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$17.9B budget passes as session adjourns

Legislative update

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POSTED: May 5, 2010 10:49 a.m.
The 2010 session of the Georgia General Assembly came to an end late last Thursday night, 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, roll back hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits or raise the cigarette tax.
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.
• Trauma-care funding: Georgia 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. This is very important for South Georgia. Of the state’s 15 trauma-care facilities, none are south of Macon. The proposal will be on the general election ballot this November and requires a majority approval.
• Property-Tax Assessments: Lawmakers gave final passage to comprehensive property-tax-reform legislation Thursday. 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.
In 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. The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.
• Approved SB 299, addressing problems with so-called “zero tolerance” school disciplinary laws. It 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 is 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.
• 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. The bill now goes to the governor.
• Approved SB 458, which would remove the exemption in Georgia’s seat-belt law for drivers and passengers in pickups. Georgia was the only state with a seat-belt law that still allowed the pickup exemption, which cost the state millions of dollars each year in federal highway funding. The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.
• 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.
I wish to thank the Coastal Courier for allowing me to keep you informed through these reports during the 2010 session. Please contact me whenever I can be of service.

Williams represents the 165th District (Liberty County) in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact him at 511 Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, Ga., 30334; by phone at 404-656-6372; or by e-mail at al.williams@house.ga.gov.

 

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