Archive for the ‘Government Relations & Land Use’ Category

Interview by Daily Report; Matt Reeves and Robert Thomas successfully defend against appeal…   Leave a comment

R. Matthew Reeves

Waterscape, [represented by Andersen, Tate & Carr attorneys R. Matthew Reeves and Robert D. Thomas], [recently asked the] Forsyth County Superior Court Judge David Dickinson to disqualify [attorney George] Butler from representing the [opposing party], on the basis that Butler had been a lawyer for Waterscape.

Waterscape sought dismissal of the appeals, saying that the disqualification order was not a final order, meaning that Butler and his clients had to obtain a certificate of immediate review or follow the application procedures for an interlocutory appeal. Butler’s clients argued that there was a conflict in Georgia case law on whether a disqualification order is directly appealable.

[In reviewing the brief filed by Mr. Reeves and Mr. Thomas], the Nov. 13 opinion by Court of Appeals Judge Lisa Branch, joined by Chief Judge Herbert Phipps and Judge John Ellington…sided with Waterscape, ruling that Butler and his clients could not appeal the disqualification order at this point in the litigation.

The cases are Settendown Public Utility v. Waterscape Utility, No. A13A0830, and Butler v. Waterscape Utility, No. A13A0831.

Read more:

http://www.dailyreportonline.com/PubArticleDRO.jsp?id=1202628794506&Panel_Parties_Appeal_Over_Loss_of_Lawyer_is_Premature#ixzz2l9Bx9Ho7

- photos and summary courtesy of the Daily Report (Nov. 19, 2013).

 

Georgia Community Association “Priority Lien” Bill – A New Year, Another Chance

For years now, there has been an ongoing push to try to pass a bill in the Georgia legislature that would give community associations that are subject to the Georgia Property Owners Association Act (as opposed to “common law associations”) and condominium associations a special “Priority Lien.”  In 2013, the push continues.  The proposed legislation would allow Georgia associations to collect up to 6 months of past due assessments at a foreclosure sale, if any assessments were due at the time of foreclosure. In 2013 expect this push to continue.  Similar bills have been adopted in 18 states and the District of Columbia in the wake of the home foreclosure crisis.
This would be a huge help to associations. Often assessments are one of the first bills to go unpaid when a homeowner gets into financial trouble and at the time of a foreclosure there may be significant amounts overdue. As the law currently stands the lien of the association for the past due assessments is wiped out in condominiums and associations subject to the Georgia Property Owners Association Act (and generally in common law associations too). Associations typically have no other income stream and so this can really hurt the association’s ability to fund its obligations, often to the detriment of the other property owners that are members of the association.
However, bank lobbyists have lobbied extensively against the passage of such a bill and stand strongly opposed to its adoption.
Also, if such a bill were passed, the distinction between “common law associations” and Georgia Property Owners Association Act associations (aka “POA Act associations” or “statutory associations”) would continue to grow.

This is a situation that bears watching, especially if you are a member of an association that would be affected by such a change in the law.

By: Amy H. Bray, a partner in our Commercial Real Estate Department

ATC Capitol Update – Sine Die Edition, April 2, 2012   Leave a comment

By: Michael L. Sullivan

If the old saying is true that no man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session, then we can all breathe a big sigh of relief now that the 2012 Session of the Georgia General Assembly has come to a close. Legislators adjourned Sine Die (Latin for “without a day” meaning they adjourn without a day designated to return) around midnight on Thursday.

Several positive legislative accomplishments were achieved this session, including significant tax reform and economic development initiatives designed to make Georgia more competitive and criminal justice reform designed to transform Georgia from being “tough on crime” to being “smart on crime.” Many of those legislative victories came down to the last few days of the session. Below is a listing of notable legislation that passed the General Assembly and now awaits the signature of Governor Nathan Deal (who has 40 days from the end of the legislative session to sign or veto legislation).

TAX REFORM & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

HB 386 – The tax reform plan that was hammered out in behind the scenes negotiations between legislative leadership and the Governor’s Office. While the bill passed both chambers only 4 days after it was first introduced, many of its provisions had already been well vetted, having been based largely on the recommendations of the Governor’s Special Council on Tax Reform and informed by the feedback received from the business during the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative process. Provisions include:

• Elimination (phased in over three years) of the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing and agriculture. Local governments will be authorized to impose a local excise tax on energy used in manufacturing (avoiding the negative impact that would have resulted on local governments, particularly as to SPLOSTs and E-SPLOSTs).
• Elimination of the sales tax and ad valorem “birthday tax” on motor vehicles sold after March 1, 2013, replacing it with a new, one time title fee, paid at the time of purchase (starting at 6.5% and going up to 7% in 2015).
• Raising the personal income tax exemption for married taxpayers filing jointly from $5,400 to $7,400 (married taxpayers filing separate returns can each claim $3,700).
• Tightens the requirements to qualify for land conservation tax credits.
• Eliminates the sales and use tax exemption for the sale or lease of film production equipment or services.
• Eliminates the taxation of energy and machinery or equipment used in agriculture.
• Reinstates the sales tax holiday for back-to-school clothes, supplies, etc. and energy efficient products (October 5-7, 2012 and October 4-6, 2013).
• Attempts to expand the collection of sales tax to internet sales transactions, focused on vendors or others with a physical presence in Georgia (a requirement under a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court opinion).
• Creates a new exemption from sales taxes on construction materials used in “competitive projects of regional significance” as determined by the Commissioner of the Department of Economic Development. Proposed exemption is limited to the period between January 1, 2012 and June 30, 2014.

HB 48 – Will expand Georgia’s existing freeport tax exemptions to allow local governments to exempt business inventory, making Georgia more competitive with neighboring states which have no tax on business inventory.

HB 100 – Will create a Georgia Tax Court (as a pilot project) to handle taxpayer disputes involving the Georgia Department of Revenue.

HB 1027 – Would tighten the requirements for productions to qualify for Georgia’s existing film, television and interactive gaming production tax credits, eliminating the sales tax exemption for production equipment and materials and allowing video game productions to qualify for the credits, while limiting the total amount of tax credits available to all video game productions in Georgia to $25 million (and to no more than $5 million for any individual company).

EDUCATION

HR 1162 – Is a Constitutional amendment that would allow charter schools to be approved by the state over the objection of local school boards. Charter schools would first apply to the local board of education in the jurisdiction in which they are located and if denied, they could then apply to the Georgia Charter Schools Commission for a charter and such approval would entitle a charter school to only the state portion of school funding, not any local school system funds. This Constitutional amendment is in response to (and would overturn) the May 2011 decision of the Georgia Supreme Court which declared that only local school boards could approve charter schools. Constitutional amendments are not subject to approval or veto by the Governor. This proposed Constitutional amendment will be on the November 2012 ballot.

HB 713 – Will delay until 2013 the implementation of the college and career readiness initiatives that were scheduled to go into effect this fall. These initiatives include requiring some level of career awareness education for students in all grades (K-12) as well as the “career pathways” program in which career focused programs of study in at least 16 defined career areas would be created for all high schools and students would follow a course schedule partially focused on the particular career interest they select beginning in 9th grade. Department of Education officials indicated that more time was needed to make sure that these programs are implemented in the right way.

SB 302 – Will increase the cap on the bonding authority of the Georgia Higher Education Facilities Authority from $300 million to $500 million, allowing for more money to build new facilities on Technical College System and University System campuses.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

HB 1176 – A comprehensive criminal justice reform bill designed to stem Georgia’s unsustainable prison population growth, including alternative sentencing options for low-level, non-violent offenders to get treatment or job training and the expansion of specialized drug courts. The bill incorporates some of the recommendations of the 2011 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform and would transform Georgia’s criminal justice system from the “tough on crime” mentality prevalent in the 1990s to a more “smart on crime” system. Georgia currently spends more than $1 billion per year on its corrections system and that number is projected to grow by more than $200 million per year if present incarceration trends continue.

HB 641 – Comprehensive overhaul of Georgia’s juvenile justice system.

OTHER LEGISLATION OF NOTE

HB 347 – Will begin the process of repaying the approximately $720 million borrowed by the State of Georgia from the Federal Unemployment Account (which was necessary to pay out the unprecedented volume of unemployment benefit claims which depleted Georgia’s Unemployment Compensation Fund during the Great Recession) and return Georgia’s Unemployment Compensation Fund to solvency. It proposes to do this with a number of changes, including: (1) increasing the taxable wages subject to unemployment insurance contributions from $8,500 to $9,500 (effective 1/1/13), (2) creating an automatic increase in the unemployment insurance rate table rates, based on the then current percentage of the State-Wide Reserve Ratio, (3) reducing the maximum number of weeks for which an unemployed worker could receive benefits on a floating scale of 12 to 20 weeks (and reduced from the current maximum of 27 weeks to a new maximum of 20 weeks), which would be based on the state’s then current unemployment rate.

HB 636 – Will allow residents of the proposed City of Brookhaven in DeKalb County to vote on whether to create the latest new Georgia city. The vote will occur on July 31, 2012 and if approved, the new city’s mayor & council would be elected this November.

HB 954 – Shortens the period for elective abortion to the first 20 weeks (from the current 26 weeks). Exemption added on Day 40 to exempt abortions of “medically futile” pregnancies or those performed to “avert the death…or risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function” of the mother.

SB 33 – Will bring “zero-base” budgeting to Georgia’s budget process, requiring every state agency to submit a zero-base budget once every six years. A zero-base budget would require every budget to start at zero and for every line item for a particular program or agency to be justified, rather than the current scenario where the starting point for budget discussions is the previous year’s budget amount and the discussion is how much that amount will be raised or lowered.

HB 456 – “Sunset legislation” bill that would create a “Legislative Sunset Advisory Subcommittee” that would regularly assess all state programs, departments and agencies to make a recommendation on whether they should be consolidated, privatized or abolished.

SB 402 – Will allow up to 5% of the Georgia Employee Retirement System’s funds to be invested in “alternative investments” including venture capital funds.

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Condemnation Talk with the Oconee County Rotary Club   Leave a comment

 

Oconee County courthouse in Watkinsville, Georgia

Oconee County courthouse in Watkinsville, Georgia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ATC Partner Matt Reeves addressed the Oconee County Rotary Club in Watkinsville on March 20, 2012, on the topic of Condemnation/Eminent Domain.  Firm corporate attorney Eadaoin Waller is a member of the club.  Property owners in fast-growing counties such as Oconee County, Gwinnett County, and surrounding counties frequently encounter condemnation, and Matt and several other ATC attorneys including managing partner Tom Tate and Jim Joedecke have tried many condemnation cases to verdict in recent years.  Matt spoke to the club about legal issues concerning condemnation, the Landowners Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision.  Reeves answered questions from Rotarians, and the club made a donation to the “Oconee Wee Read” program in Matt’s honor following the presentation. 

ATC Capitol Update – Week 10, March 19, 2012   Leave a comment

By: Michael L. Sullivan

Today is the 34th day of the 40 day legislative session. The General Assembly will be in session Monday through Thursday this week. There has not yet been a calendar set for the final three legislative days.

HOUSE & SENATE APPROVE FY 2012 SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET

Last Monday, the House and Senate agreed on an $18.08 billion dollar FY2012 supplemental budget. The version passed by the Senate was lower that the version previously approved by the House, due to projected revenue estimates that were lowered by Governor Deal after the House had completed its work. The House then agreed to the Senate’s changes later the same day. Governor Deal signed the FY 2012 supplemental budget into law on Thursday.

TAX REFORM

Regular readers of this update will recall that there has been a lot of talk this session about tax reform directed at incentivizing economic development and spurring job creation. Despite the talk, there was no legislation moving forward regarding any of these various tax reform proposals that had passed the House prior to Crossover Day (the Georgia Constitution requires all legislation dealing with taxation to originate in the House). However, there are exceptions to the Crossover Day rule and tax reform legislation that gets vetted by the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Tax Structure (comprised of both representatives and senators) is one of those exceptions. This morning, that committee held a hearing on HB 386, a formerly 127 page omnibus tax reform bill that was introduced last year and has which has now been replaced with a 53 page committee substitute version that incorporates the tax reform plan that has been hammered out in behind the scenes negotiations between legislative leadership and the Governor’s Office. Despite the magnitude of what is proposed, with only a few legislative days left, the bill may be voted out of committee early this week and head to the House and Senate for an up or down vote (with no amendments from the floor) later this week. Provisions include:

  • Elimination (phased over three years) of the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing and agriculture. Local governments will be authorized to impose a local excise tax on energy used in manufacturing (avoiding the negative impact that would have resulted on local governments, particularly as to SPLOSTs and E-SPLOSTs).
  • Elimination of the sales tax and ad valorem taxes on motor vehicles sold after March 1, 2013, replacing it with a new, one time state and local title fee, paid at the time of purchase (starting at 6.5% and going up to 7% in 2015).
  • Raising the personal income tax exemption for married taxpayers filing jointly from $5,400 to $7,400 (married taxpayers filing separate returns can each claim $3,700).
  • Tightens the requirements to qualify for land conservation tax credits.
  • Eliminates the sales and use tax exemption for the sale or lease of film production equipment or services.
  • Eliminates the taxation of energy and machinery or equipment used in agriculture.
  • Reinstates the sales tax holiday for back-to-school clothes, supplies, etc. and energy efficient products (October 5-7, 2012 and October 4-6, 2013).
  • Attempts to expand the collection of sales tax to internet sales transactions, focused on vendors or others with a physical presence in Georgia (a requirement under a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court opinion).
  • Creates a new exemption from sales taxes on construction materials used in “competitive projects of regional significance” as determined by the Commissioner of the Department of Economic Development. Proposed exemption is limited to the period between January 1, 2012 and June 30, 2014.

REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION REFERENDUM EDUCATION TV ADS DEBUT

On Thursday, the Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network (MAVEN) unveiled television and radio ads that begin to educate commuters about the cost of Atlanta’s notorious traffic congestion.

Metro Atlanta commuters know how much time they personally waste sitting in traffic, but we want to make sure the entire region realizes the cumulative effect of years of failing to invest in an adequate transportation system,” said Bob Voyles, chair of the MAVEN Board of Directors. “We believe this is the kind of information voters will want to know before making a decision on how to vote on the July 31 Regional Transportation Referendum.”

On July 31st, voters in the 10-county Metro Atlanta region will vote on a proposed one-cent sales levy to build 157 transportation projects. In addition to those projects, 15 percent of the funds raised will be returned to local jurisdictions to address local priorities such as repaving, sidewalks and traffic signals.

MAVEN hired R&R Partners to produce the ads. R&R has a winning record of ad work for transportation referendums. The firm has also partnered with Sports Illustrated and ESPN, and is responsible for the “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” campaign. The ads will begin running immediately on broadcast, cable TV and radio stations throughout the region. For more information visit www.transformmetroatlanta.com and to and to view the television ad go to http://transformmetroatlanta.com/blog/a-calculated-approach.

MAVEN is a coalition of more than 100 businesses, organizations and individuals that have joined together to educate voters about the July 31 referendum. MAVEN does not advocate any position, instead focusing on informing voters about the details and particulars of the referendum.

TODD LONG TO BECOME GEORGIA DOT DEPUTY COMMISSIONER

Current  Planning Director Todd Long will be transitioning into a new transportation position. Long will become the GDOT Deputy Commissioner on April 16, 2012. In this new role, Long will report to GDOT Commissioner Keith Golden. The position of Planning Director was created as part of the Transportation Investment Act (TIA) and Long is the only person to have served in that role, which reports directly to the Governor (rather than the GDOT Commissioner or GDOT Board). Long was originally appointed by Governor Sonny Perdue and was then retained by Governor Nathan Deal when he took office. As Planning Director, Long had primary responsibility for the transportation project selection process, including shepherding the Regional Roundtable process that resulted in unanimous approval of the TIA project list that Metro Atlanta voters will vote on in July 2012.

Other legislation of note

HB 48 – Would expand Georgia’s existing freeporttax exemptions to allow local governments to exempt business inventory, making Georgiamore competitive with neighboring states which have no tax on business inventory. STATUS: Passed out of House Ways & Means Committee on February 24, 2011. Passed the full House on March 2, 2011 (by a vote of 166-1). Passed the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, February 7, 2012 but was recommitted to Senate Finance Committee on February 17, 2012. Senate Finance Committee passed a revised version on February 29, 2012. The full Senate passed that version on March 12, 2012 (by a vote of 44-0) and the House approved the Senate version on March 14, 2012 (by vote of 164-0), sending the bill to the Governor for his signature.

HB 100 – Would create a Georgia Tax Court (as a pilot project) to handle taxpayer disputes involving the Georgia Department of Revenue. STATUS: Introduced in 2011 session and passed out of House Judiciary Committee on February 29, 2012. Passed the full House (by a vote of 165-0) on March 7, 2012. Pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 641 – By Rep. Wendell Willard, would overhaul Georgia’s juvenile justice system. STATUS: Passed out of House Judiciary Committee on February 24, 2012. Passed the full House (by a vote of 172-0) on February 29, 2012. Pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 713 – Bill will delay until 2013 the implementation of the college and career readiness initiatives that were scheduled to go into effect this fall. These initiatives include requiring some level of career awareness education for students in all grades (K-12) as well as the “career pathways” program in which career focused programs of study in at least 16 defined career areas would be created for all high schools and students would follow a course schedule partially focused on the particular career interest they select beginning in 9th grade. Department of Education officials indicated that more time was needed to make sure that these programs are implemented in the right way. Status: January 12, 2012. Passed the full House on January 24, 2012 by a vote of 162-1. Passed by the Senate Education & Youth Committee on February 15, 2012. Passed the full Senate (by a vote of 44-8) on March 14, 2012. Bill awaits the signature of the Governor.

HB 868 – By Rep. Doug Collins seeks to modernize the current structure of income tax credits used to attract and retain businesses creating new jobs in certain designated strategic industries in Georgia. The current system offers much higher job tax credit amounts to businesses locating or expanding in poorer counties (Tier 1) and conversely, much smaller incentives in more affluent counties (such as Gwinnett, Fulton, or Cobb, which are Tier 4). The bill would also lower the minimum job creation threshold needed to qualify for the tax credits available to businesses creating “new quality jobs” (defined as jobs paying at or above 110% of the average wage in the county in which the job would be located). STATUS: Introduced on February 1, 2012. A watered down version passed out of the House Ways & Means Committee on February 29, 2012 and was passed by the full House (by a vote of 167-0) on March 7, 2012. Passed out of the Senate Economic Development Committee on March 13, 2012. Pending in Senate Rules Committee.

HB 954 – Shortens the period for elective abortion to the first 20 weeks (from the current 26 weeks). STATUS: Passed the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee on February 27, 2012 and passed the full House (by a vote of 102.65) on February 29, 2012. Pending in Senate Health & Human Services Committee.

HB 994 – By Rep. Ed Lindsey, would encourage the redevelopment of designated brownfield sites by extending the preferential tax assessment of those properties for up to 15 years. STATUS: introduced on February 16, 2012 and passed out of the House Ways & Means Committee on February 28, 2012. Passed the full House on March 7, 2012 (by a vote of 157-0). Pending in Senate Finance Committee.

HB 1027 – Would tighten the requirements for productions to qualify for Georgia’s existing film, television and interactive gaming production tax credits. The original version of the bill specifically excluded video game productions from qualifying for the credits but the current version allows video game productions to qualify, while limiting the total amount of tax credits available to all video game productions in Georgia to $25 million (and to no more than $5 million for any individual company). Alabama, Florida, North Carolinaand Louisianaare all nearby or adjacent states that offer tax incentives targeted at attracting interactive gaming production. Georgianow ranks 4th among states in film and television production (behind California, New York and Louisiana). If all individual film and television productions were combined and treated as a single “employer,” film and television production would rank as one of Georgia’s top 10 employers (and if you excluded public sector employers, would be Georgia’s 3rd largest employer). Georgia’s film and television tax credits have resulted in a 1,000% increase in production activity in the state (from $244 million in 2008 to $2.4 billion in 2011) and have created an excellent return on investment when measured in direct economic impacts (such as jobs and direct spending) but are even more impressive when ancillary economic impacts, such as tourism and marketing Georgia are taken into account. STATUS: passed out of House Ways & Means Committee (by committee substitute) and the full House (by a vote of 154-0) on March 7, 2012. Pending in Senate Finance Committee.

HB 1052 – By Rep. Mike Jacobs, would overhaul the structure of the MARTA Board of Directors, staggering terms, imposing term limits and requiring representation of geographically diverse areas within MARTA’s jurisdiction. It would also impose new transparency and competitive bidding requirements for the award of MARTA contracts as well as new accounting and finacial disclosure procedures. Under the proposal, the MARTA Board would have one nonvoting member (the Executive Director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority) and 11 voting members, as follows: 3 residents of the City of Atlanta nominated by the Mayor and appointed by the City Council; 3 DeKalb County residents appointed by the Board of Commissioners (at least one of which would be from south of the City of Decatur and one of which would be from north of the City of Decatur); 1 DeKalb County resident appointed by a majority vote of the mayors of all the cities in DeKalb; 1 Fulton County resident from south of the City of Atlanta appointed by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners; 2 Fulton County residents from north of the City of Atlanta appointed by a majority vote of the North Fulton mayors; and the Planning Director of the Georgia Department of Transportation. STATUS: Introduced on February 16, 2012 and passed out of House Transportation Committee on February 29, 2012. Passed the full House (by a vote of 115-55) on March 7, 2012. Pending in the Senate Transportation Committee.

HB 1176 – A comprehensive criminal justice reform bill designed to Georgia’s unsustainable prison population growth, including alternative sentencing options for low-level, non-violent offenders to get the treatment or job training that can help them become contributing members of society rather than a drain on taxpayers. The bill incorporates some (but not all) of the recommendations of the 2011 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform and would transform Georgia’s criminal justice system from the “tough on crime” mentality prevalent in the 1990s to a more “smart on crime” system. Georgiacurrently spends more than $1 billion on its corrections system and that number is projected to grow by more than $200 million if present incarceration trends continue. The Governor’s Office has indicated some concerns with HB 1176 as currently drafted and that they would like to see changes that would incorporate all of the recommendations of the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform. STATUS: Rather than following the normal process of being vetted by one chamber before being sent to the other, this bill has been assigned to a House-Senate Special Joint Committee on Georgia Criminal Justice Reform that will work with the Governor’s Office to try to work out all of the remaining issues with the bill in the short amount of time left. HB 1176 is not subject to the Crossover Day requirements.

HR 1162 – By Rep. Jan Jones, is a Constitutional amendment to allow charter schools to be approved by the state over the objection of local school boards. Under the current proposal, charter schools would first apply to the local board of education in the jurisdiction in which they are located and if denied, they could then apply to the Georgia Charter Schools Commission for a charter and such approval would entitle a charter school to only the state portion of school funding, not any local school system funds. This Constitutional amendment is in response to (and would overturn) the May 2011 decision of the Georgia Supreme Court which declared that only local school boards could approve charter schools. STATUS: Passed out of House Education Committee on February 2, 2012. Failed to pass by the required Constitutional 2/3 majority on February 8, 2012 (10 votes short of the required 120). House voted to reconsider on Thursday, February 9, 2012 and Passed the House on February 22, 2012 (by a vote of 123-48). Approved by Senate Education & Youth Committee on February 24, 2012 and was debated by the full Senate before being tabled (presumably because they were short of having the necessary 2/3 majority) on February 29, 2012. The bill is eligible to be pulled from the table and brought up at any time in the Senate.

SB 33 – By Sen. David Shafer, would bring “zero-base” budgeting to Georgia’s budget process, requiring every state program, agency or department to submit a zero-base budget once every four years. A zero-base budget would require every budget to start at zero and for every line item for a particular program or agency to be justified, rather than the current scenario where the starting point for budget discussions is the previous year’s budget amount and the discussion is how much that amount will be raised or lowered. STATUS: Passed the Senate (by a 48-1 vote) and House (by a 135-38 vote) last year but in different versions. Working out the two versions is pending in a House-Senate Conference Committee.

SB 223 – “Sunset legislation” bill that would create a “Legislative Sunset Advisory Subcommittee” that would regularly assess all state programs, departments and agencies (each agency would be reviewed at least every 8 years) to make a recommendation if they should be consolidated, privatized or abolished. STATUS: Passed the House (by a 120-56 vote) and Senate (by a 42-9 vote) last year. Senate Conference Committee version was passed by the Senate on January 30, 2012 by a vote of 37-12. Senate Conference Committee version pending acceptance, amendment or rejection by the House.

SB 302 – Would increase the cap on the bonding authority of the Georgia Higher Education Facilities Authority from $300 million to $500 million, allowing for more money to build new facilities on Technical College System and University System campuses. STATUS: Passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on January 30, 2012 and passed the full Senate on February 1, 2012. Pending in House Higher Education Committee.

SB 321 – By Sen. Renee Untermanwould make it much harder for thieves to sell stolen scrap metal by imposing stringent new requirements on metal recyclers who purchase scrap metal, including (1) prohibiting cash payments in scrap metal purchase transactions, (2) require recyclers to keep on file a copy of the seller’s valid photo ID and thumbprint, VIN number of the vehicle used to deliver the metal, digital photo of the metal items, thumbprint of the seller (all of which would be provided to the sheriff of that county), and (3) prohibiting recyclers from purchasing copper or aluminum coil from non-verified sellers (such as licensed contractors). STATUS: Approved by the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee on February 15, 2012. Passed out of the full Senate on February 29, 2012 (by a vote of 44-5). Pending in House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.

SB 355 – By Sen. Renee Unterman, would require mandatory reporting of child abuse by anyone (other than clergy and attorneys bound by attorney-client privilege) to report evidence of possible child abuse (currently only seven specifically defined types of professionals, such as teachers, are required to report evidence of child abuse). The bill would also extend the statute of limitations on crimes against children to the victim’s 18th birthday plus 10 years (or plus 15 years, in cases of forcible rape). STATUS: Introduced on January 26, 2012. Passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 28, 2012 and passed the full Senate on March 5, 2012. Pending in House Judiciary Committee.

SB 402 – By Sen. Tim Golden would allow up to 5% of the Georgia Employee Retirement System’s funds to be invested in “alternative investments” including venture capital funds. STATUS: Introduced on February 7, 2012 and passed out of the Senate Retirement Committee on February 17, 2012. Passed the full Senate (by a vote of 50-4) on February 23, 2012. Passed out of House Retirement Committee on March 7, 2012. Pending in House Rules Committee.

SB 447 – By Sen. Fran Millar, would begin the process of repaying the approximately $720 million borrowed by the State of Georgia from the Federal Unemployment Account (which was necessary to pay out the unprecedented volume of unemployment benefit claims which depleted Georgia’s Unemployment Compensation Fund during the Great Recession) and return Georgia’s Unemployment Compensation Fund to solvency. It proposes to do this with a number of changes, including: (1) increasing the taxable wages subject to unemployment insurance contributions from $8,500 to $9,500 (effective 1/1/13), (2) creating an automatic increase in the unemployment insurance rate table rates, based on the then current percentage of the State-Wide Reserve Ratio, (3) reducing the maximum number of weeks for which an unemployed worker could receive benefits on a floating scale of 12 to 20 weeks (and reduced from the current maximum of 27 weeks to a new maximum of 20 weeks), which would be based on the state’s then current unemployment rate, and (4) imposes a one week waiting period before receiving unemployment benefits (effective 7/1/12). STATUS: Introduced on February 15, 2012 and passed out of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee on February 22. Passed by the full Senate on February 24, 2012 (by a vote of 34-13). Pending in House Industrial Relations Committee.

SB 448 – By Sen. Don Balfour, the “Small Business Borrower Protection Act” would provide that a subsequent purchaser of a debt obligation (such as a mortgage) would be limited to recovering against the guarantor on a personal guaranty only the lesser of (1) the actual amount paid by the subsequent purchaser for that debt obligation, plus the interest rate on the note from the date it was purchased, or (2) the maximum amount permitted to be collected under the personal guaranty associated with that debt obligation. STATUS: Introduced on February 15, 2012 and passed out of committee on February 23, 2012. Passed the full Senate (by a vote of 45-0) on February 27, 2012. Pending in House Banks & Banking Committee.

SR 20 – Would place a cap on state spending, with increases limited to the previous year’s budget amount plus inflation and population increase (if any). Any excess revenues would be funneled to the Rainy Day Fund. STATUS: Passed the Senate last February (by a vote of 42-7) and is pending in the House Ways & Means Committee.

The Week Ahead

The current legislative calendar calls for the General Assembly to be in session Monday, March 19th through Thursday, March 22nd (which will be legislative day 37). At some point this week, the calendar will be set for the final three legislative days with the expectation that the session will conclude sometime before March 30th.

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ATC Capitol Update – Week 9, March 12, 2012   Leave a comment

By: Michael L. Sullivan

Today is the 31st day of the 40 day legislative session. Nine days to go!

CROSSOVER DAY

Last Wednesday was “Crossover Day,” the 30th legislative day and the day by which legislation must have passed out of one chamber in order to be considered by the other chamber. Bills that did not pass out of one chamber or the other by the end of the 30th day are dead for the rest of this session.

Crossover Day went well into the night (around 10:30pm) with the House approving the FY 2013 Budget (HB 742, by a vote of 151-21) around noon and then both chambers spending the rest of the day primarily focused on issues with “red meat” appeal to certain Republican constituencies, such as gun bills (2 in the Senate, one in the House), drug testing for recipients of public aid (Senate and House) and abortion and birth control legislation.

Other legislation of note

HB 48 – Would expand Georgia’s existing freeporttax exemptions to allow local governments to exempt business inventory, making Georgiamore competitive with neighboring states which have no tax on business inventory. STATUS: Passed out of House Ways & Means Committee on February 24, 2011. Passed the full House on March 2, 2011 by a vote of 166-1. Passed the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, February 7th but was recommitted to Senate Finance Committee on February 17, 2012. Senate Finance Committee passed a revised version on February 29, 2012. Pending in Senate Rules Committee.

HB 100 – Would create a Georgia Tax Court (as a pilot project) to handle taxpayer disputes involving the Georgia Department of Revenue. STATUS: Introduced in 2011 session and passed out of House Judiciary Committee on February 29, 2012. Passed the full House (by a vote of 165-0) on March 7, 2012. Pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 641 – By Rep. Wendell Willard, would overhaul Georgia’s juvenile justice system. STATUS: Passed out of House Judiciary Committee on February 24, 2012. Passed the full House (by a vote of 172-0) on February 29, 2012. Pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 713 – Bill will delay until 2013 the implementation of the college and career readiness initiatives that were scheduled to go into effect this fall. These initiatives include requiring some level of career awareness education for students in all grades (K-12) as well as the “career pathways” program in which career focused programs of study in at least 16 defined career areas would be created for all high schools and students would follow a course schedule partially focused on the particular career interest they select beginning in 9th grade. Department of Education officials indicated that more time was needed to make sure that these programs are implemented in the right way. Status: January 12, 2012. Passed the full House on January 24, 2012 by a vote of 162-1. Passed by the Senate Education & Youth Committee on February 15, 2012. Pending in Senate.

 

HB 718 – Would have created a Georgia Capital Acceleration Fund of up to $200 million (financed by the sale of insurance premium tax credits sold by the state over an initial 3 year period). The fund would be administered by a Georgia Capital Acceleration Authority and could be used as venture capital for Georgia-based start-up companies. STATUS: Failed to pass out of the House Insurance Committee – DEAD FOR THIS SESSION.

HB 705 – Would eliminate the requirement that was imposed on school systems a couple of years ago that 65% of all school system funds must be spent in the classroom. The change was recommended by the K-12 finance commission based on research finding no evidence of the 65% rule having any impact on student achievement (and the reality that at least 40 school systems in Georgiahave already been granted exemptions from the rule). Status: Passed by House Education Committee on January 12, 2012 but failed to pass the full House before Crossover Day – DEAD FOR THIS SESSION.

HB 86 – Would eliminate all state and local sales and use taxes on energy used in manufacturing. Bill could be expanded to include agriculture and mining. STATUS: Introduced last session but failed to pass out of the House Ways & Means Committee – DEAD FOR THIS SESSION.

HB 868 – By Rep. Doug Collins seeks to modernize the current structure of income tax credits used to attract and retain businesses creating new jobs in certain designated strategic industries in Georgia. The current system offers much higher job tax credit amounts to businesses locating or expanding in poorer counties (Tier 1) and conversely, much smaller incentives in more affluent counties (such as Gwinnett, Fulton, or Cobb, which are Tier 4). The bill would also lower the minimum job creation threshold needed to qualify for the tax credits available to businesses creating “new quality jobs” (defined as jobs paying at or above 110% of the average wage in the county in which the job would be located). STATUS: Introduced on February 1, 2012. A watered down version passed out of the House Ways & Means Committee on February 29, 2012 and was passed by the full House (by a vote of 167-0) on March 7, 2012. Pending in Senate Economic Development Committee.

HB 889 – By Rep. Joe Wilkinson, would restore the authority of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly known as the State Ethics Commission) to make, interpret and apply rules governing lobbying activities and campaign finance (authority which was taken away in 2009). Status: Failed to pass out of the House Rules Committee prior to Crossover Day – DEAD FOR THIS SESSION.

HB 994 – By Rep. Ed Lindsey, would encourage the redevelopment of designated brownfield sites by extending the preferential tax assessment of those properties for up to 15 years. STATUS: introduced on February 16, 2012 and passed out of the House Ways & Means Committee on February 28, 2012. Passed the full House on March 7, 2012 (by a vote of 157-0). Pending in Senate Finance Committee.

HB 1027 – Would tighten the requirements for productions to qualify for Georgia’s existing film and television tax credits. Previous version of the bill excluded video game productions from qualifying but the current version allows video game productions to qualify but would also limit the total amount of tax credits available to all video game productions in Georgiato $25 million. Georgianow ranks 4th among states in film and television production (behind California, New York and Louisiana). If all individual film and television productions were combined and treated as a single “employer,” film and television production would rank as one of Georgia’s top 10 employers (and if you excluded public sector employers, would be Georgia’s 3rd largest employer). Film and television tax credits have created an excellent return on investment when measured in direct economic impacts (such as jobs and investment) but are even more impressive when ancillary economic impacts, such as tourism and marketing Georgia are taken into account. STATUS: passed out of House Ways & Means Committee (by committee substitute) and the full House (by a vote of 154-0) on March 7, 2012. Pending in Senate Finance Committee.

HB 1052 – By Rep. Mike Jacobs, would overhaul the structure of the MARTA Board of Directors, staggering terms, imposing term limits and requiring representation of geographically diverse areas within MARTA’s jurisdiction. It would also impose new transparency and competitive bidding requirements for the award of MARTA contracts as well as new accounting and finacial disclosure procedures. Under the proposal, the MARTA Board would have one nonvoting member (the Executive Director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority) and 11 voting members, as follows: 3 residents of the City of Atlanta nominated by the Mayor and appointed by the City Council; 3 DeKalb County residents appointed by the Board of Commissioners (at least one of which would be from south of the City of Decatur and one of which would be from north of the City of Decatur); 1 DeKalb County resident appointed by a majority vote of the mayors of all the cities in DeKalb; 1 Fulton County resident from south of the City of Atlanta appointed by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners; 2 Fulton County residents from north of the City of Atlanta appointed by a majority vote of the North Fulton mayors; and the Planning Director of the Georgia Department of Transportation. STATUS: Introduced on February 16, 2012 and passed out of House Transportation Committee on February 29, 2012. Passed the full House (by a vote of 115-55) on March 7, 2012. Pending in the Senate Transportation Committee.

HB 1176 – A comprehensive criminal justice reform bill designed to Georgia’s unsustainable prison population growth, including alternative sentencing options for low-level, non-violent offenders to get the treatment or job training that can help them become contributing members of society rather than a drain on taxpayers. The bill incorporates some (but not all) of the recommendations of the 2011 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform and would transform Georgia’s criminal justice system from the “tough on crime” mentality prevalent in the 1990s to a more “smart on crime” system. Georgiacurrently spends more than $1 billion on its corrections system and that number is projected to grow by more than $200 million if present incarceration trends continue. The Governor’s Office has indicated some concerns with HB 1176 as currently drafted and that they would like to see changes that would incorporate all of the recommendations of the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform. STATUS: Rather than following the normal process of being vetted by one chamber before being sent to the other, this bill has been assigned to a House-Senate Special Joint Committee on Georgia Criminal Justice Reform that will work with the Governor’s Office to try to work out all of the remaining issues with the bill in the short amount of time left. HB 1176 is not subject to the Crossover Day requirements.

HR 1162 – By Rep. Jan Jones, is a Constitutional amendment to allow charter schools to be approved by the state over the objection of local school boards. Under the current proposal, charter schools would first apply to the local board of education in the jurisdiction in which they are located and if denied, they could then apply to the Georgia Charter Schools Commission for a charter and such approval would entitle a charter school to only the state portion of school funding, not any local school system funds. This Constitutional amendment is in response to (and would overturn) the May 2011 decision of the Georgia Supreme Court which declared that only local school boards could approve charter schools. STATUS: Passed out of House Education Committee on February 2, 2012. Failed to pass by the required Constitutional 2/3 majority on February 8, 2012 (10 votes short of the required 120). House voted to reconsider on Thursday, February 9, 2012 and Passed the House on February 22, 2012 (by a vote of 123-48). Approved by Senate Education & Youth Committee on February 24, 2012 and was debated by the full Senate before being tabled (presumably because they were short of having the necessary 2/3 majority) on February 29, 2012. The bill is eligible to be pulled from the table and brought up at any time in the Senate.

sb 33 – By Sen. David Shafer, would bring “zero-base” budgeting to Georgia’s budget process, requiring every state program, agency or department to submit a zero-base budget once every four years. A zero-base budget would require every budget to start at zero and for every line item for a particular program or agency to be justified, rather than the current scenario where the starting point for budget discussions is the previous year’s budget amount and the discussion is how much that amount will be raised or lowered. STATUS: Passed the Senate (by a 48-1 vote) and House (by a 135-38 vote) last year but in different versions. Working out the two versions is pending in a House-Senate Conference Committee.

SB 223 – “Sunset legislation” bill that would create a “Legislative Sunset Advisory Subcommittee” that would regularly assess all state programs, departments and agencies (each agency would be reviewed at least every 8 years) to make a recommendation if they should be consolidated, privatized or abolished. STATUS: Passed the House (by a 120-56 vote) and Senate (by a 42-9 vote) last year. Senate Conference Committee version was passed by the Senate on January 30, 2012 by a vote of 37-12. Senate Conference Committee version pending acceptance, amendment or rejection by the House.

SB 321 – By Sen. Renee Unterman would make it much harder for thieves to sell stolen scrap metal by imposing stringent new requirements on metal recyclers who purchase scrap metal, including (1) prohibiting cash payments in scrap metal purchase transactions, (2) require recyclers to keep on file a copy of the seller’s valid photo ID and thumbprint, VIN number of the vehicle used to deliver the metal, digital photo of the metal items, thumbprint of the seller (all of which would be provided to the sheriff of that county), and (3) prohibiting recyclers from purchasing copper or aluminum coil from non-verified sellers (such as licensed contractors). STATUS: Approved by the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee on February 15, 2012. Passed out of the full Senate on February 29, 2012 (by a vote of 44-5). Pending in House Judiciary (Non-Civil) Committee.

SB 355 – By Sen. Renee Unterman, would require mandatory reporting of child abuse by anyone (other than clergy and attorneys bound by attorney-client privilege) to report evidence of possible child abuse (currently only seven specifically defined types of professionals, such as teachers, are required to report evidence of child abuse). The bill would also extend the statute of limitations on crimes against children to the victim’s 18th birthday plus 10 years (or plus 15 years, in cases of forcible rape). STATUS: Introduced on January 26, 2012. Passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 28, 2012 and passed the full Senate on March 5, 2012. Pending in House Judiciary Committee.

SB 402 – By Sen. Tim Golden would allow up to 5% of the Georgia Employee Retirement System’s funds to be invested in “alternative investments” including venture capital funds. STATUS: Introduced on February 7, 2012 and passed out of the Senate Retirement Committee on February 17, 2012. Passed the full Senate (by a vote of 50-4) on February 23, 2012. Passed out of House Retirement Committee on March 7, 2012. Pending in House Rules Committee.

SB 447 – By Sen. Fran Millar, would begin the process of repaying the approximately $720 million borrowed by the State of Georgia from the Federal Unemployment Account (which was necessary to pay out the unprecedented volume of unemployment benefit claims which depleted Georgia’s Unemployment Compensation Fund during the Great Recession) and return Georgia’s Unemployment Compensation Fund to solvency. It proposes to do this with a number of changes, including: (1) increasing the taxable wages subject to unemployment insurance contributions from $8,500 to $9,500 (effective 1/1/13), (2) creating an automatic increase in the unemployment insurance rate table rates, based on the then current percentage of the State-Wide Reserve Ratio, (3) reducing the maximum number of weeks for which an unemployed worker could receive benefits on a floating scale of 12 to 20 weeks (and reduced from the current maximum of 27 weeks to a new maximum of 20 weeks), which would be based on the state’s then current unemployment rate, and (4) imposes a one week waiting period before receiving unemployment benefits (effective 7/1/12). STATUS: Introduced on February 15, 2012 and passed out of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee on February 22. Passed by the full Senate on February 24, 2012 (by a vote of 34-13). Pending in House Industrial Relations Committee.

SB 448 – By Sen. Don Balfour, the “Small Business Borrower Protection Act” would provide that a subsequent purchaser of a debt obligation (such as a mortgage) would be limited to recovering against the guarantor on a personal guaranty only the lesser of (1) the actual amount paid by the subsequent purchaser for that debt obligation, plus the interest rate on the note from the date it was purchased, or (2) the maximum amount permitted to be collected under the personal guaranty associated with that debt obligation. STATUS: Introduced on February 15, 2012 and passed out of committee on February 23, 2012. Passed the full Senate (by a vote of 45-0) on February 27, 2012. Pending in House Banks & Banking Committee.

SR 20 – Would place a cap on state spending, with increases limited to the previous year’s budget amount plus inflation and population increase (if any). Any excess revenues would be funneled to the Rainy Day Fund. STATUS: Passed the Senate last February (by a vote of 42-7) and is pending in the House Ways & Means Committee.

The Week Ahead

The current legislative calendar calls for the General Assembly to be in session Monday through Wednesday this week. Next week, legislators will be in session Monday, March 19th through Thursday, March 22nd (which will be legislative day 37). At some point next week, the calendar will be set for the final three legislative days with the expectation that the session will conclude sometime before March 30th.

ATC Capitol Update – Week 7, February 28, 2012   Leave a comment

By: Michael L. Sullivan

Today is the 27th day of the 40 day legislative session. The General Assembly is in session Monday through Wednesday this week with a rush of activity leading up to “Crossover Day” which is currently scheduled to be next Wednesday (March 7th). Crossover Day is the 30th legislative day and the day by which, according to the rules of the House and Senate, legislation must have passed out of one chamber in order to be considered by the other chamber. Crossover Day is the second busiest legislative day, second only to “Sine Die,” which is the final legislative day of the session (Sine Die is Latin for “without a day” meaning legislators adjourn on that day “without a day” specified to return). Like Sine Die, Crossover Day is often filled with legislators working feverishly to try to get their bill added to the calendar and voted on before the clock strikes midnight, at which point they are forced to adjourn to avoid burning off another legislative day.

Bills that haven’t passed out of one chamber or the other by the end of the 30th day are dead for the rest of the session, allowing legislators (and lobbyists) to focus on a much smaller number of viable bills in the final 10 days of the session.

Well, sort of. The rules allow most bills to be amended as long as the amendment is “germane” (meaning the amendment should deal with the same subject matter as the bill being amended). What is germane is determined by the presiding officer and one of the safest definitions is whether both the bill and amendment deal with the same portion of the Georgia Code. The last ten days of the session often find legislators (and lobbyists) looking for viable and arguably germane bills to which they can attempt to attach their “dead” bills to bring them back to life.

CHARTER SCHOOL CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT PASSES HOUSE

On Wednesday, the Constitutional amendment to allow charter schools to be approved by the state over the objection of local school boards was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 123 to 48 (120 votes are required to pass a Constitutional amendment in the House). Under the current proposal, charter schools would first apply to the local board of education in the jurisdiction in which they are located and if denied, they could then apply to the Georgia Charter Schools Commission for a charter and such approval would entitle a charter school to only the state portion of school funding, not any local school system funds. This Constitutional amendment is in response to (and would overturn) the May 2011 decision of the Georgia Supreme Court which declared that only local school boards could approve charter schools. STATUS: Passed out of House Education Committee on February 2, 2012. Failed to pass by the required Constitutional 2/3 majority on February 8, 2012 (10 votes short of the required 120). House voted to reconsider on Thursday, February 9, 2012 and Passed the House on February 22, 2012 (by a vote of 123-48). Pending in the Senate Education and Youth Committee.

 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

In our January 16th Capitol Update, we told you to watch for Governor Deal’s “comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation later this session that will address Georgia’s unsustainable prison population growth and which may include some Texas-type reforms, such as creating alternative sentencing options for non-violent offenders and more focus on the treatment of drug addiction and job training for inmates.” Well, we didn’t think the wait would be quite this long but with only three more legislative days to go before Crossover Day, HB 1176 was finally introduced yesterday. This 75 page long criminal justice reform bill incorporates some (but not all) of the recommendations of the 2011 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform and would transform Georgia’s criminal justice system from the “tough on crime” mentality prevalent in the 1990s to a more “smart on crime” system that still locks up dangerous offenders but which will now give low-level, non-violent offenders the opportunity to get the treatment or job training that can help them become contributing members of society rather than a drain on taxpayers.

Georgiacurrently has a 30% recidivism rate. Almost 1/3 of inmates are back in prison within 3 years of release. Alternative sentencing options for non-violent offenders (such as “accountability courts” for drug related offenses) have been shown to result in recidivism rates that are less than half that rate (some studies show between 7% and 13% recidivism rates).Georgiacurrently spends more than $1 billion on its corrections system and that number is projected to grow by more than $200 million if present incarceration trends continue.

The Governor’s Office has indicated some concerns with HB 1176 as currently drafted and that they would like to see changes that would incorporate all of the recommendations of the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform. Rather than following the normal process of being vetted by one chamber before being sent to the other, this bill has been assigned to a House-Senate Special Joint Committee on Georgia Criminal Justice Reform that will work with the Governor’s Office to try to work out all of the remaining issues with the bill in the short amount of time left. STATUS: assigned to the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Criminal Justice Reform.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Another huge component of Governor Deal’s legislative agenda is creating incentives that will result in immediate job creation and retention. Specifically, the Governor has indicated his support for (1) eliminating the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, (2) allowing a sales tax exemption on construction materials used in building or expanding facilities deemed to be “projects of regional significance,” (3) modernize the current “tier” structure of income tax credits used to attract and retain businesses creating new jobs in certain designated strategic industries in Georgia, and (4) lower the minimum job creation threshold needed to qualify for the tax credits available to businesses creating “new quality jobs” (defined as jobs paying at or above 110% of the average wage in the county in which the job would be located) from 50 new jobs down to 15 new jobs. While there are several bills that have already been introduced that would accomplish some of these goals (see HB 86 & HB 868, below), expectations are that a bill will be dropped this week that rolls all of these reforms into a single new piece of legislation which will phase in the sales tax exemptions over a period of several years (a compromise to local governments, that were concerned about the lost revenue from the local portion of energy sales taxes).

AMENDED FY 2012 BUDGET APPROVED BY SENATE

Every session, legislators have two budgets to pass. The first budget they deal with is the amended or “supplemental” budget for the current fiscal year (Georgia’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30). This is where the budget passed by the previous year’s General Assembly gets reconciled up or down as actual revenues for the year are compared to the revenue numbers that were projected when that budget was originally passed. The other budget is the “big budget” or the budget for the coming fiscal year.

On Thursday, the Senate approved the Amended FY 2012 state budget (HB 741, by a vote of 51-1), increasing overall state spending by approximately $207 million over the version passed last year (for a total FY 2012 state budget of about $18.6 billion). Earlier this month, the House had approved the Amended FY2012 budget with a $255 million increase but the Senate reduced the overall amount at the request of Governor Deal, based on the most current revenue projections. Now negotiators from the House and Senate will get together to hash out a compromise between what Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Jack Hill called the “cosmetic changes” between the Senate and House versions. Of course, work also continues on the “big budget” (HB 742).

TRANSIT GOVERNANCE BILL INTRODUCED

Last week, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis introduced SB 474, which would create a Transit Governance Council (TGC) under the auspices of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) to oversee and coordinate all transit operations within the 13 county Metro Atlanta area (i.e. MARTA, Gwinnett Transit, Cobb Transit, Clayton transit and GRTA Express, etc.). However, all indications are that there will probably not be any hearings on SB 474 this session and that there will not be a transit governance bill passed in this session. The consensus among legislative leaders on this issue seems to be that doing transit governance right is more important than doing it now. And I couldn’t agree more.

Other legislation of note

HB 48 – Would expand Georgia’s existing freeport tax exemptions to allow local governments to exempt business inventory, making Georgiamore competitive with neighboring states which have no tax on business inventory. STATUS: Passed out of House Ways & Means Committee on February 24, 2011. Passed the full House on March 2, 2011 by a vote of 166-1. Passed the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, February 7th but was recommitted to Senate Finance Committee on February 17, 2012.

HB 86 – Would eliminate all state and local sales and use taxes on energy used in manufacturing. Bill could be expanded to include agriculture and mining. STATUS: Introduced last session and still pending in House Ways & Means Committee.

HB 641 – By Rep. Wendell Willard, would overhaul Georgia’s juvenile justice system. STATUS: Passed out of House Judiciary Committee on February 24, 2012. Pending in House Rules Committee.

HB 705 – Would eliminate the requirement that was imposed on school systems a couple of years ago that 65% of all school system funds must be spent in the classroom. The change was recommended by the K-12 finance commission based on research finding no evidence of the 65% rule having any impact on student achievement (and the reality that at least 40 school systems in Georgiahave already been granted exemptions from the rule). Status: Passed by House Education Committee on January 12, 2012. Pending in House Rules Committee.

HB 713 – Bill will delay until 2013 the implementation of the college and career readiness initiatives that were scheduled to go into effect this fall. These initiatives include requiring some level of career awareness education for students in all grades (K-12) as well as the “career pathways” program in which career focused programs of study in at least 16 defined career areas would be created for all high schools and students would follow a course schedule partially focused on the particular career interest they select beginning in 9th grade. Department of Education officials indicated that more time was needed to make sure that these programs are implemented in the right way. Status: January 12, 2012. Passed the full House on January 24, 2012 by a vote of 162-1. Passed by the Senate Education & Youth Committee on February 15, 2012. Pending in Senate Rules.

 

HB 718 – Would create a Georgia Capital Acceleration Fund of up to $200 million (financed by the sale of insurance premium tax credits sold by the state over an initial 3 year period). The fund would be administered by a Georgia Capital Acceleration Authority and could be used as venture capital for Georgia-based start-up companies. STATUS: Pending in the House Insurance Committee.

HB 868 – By Rep. Doug Collins, would modernize the current structure of income tax credits used to attract and retain businesses creating new jobs in certain designated strategic industries in Georgia. The current system offers much higher job tax credit amounts to businesses locating or expanding in poorer counties (Tier 1) and conversely, much smaller incentives in more affluent counties (such as Gwinnett, Fulton, or Cobb, which are Tier 4). The bill would increase the incentive amounts for all tiers, while essentially flattening from four tiers to three (Tier 1 = $3,500 per year for five years for each “new full-time employee job” created / Tier 2 = $2,500 / Tier 3 & 4 = $2,000). The bill would also lower the minimum job creation threshold needed to qualify for the tax credits available to businesses creating “new quality jobs” (defined as jobs paying at or above 110% of the average wage in the county in which the job would be located) from 50 new jobs down to 15. STATUS: Introduced on February 1, 2012. Pending in House Ways & Means Committee.

HB 889 – By Rep. Joe Wilkinson, would restore the authority of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly known as the State Ethics Commission) to make, interpret and apply rules governing lobbying activities and campaign finance (authority which was taken away in 2009). Status: Pending in House Rules Committee.

HB 1027 – Would tighten the requirements for productions to qualify for Georgia’s existing film and television tax credits and would also specifically exclude video game productions from receiving those credits. Video game production is an important but often overlooked part of Georgia’s entertainment industry that creates high wage jobs and brings creative class employees to the state. These film and television tax credits have had a significant impact on Georgia’s economy since they were created in 2008. Georgianow ranks 4th among states in film and television production (behind California, New York and Louisiana). If all individual film and television productions were combined and treated as a single “employer,” film and television production would rank as one of Georgia’s top 10 employers (and if you excluded public sector employers, would be Georgia’s 3rd largest employer). Film and television tax credits have created an excellent return on investment when measured in direct economic impacts (such as jobs and investment) but are even more impressive when ancillary economic impacts, such as tourism and marketing Georgia are taken into account. STATUS: pending in House Ways & Means Committee.

Sb 33 – By Sen. David Shafer, would bring “zero-base” budgeting to Georgia’s budget process, requiring every state program, agency or department to submit a zero-base budget once every four years. A zero-base budget would require every budget to start at zero and for every line item for a particular program or agency to be justified, rather than the current scenario where the starting point for budget discussions is the previous year’s budget amount and the discussion is how much that amount will be raised or lowered. STATUS: Passed the Senate (by a 48-1 vote) and House (by a 135-38 vote) last year but in different versions. Working out the two versions is pending in a House-Senate Conference Committee.

SB 223 – “Sunset legislation” bill that would create a “Legislative Sunset Advisory Subcommittee” that would regularly assess all state programs, departments and agencies (each agency would be reviewed at least every 8 years) to make a recommendation if they should be consolidated, privatized or abolished. STATUS: Passed the House (by a 120-56 vote) and Senate (by a 42-9 vote) last year. Senate Conference Committee version was passed by the Senate on January 30, 2012 by a vote of 37-12. Senate Conference Committee version pending acceptance, amendment or rejection by the House.

SB 321 – By Sen. Renee Unterman would make it much harder for thieves to sell stolen scrap metal by imposing stringent new requirements on metal recyclers who purchase scrap metal, including (1) prohibiting cash payments in scrap metal purchase transactions, (2) require recyclers to keep on file a copy of the seller’s valid photo ID and thumbprint, VIN number of the vehicle used to deliver the metal, digital photo of the metal items, thumbprint of the seller (all of which would be provided to the sheriff of that county), and (3) prohibiting recyclers from purchasing copper or aluminum coil from non-verified sellers (such as licensed contractors). STATUS: Approved by the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee on February 15, 2012. Pending in Senate Rules Committee.

SB 355 – By Sen. Renee Unterman, would require mandatory reporting of child abuse by anyone (other than clergy and attorneys bound by attorney-client privilege) to report evidence of possible child abuse (currently only seven specifically defined types of professionals, such as teachers, are required to report evidence of child abuse). The bill would also extend the statute of limitations on crimes against children to the victim’s 18th birthday plus 10 years (or plus 15 years, in cases of forcible rape). STATUS: Introduced on January 26, 2012. Pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB 391 – By Sen. Joshua McKoon, would substantially revise the Ethics in Government Act in a number of ways, including: (1) placing a $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to public officials and a cap of $750 for travel to a meeting or conference paid for by a lobbyist, (2) expanding the disclosure requirements (and the proposed caps) to include disclosure of gifts from lobbyists to family members, employees and staff of public officials, (3) renames the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly the State Ethics Commission) the State Accountability Commission, and (4) imposes a one year “cooling off” period during which former employees of the Governor’s Office and Lt. Governor’s Office would be prohibited from lobbying. Status: Pending in Senate Rules Committee but all reports are that this bill will not be moving forward.

SB 402 – By Sen. Tim Golden would allow up to 5% of the Georgia Employee Retirement System’s funds to be invested in “alternative investments” including venture capital funds. STATUS: Introduced on February 7, 2012 and passed out of the Senate Retirement Committee on February 17, 2012. Passed the full Senate (by a vote of 50-4) on February 23, 2012. Pending in House Retirement Committee.

SB 447 – By Sen. Fran Millar, would begin the process of repaying the approximately $720 million borrowed by the State of Georgia from the Federal Unemployment Account (which was necessary to pay out the unprecedented volume of unemployment benefit claims which depleted Georgia’s Unemployment Compensation Fund during the Great Recession) and return Georgia’s Unemployment Compensation Fund to solvency. It proposes to do this with a number of changes, including: (1) increasing the taxable wages subject to unemployment insurance contributions from $8,500 to $9,500 (effective 1/1/13), (2) creating an automatic increase in the unemployment insurance rate table rates, based on the then current percentage of the State-Wide Reserve Ratio, (3) reducing the maximum number of weeks for which an unemployed worker could receive benefits on a floating scale of 12 to 20 weeks (and reduced from the current maximum of 27 weeks to a new maximum of 20 weeks), which would be based on the state’s then current unemployment rate, and (4) imposes a one week waiting period before receiving unemployment benefits (effective 7/1/12). STATUS: Introduced on February 15, 2012 and passed out of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee on February 22. Passed by the full Senate on February 24, 2012 (by a vote of 34-13).

SB 448 – By Sen. Don Balfour, the “Small Business Borrower Protection Act” would provide that a subsequent purchaser of a debt obligation (such as a mortgage) would be limited to recovering only the lesser of (1) the actual amount paid by the subsequent purchase for the debt obligation plus the interest rate on the note from the date it was purchased, or (2) the maximum amount permitted to be collected under any personal guaranty associated with the debt obligation. STATUS: Introduced on February 15, 2012 and passed out of committee on February 23, 2012. Passed the full Senate (by a vote of 45-0) on February 27, 2012. Pending assignment to House Committee.

SR 20 – Would place a cap on state spending, with increases limited to the previous year’s budget amount plus inflation and population increase (if any). Any excess revenues would be funneled to the Rainy Day Fund. STATUS: Passed the Senate last February (by a vote of 42-7) and is pending in the House Ways & Means Committee.

The Week Ahead

The current legislative calendar calls for the General Assembly to be in session through Wednesday, February 29th this week. Next week, legislators will be in session on Monday, March 5th for legislative day 29 and on Wednesday, March 7th for Crossover Day.

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ATC Capitol Update – Week 6, February 20, 2012   Leave a comment

By: Michael L. Sullivan

The General Assembly is not in session today in observance of Presidents’ Day but will reconvene tomorrow (Tuesday, February 21) for the 22nd legislative day of the 40 day session. The General Assembly will be in session Tuesday through Friday this week.

KEITH GOLDEN NAMED GDOT COMMISSIONER

Longtime Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) employee Keith Golden was named the sole candidate to be considered for GDOT Commissioner by the State Transportation Board last week and being the only candidate, it seems safe to assume he will be formally named Commissioner at the Board’s March 1st meeting (GDOT policy requires a two week waiting period after naming candidates). Golden has been serving as Interim Commissioner since the ouster of former Commissioner Vance Smith last fall.

Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund

During the depths of the recession, the State of Georgia was forced to borrow approximately $720 million from the Federal Unemployment Account in order to pay out the unprecedented volume of unemployment benefit claims which depleted Georgia’s Unemployment Compensation Fund. Now, those federal loans have to be repaid (plus 4% interest). Last Thursday, Sen. Fran Millar introduced SB 447 with the purpose of beginning the process of repaying the federal loans and returning Georgia’s Unemployment Compensation Fund to solvency. It proposes to do this with a number of changes, including: (1) increasing the taxable wages subject to unemployment insurance contributions from $8,500 to $9,500 (effective 1/1/13), (2) creating an automatic increase in the unemployment insurance rate table rates, based on the then current percentage of the State-Wide Reserve Ratio, (3) reducing the maximum number of weeks for which an unemployed worker could receive benefits on a floating scale (reduced from the current maximum of 27 weeks to a new maximum of 20 weeks), which would be based on the state’s then current unemployment rate, and (4) imposes a one week waiting period before receiving unemployment benefits (effective 7/1/12).

Other legislation of note

HB 48 – Would expand Georgia’s existing freeport tax exemptions to allow local governments to exempt business inventory, making Georgia more competitive with neighboring states which have no tax on business inventory. STATUS: Passed out of House Ways & Means Committee on February 24, 2011. Passed the full House on March 2, 2011 by a vote of 166-1. Passed the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, February 7th but was recommitted to Senate Finance Committee on February 17, 2012.

HB 86 – Would eliminate all state and local sales and use taxes on energy used in manufacturing. Bill could be expanded to include agriculture and mining. STATUS: Introduced last session and still pending in House Ways & Means Committee.

HB 705 – Would eliminate the requirement that was imposed on school systems a couple of years ago that 65% of all school system funds must be spent in the classroom. The change was recommended by the K-12 finance commission based on research finding no evidence of the 65% rule having any impact on student achievement (and the reality that at least 40 school systems in Georgiahave already been granted exemptions from the rule). Status: Passed by House Education Committee on January 12, 2012. Pending in House Rules Committee.

HB 713 – Bill will delay until 2013 the implementation of the college and career readiness initiatives that were scheduled to go into effect this fall. These initiatives include requiring some level of career awareness education for students in all grades (K-12) as well as the “career pathways” program in which career focused programs of study in at least 16 defined career areas would be created for all high schools and students would follow a course schedule partially focused on the particular career interest they select beginning in 9th grade. Department of Education officials indicated that more time was needed to make sure that these programs are implemented in the right way. Status: January 12, 2012. Passed the full House on January 24, 2012 by a vote of 162-1. Passed by the Senate Education & Youth Committee on February 15, 2012. Pending in Senate Rules.

HB 718 – Would create a Georgia Capital Acceleration Fund of up to $200 million (financed by the sale of insurance premium tax credits sold by the state over an initial 3 year period). The fund would be administered by a Georgia Capital Acceleration Authority and could be used as venture capital for Georgia-based start-up companies. STATUS: Pending in the House Insurance Committee.

HB 868 – By Rep. Doug Collins, would modernize the current structure of income tax credits used to attract and retain businesses creating new jobs in certain designated strategic industries in Georgia. The current system offers much higher job tax credit amounts to businesses locating or expanding in poorer counties (Tier 1) and conversely, much smaller incentives in more affluent counties (such as Gwinnett, Fulton, or Cobb, which are Tier 4). The bill would increase the incentive amounts for all tiers, while essentially flattening from four tiers to three (Tier 1 = $3,500 per year for five years for each “new full-time employee job” created / Tier 2 = $2,500 / Tier 3 & 4 = $2,000). The bill would also lower the minimum job creation threshold needed to qualify for the tax credits available to businesses creating “new quality jobs” (defined as jobs paying at or above 110% of the average wage in the county in which the job would be located) from 50 new jobs down to 15. STATUS: Introduced on February 1, 2012. Pending in House Ways & Means Committee.

HB 889 – By Rep. Joe Wilkinson, would restore the authority of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly known as the State Ethics Commission) to make, interpret and apply rules governing lobbying activities and campaign finance (authority which was taken away in 2009). Status: Pending in House Rules Committee.

HR 1162 – By Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (along with an identical Senate Resolution, SR 853, introduced last week by Sen. Fran Millar, Chairman of the Senate Education and Youth Committee), is a Constitutional amendment to allow charter schools to be approved by the state over the objection of local school boards.  Under the current proposal, charter schools would first apply to the local board of education in the jurisdiction in which they are located and if denied, they could then apply to the Georgia Charter Schools Commission for a charter. That part of the bill actually has broad bipartisan support. The controversial part is the question of whether such approval should entitle a charter school to only the state portion of school funding or if should also entitle the charter school to local school funding (which opponents argue is a usurpation of local control). This Constitutional amendment is in response to (and would overturn) the May 2011 decision of the Georgia Supreme Court which declared that only local school boards could approve charter schools. STATUS: Passed out of House Education Committee on February 2, 2012. Failed to pass by the required Constitutional 2/3 majority on February 8, 2012 (10 votes short of the required 120). House voted to reconsider on Thursday, February 9, 2012. Pending in House (SR 853 is pending in the Senate Education and Youth Committee).

SB 33 – By Sen. David Shafer, would bring “zero-base” budgeting to Georgia’s budget process, requiring every state program, agency or department to submit a zero-base budget once every four years. A zero-base budget would require every budget to start at zero and for every line item for a particular program or agency to be justified, rather than the current scenario where the starting point for budget discussions is the previous year’s budget amount and the discussion is how much that amount will be raised or lowered. STATUS: Passed the Senate (by a 48-1 vote) and House (by a 135-38 vote) last year but in different versions. Working out the two versions is pending in a House-Senate Conference Committee.

SB 223 – “Sunset legislation” bill that would create a “Legislative Sunset Advisory Subcommittee” that would regularly assess all state programs, departments and agencies (each agency would be reviewed at least every 8 years) to make a recommendation if they should be consolidated, privatized or abolished. STATUS: Passed the House (by a 120-56 vote) and Senate (by a 42-9 vote) last year. Senate Conference Committee version was passed by the Senate on January 30, 2012 by a vote of 37-12. Senate Conference Committee version pending acceptance, amendment or rejection by the House.

SB 321 – By Sen. Renee Unterman would make it much harder for thieves to sell stolen scrap metal by imposing stringent new requirements on metal recyclers who purchase scrap metal, including (1) prohibiting cash payments in scrap metal purchase transactions, (2) require recyclers to keep on file a copy of the seller’s valid photo ID and thumbprint, VIN number of the vehicle used to deliver the metal, digital photo of the metal items, thumbprint of the seller (all of which would be provided to the sheriff of that county), and (3) prohibiting recyclers from purchasing copper or aluminum coil from non-verified sellers (such as licensed contractors). STATUS: Approved by the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee on February 15, 2012. Pending in Senate Rules Committee.

SB 355 – By Sen. Renee Unterman, would require mandatory reporting of child abuse by anyone (other than clergy and attorneys bound by attorney-client privilege) to report evidence of possible child abuse (currently only seven specifically defined types of professionals, such as teachers, are required to report evidence of child abuse). The bill would also extend the statute of limitations on crimes against children to the victim’s 18th birthday plus 10 years (or plus 15 years, in cases of forcible rape). STATUS: Introduced on January 26, 2012. Pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB 391 – By Sen. Joshua McKoon, would substantially revise the Ethics in Government Act in a number of ways, including: (1) placing a $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to public officials and a cap of $750 for travel to a meeting or conference paid for by a lobbyist, (2) expanding the disclosure requirements (and the proposed caps) to include disclosure of gifts from lobbyists to family members, employees and staff of public officials, (3) renames the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly the State Ethics Commission) the State Accountability Commission, and (4) imposes a one year “cooling off” period during which former employees of the Governor’s Office and Lt. Governor’s Office would be prohibited from lobbying. Status: Pending in Senate Rules Committee.

SB 402 – By Sen. Tim Golden would allow up to 5% of the Georgia Employee Retirement System’s funds to be invested in “alternative investments” including venture capital funds. STATUS: Introduced on February 7, 2012 and passed out of the Senate Retirement Committee on February 17, 2012. Pending in Senate Rules Committee.

SR 20 – Would place a cap on state spending, with increases limited to the previous year’s budget amount plus inflation and population increase (if any). Any excess revenues would be funneled to the Rainy Day Fund. STATUS: Passed the Senate last February (by a vote of 42-7) and is pending in the House Ways & Means Committee.

The Week Ahead

The current legislative calendar calls for the General Assembly to be in session Tuesday, February 21st through Friday, February 26th this week. Next week, legislators will be in session Monday, February 26th through Wednesday, February 29th.

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ATC CAPITOL UPDATE – Week 5, February 13, 2012   Leave a comment

By Michael L. Sullivan

After a long Valentine’s Day weekend back home in the district with their “most important constituents,” the General Assembly will return for the 19th legislative day of the 40 day session on Wednesday and will also be in session Thursday and Friday this week.

That means we will pass the halfway point this week and the prevailing pattern of the past few legislative sessions continues to hold true for this one – focusing on a few core legislative priorities and not letting time and attention get wasted on narrow or peripheral issues…or on difficult issues for which a politically viable solution (i.e. one that can garner enough votes to pass) has not yet emerged. That seems doubly true with this being an election year when issues like addressing the impending HOPE scholarship funding shortfall or trying create unified transit governance bill for the Metro Atlanta region appear destined to be put off until next year’s session. But keep in mind that just because a bill isn’t flying through the legislative process that does not mean that legislators aren’t working diligently on finding a solution to that problem behind the scenes. Better to take the time to deliberate and enact a good solution next year than to rush to pass a really imperfect solution this year in the name of acting quickly. After all, the law that causes more problems than any other at the Capitol is the law of unintended consequences.

TRANSPORTATION INVESTMENT ACT

Last Tuesday, Rep. Ed Setzler of Cobb County finally introduced two bills designed to scuttle the Transportation Investment Act process currently scheduled to culminate in the regional transportation referendum vote on July 31, 2012. HB 938 would instead propose to allow two or more counties to enter into an intergovernmental agreement to create a “special transportation district” within which a sales tax could be levied. The tax would have to be approved by the voters of those counties and would pay for a specific list of enumerated transportation projects within those counties (essentially, amulti-county SPLOST). HR 1350 is the proposed Constitutional amendment that would authorize these “special transportation districts.” Legislative leadership and Governor Deal have been steadfast in their commitment to the process begun by the Transportation Investment Act in 2010 and it appears these bills are destined to die a (hopefully) quiet death in the House Transportation Committee.

TRANSIT GOVERNANCE

As we mentioned a few weeks ago, the Governor’s Transit Governance Task Force issued a report recommending that the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) become the agency to coordinate transit operations within the 13 county Metro Atlanta area (actually, a 35-member subcommittee of GRTA that would be made up primarily of mayors and county chairmen from all of the counties in the region). The draft legislation in that report has generated plenty of commentary from various transportation advocacy groups, with most of the disagreement surrounding what role the state should play in local/regional transit governance. While some leaders have expressed the hope that a transit governance bill will pass this session, it appears more likely that the complexity of doing transit governance “right” will require more time and effort than the remainder of this legislative session is likely to provide. Remember that even with all of the passion behind passing a transportation funding bill, it took three sessions of intensive effort (and well more than three very different versions of legislation) before a transportation funding bill was finally passed in 2010. Creating a unified transit governance structure for Metro Atlanta will likely require a multi-session effort as well.

CHARTER SCHOOLS

On Wednesday, a Constitutional amendment to allow charter schools to be approved by the state over the objection of local school boards (HR 1162) fell 10 votes shy in the House of the necessary two-thirds vote (120 votes) required to approve Constitutional amendments. On Thursday, the House voted to reconsider the vote on HR 1162, which allows it to be brought back before the House at some point (presumably, once backers have managed to wrangle the necessary 120 votes). Under the current proposal, charter schools would first apply to the local board of education in the jurisdiction in which they are located and if denied, they could then apply to the Georgia Charter Schools Commission for a charter. That part of the bill actually has broad bipartisan support. The controversial part is the question of whether such approval should entitle a charter school to only the state portion of school funding or if should also entitle the charter school to local school funding (which opponents argue is a usurpation of local control). This Constitutional amendment is in response to (and would overturn) the May 2011 decision of the Georgia Supreme Court which declared that only local school boards could approve charter schools. STATUS: Passed out of House Education Committee on February 2, 2012. Failed to pass by the required Constitutional 2/3 majority on February 8, 2012. House voted to reconsider on Thursday, February 9, 2012. Pending in House.

ETHICS REFORM

On Wednesday, Sen. Joshua McKoon introduced SB 391, which would substantially revise the Ethics in Government Act in a number of ways, including: (1) placing a $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to public officials and a cap of $750 for travel to a meeting or conference paid for by a lobbyist, (2) expanding the disclosure requirements (and the proposed caps) to include disclosure of gifts from lobbyists to family members, employees and staff of public officials, (3) renames the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly the State Ethics Commission) the State Accountability Commission, and (4) imposes a one year “cooling off” period during which former employees of the Governor’s Office and Lt. Governor’s Office would be prohibited from lobbying. Status: Pending in Senate Rules Committee.

HB 889 – By Rep. Joe Wilkinson (Chairman of the House Ethics Committee) with the full support of House leadership. The bill would restore the authority of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly known as the State Ethics Commission) to make, interpret and apply rules governing lobbying activities and campaign finance (authority which was taken away in 2009). Speaker of the House David Ralston also indicated that he supported an increase in the budget for the long underfunded state agency. Status: Pending in House Rules Committee.

Other legislation of note

HB 718 – Would create a Georgia Capital Acceleration Fund of up to $200 million (financed by the sale of insurance premium tax credits sold by the state over an initial 3 year period). The fund would be administered by a Georgia Capital Acceleration Authority and could be used as venture capital for Georgia-based start-up companies. STATUS: Pending in the House Insurance Committee.

HB 48 – Would expand Georgia’s existing freeporttax exemptions to allow local governments to exempt business inventory, making Georgiamore competitive with neighboring states which have no tax on business inventory. STATUS: Passed out of House Ways & Means Committee on February 24, 2011. Passed the full House on March 2, 2011 by a vote of 166-1. Passed the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, February 7th. Pending in Senate Rules Committee.

HB 705 – Would eliminate the requirement that was imposed on school systems a couple of years ago that 65% of all school system funds must be spent in the classroom. The change was recommended by the K-12 finance commission based on research finding no evidence of the 65% rule having any impact on student achievement (and the reality that at least 40 school systems in Georgiahave already been granted exemptions from the rule). Status: Passed by House Education Committee on January 12, 2012. Pending in House Rules Committee.

HB 713 – Bill will delay until 2013 the implementation of the college and career readiness initiatives that were scheduled to go into effect this fall. These initiatives include requiring some level of career awareness education for students in all grades (K-12) as well as the “career pathways” program in which career focused programs of study in at least 16 defined career areas would be created for all high schools and students would follow a course schedule partially focused on the particular career interest they select beginning in 9th grade. Department of Education officials indicated that more time was needed to make sure that these programs are implemented in the right way. Status: January 12, 2012. Passed the full House on January 24, 2012 by a vote of 162-1. Pending in Senate Education & Youth Committee.

Sb 33 – Zero-based budgeting for all state agencies. SB 33, sponsored by Gwinnett’s own Sen. David Shafer (and which already passed the full Senate last year) could be the legislative vehicle to finally bring “zero-base” budgeting to Georgia’s budget process, requiring every state program, agency or department to submit a zero-base budget once every four years. A zero-base budget would require every budget to start at zero and for every line item for a particular program or agency to be justified, rather than the current scenario where the starting point for budget discussions is the previous year’s budget amount and the discussion is how much that amount will be raised or lowered. STATUS: Passed the House (by a 135-38 vote) and Senate (by a 48-1 vote) last year. Pending in House-Senate Conference Committee.

SR 20 – Would place a cap on state spending, with increases limited to the previous year’s budget amount plus inflation and population increase (if any). Any excess revenues would be funneled to the Rainy Day Fund. STATUS: Passed the Senate last February (by a vote of 42-7) and is pending in the House Ways & Means Committee.

SB 223 – “Sunset legislation” bill that would create a “Legislative Sunset Advisory Subcommittee” that would regularly assess all state programs, departments and agencies (each agency would be reviewed at least every 8 years) to make a recommendation if they should be consolidated, privatized or abolished. STATUS: Passed the House (by a 120-56 vote) and Senate (by a 42-9 vote) last year. Senate Conference Committee version was passed by the Senate on January 30, 2012 by a vote of 37-12. Senate Conference Committee version pending acceptance, amendment or rejection by the House.

HB 86 – Would eliminate all state and local sales and use taxes on energy used in manufacturing. Bill could be expanded to include agriculture and mining. STATUS: Introduced last session and still pending in House Ways & Means Committee.

SB 321 – By Sen. Renee Unterman would make it much harder for thieves to sell stolen scrap metal by imposing stringent new requirements on metal recyclers who purchase scrap metal, including (1) prohibiting cash payments in scrap metal purchase transactions, (2) require recyclers to keep on file a copy of the seller’s valid photo ID and thumbprint, VIN number of the vehicle used to deliver the metal, digital photo of the metal items, thumbprint of the seller (all of which would be provided to the sheriff of that county), and (3) prohibiting recyclers from purchasing copper or aluminum coil from non-verified sellers (such as licensed contractors). STATUS: Approved by the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee on February 9, 2012. Pending in Senate Rules Committee.

SB 355 – By Sen. Renee Unterman, would require mandatory reporting of child abuse by anyone (other than clergy and attorneys bound by attorney-client privilege) to report evidence of possible child abuse (currently only seven specifically defined types of professionals, such as teachers, are required to report evidence of child abuse). The bill would also extend the statute of limitations on crimes against children to the victim’s 18th birthday plus 10 years (or plus 15 years, in cases of forcible rape). STATUS: Introduced on January 26, 2012. Pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Week Ahead

The current legislative calendar calls for the General Assembly to return after Valentine’s Day to be in session Wednesday, February 15th through Friday, February 17th.  Next week, legislators will be in session Tuesday, February 21st through Friday, February 24th.

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ATC Capitol Update – Week 4, February 6, 2012   Leave a comment

English: Close-up of the gold dome atop the Ge...

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Today is the 15th legislative day of the 40 day session and the General Assembly will be in session Monday through Thursday this week.

BUDGET

Every session, legislators have two budgets to pass. The first budget they deal with is the amended or “supplemental” budget for the current fiscal year (Georgia’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30). This is where the budget passed by the previous year’s General Assembly gets revised up or down as actual revenues for the year are compared to the revenue numbers that were projected when that budget was originally passed. Since the supplemental budget is really just an amendment to the current year’s budget, this budget usually passes in the first half of the General Assembly session.

The other budget is the “big budget” or the budget for the coming fiscal year. Legislators work on this budget from the beginning of the legislative session often until the very last hours of the very last day of the session. This is the budget where policies are made, priorities are set and marching orders are issued to the state government for the coming year.

On Friday, the House approved the Amended FY 2012 state budget, increasing overall state spending by approximately $255 million more than the FY 2012 budget approved last year (for a total FY 2012 state budget of about $18.6 billion). It includes approximately $700 million in additional spending for transportation (including $300 million for the I-75/I/575 project and about $14 million in additional money for K-12 education.

FUNDING FOUND FOR I-75/I-575 REVERSIBLE TOLL LANE PROJECT

Last week, we reported on Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee’s request that the Transportation Investment Act project list that was unanimously approved by the Regional Roundtable last October (and which is scheduled to be voted on by Metro Atlanta voters on July 31, 2012) be reopened by the General Assembly so that the $689 million currently allocated for a transit connection between Cobb County and MARTA’s Arts Center Station could be reallocated to the I-75/I-575 reversible toll lane project which was postponed by Governor Deal in December.

Legislative leadership indicated that they did not want to open up the project list and the Governor’s Office reiterated that the Governor had merely postponed the I-75/I-575 project and was continuing to look for other ways to fund that project. Last week, the House found another way to fund that project, allocating $300 million in the Amended FY 2012 budget to that project. When combined with the approximately $300 million already allocated to that project by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and additional funds freed up by an accounting change (also approved by the House on Friday) that would allow unspent motor fuel tax funds from previous years to be rolled over by GDOT to be used going forward, it appeared that funding for the reversible toll lane project had been achieved. However, some GDOT Board members indicated that the $300 million they had previously allocated was for a public-private partnership project and that a fully public project might be viewed differently.

ETHICS REFORM

HB 889 was introduced last week by Rep. Joe Wilkinson (Chairman of the House Ethics Committee) with the full support of House leadership. The bill would restore the authority of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly known as the State Ethics Commission) to make, interpret and apply rules governing lobbying activities and campaign finance (authority which was taken away when Speaker Glenn Richardson was in power). Speaker of the House David Ralston also indicated that he supported an increase in the budget for the long underfunded state agency. Status: Pending in House Rules Committee.

Other legislation of note

HB 718 – Would create a Georgia Capital Acceleration Fund of up to $200 million (financed by the sale of insurance premium tax credits sold by the state over an initial 3 year period). The fund would be administered by a Georgia Capital Acceleration Authority and used as venture capital for Georgia-based start-up companies. STATUS: Pending in the House Insurance Committee.

HB 48 – Would expand Georgia’s existing freeport tax exemptions to make Georgia more competitive with neighboring states which have no tax on business inventory. STATUS: Passed out of House Ways & Means Committee on February 24, 2011. Passed the full House on March 2, 2011 by a vote of 166-1. Pending in Senate Finance Committee.

HB 705 – Would eliminate the requirement that was imposed on school systems a couple of years ago that 65% of all school system funds must be spent in the classroom. The change was recommended by the K-12 finance commission based on research finding no evidence of the 65% rule having any impact on student achievement (and the reality that at least 40 school systems in Georgiahave already been granted exemptions from the rule). Status: Passed by House Education Committee on January 12th and pending in House Rules Committee.

HB 713 – Bill will delay until 2013 the implementation of the college and career readiness initiatives that were scheduled to go into effect this fall. These initiatives include requiring some level of career awareness education for students in all grades (K-12) as well as the “career pathways” program in which career focused programs of study in at least 16 defined career areas would be created for all high schools and students would follow a course schedule partially focused on the particular career interest they select beginning in 9th grade. Department of Education officials indicated that more time was needed to make sure that these programs are implemented in the right way. Status: Passed by House Education Committee on January 12th and by the full House by a vote of 162-1 on January 24th. Pending in Senate Education & Youth Committee.

SB 33 – Zero-based budgeting for all state agencies. SB 33, sponsored by Gwinnett’s own Sen. David Shafer (and which already passed the full Senate last year) could be the legislative vehicle to finally bring “zero-base” budgeting to Georgia’s budget process, requiring every state program, agency or department to submit a zero-base budget once every four years. A zero-base budget would require every budget to start at zero and for every line item for a particular program or agency to be justified, rather than the current scenario where the starting point for budget discussions is the previous year’s budget amount and the discussion is how much that amount will be raised or lowered. STATUS: Passed the House (by a 135-38 vote) and Senate (by a 48-1 vote) last year. Pending in House-Senate Conference Committee.

SR 20 – Would place a cap on state spending, with increases limited to the previous year’s budget amount plus inflation and population increase (if any). Any excess revenues would be funneled to the Rainy Day Fund. STATUS: Passed the Senate last February (by a vote of 42-7) and is pending in the House Ways & Means Committee.

SB 223 – “Sunset legislation” bill that would create a “Legislative Sunset Advisory Subcommittee” that would regularly assess all state programs, departments and agencies (each agency would be reviewed at least every 8 years) to determine if they should be consolidated or abolished. STATUS: Passed the House (by a 120-56 vote) and Senate (by a 42-9 vote) last year. Senate Conference Committee version was passed by the Senate on January 30, 2012 by a vote of 37-12.

HR 1162 – A Constitutional amendment to allow for charter schools to be approved by the state over the objection of local school boards. Proposed charter schools would first apply to the local board of education in the jurisdiction in which they are located and if denied, they could then apply to the Georgia Charter Schools Commission for a charter which, if granted, would entitle that school to state and (possibly) local school funding (the question of whether local funds would be included is still under much discussion). This Constitutional amendment is in response to (and would overturn) the May 2011 decision of the Georgia Supreme Court which declared that only local school boards could approve charter schools. STATUS: Passed out of House Education Committee on February 2, 2012. Pending in House Rules Committee.

HB 86 – Would eliminate all state and local sales and use taxes on energy used in manufacturing. Bill could be expanded to include agriculture and mining. STATUS: Introduced last session and still pending in House Ways & Means Committee.

SB 355 – By Sen. Renee Unterman, would require mandatory reporting of child abuse by anyone (other than clergy and attorneys bound by attorney-client privilege) to report evidence of possible child abuse (currently only seven specifically defined types of professionals, such as teachers, are required to report evidence of child abuse). The bill would also extend the statute of limitations on crimes against children to the victim’s 18th birthday plus 10 years (or plus 15 years, in cases of forcible rape). STATUS: Introduced on January 26, 2012 and pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Week Ahead

The current legislative calendar calls for the General Assembly to be in session Monday through Thursday this week, returning after Valentine’s Day to be in session Wednesday, February 15th through Friday, February 17th.

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