgia.  More locally, this is equivalent to the entire counties of Chattooga and Floyd and the southern rural part of Walker County. You should receive your census questionnaire by mail in March. 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. The 2010 questionnaire consists of 10 short questions and takes about 10 minutes to complete. Households are asked to provide key demographic information, including: whether a housing unit is rented or owned; address of the residence; and the names, genders, ages and races of others living in the household. Federal law prohibits the sharing of information from the Census with any other organization or agency, so your information is secure.  In 2000, the response rate or returned forms was 67% statewide.  Chattooga County’s response rate was 58% with Floyd County at 60%.  The response rate in rural areas across the state is lower than in metro areas.  As a result, our rural areas may not receive their fair share of federal funding.  The state Complete Count Committee hopes to increase the response to 70% by educating the public on the importance of the census.  Local Complete Count Committees are working with news media and businesses to publicize the need for returning census forms.  March 8-14 is Census Awareness Week with April 1 being the official count day.      I encourage everyone to participate in the 2010 Census. It is critically important and only takes a few minutes. For more information, please visit www.2010census.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.