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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