Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Lawmakers Returns in January 2009

The Georgia General Assembly adjourned Sine Die on Friday, April 4, 2008.
Here are the updates on the outcome of some of the issues, bills and resolutions we followed:

TAX REFORM: HR 1246/HB 1244
These two pieces of legislation became the primary vehicles for tax reform in the 2008 session. Most recently, the House stripped Senate provisions out of HR 1246 and replaced it with an elimination of the ad valorem tax on personal vehicles. The House also changed Senate provisions in HB 1244, moving a proposed 10% reduction in state income taxes back by three years to begin in 2011 instead of 2008. The measures were discussed by a Conference Committee, but there was no compromise reached.

Withdrawn and recommitted, we expected SB 458 to make it to the House Floor at some point before midnight, but it never did. The bill was Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson’s school voucher bill. The legislation was designed to give vouchers for students in low-performing public schools. If a school loses accreditation or remains on the “needs improvement” list for seven years, the school system would be required to provide parents with the option of a voucher for use at a private school. The Clayton County school system has been used as an example in the debate this session because the system is in danger of losing it’s accreditation on September 1. Johnson held a press conference to clear up misunderstandings about Fayette County schools being forced to absorb Clayton students. The bill never received a vote on the House floor.

Lawmakers reached a compromise on legislation allowing consumers to freeze their credit reports. The bill aims to prevent identity theft by allowing consumers to block credit reporting agencies from giving out their information. The House and Senate came to an agreement on the main sticking point: how much the credit reporting agencies should be able to charge for this service. The decision: $3 for the freeze and $3 for the thaw. If signed by the Governor, HB 130 would become effective August 1, 2008.

As originally drafted, this legislation would allow licensed gun owners to carry weapons in their vehicles, even to workplace parking lots with the permission of the company. It was amended to include provisions that would allow licensed gun owners to carry guns into restaurants, State Parks and onto mass transit. The Conference Committee report on this bill was adopted in both chambers.

SUNDAY SALES: SB 137, SB 385, SB 454 and HB 1243
Senate Bill 137 was introduced by Senator Seth Harp last year to repeal the prohibition against Sunday sales of alcohol statewide. The bill has languished in the Senate committee ever since, but the provisions of the legislation was rumored to be attached to three different pieces of legislation this year. SB 385 is Senator Don Balfour’s legislation to allow limousine carriers to sell alcohol in their vehicles. That measure passed the House and Senate without a general Sunday Sales amendment. HB 1243 is Representative Edward Lindsey’s legislation that would allow alcohol sales for non-profit entities. That measure was approved by both the House and Senate without a Sunday sales amendment. SB 454 would expand the sales of alcohol on Sundays for public stadiums located in counties that already allow Sunday sale of alcohol. That measure was also passed by both chambers without a Sunday Sales amendment. Bottom line: Georgia’s prohibition against package sales of alcohol on Sundays remains in tact.

House Bill 978 would allow law enforcement to seize the vehicles of illegal immigrants who are involved in an accident or pulled over for a traffic violation. Representative James Mills says he sponsored House Bill 978 after several of his constituents complained about being hit by illegal immigrants. Senate changes to the bill give it a wider scope, allowing law enforcement to seize the vehicle of any unlicensed driver, with few exceptions. House agreement to the Senate changes represented final passage of this legislation. If signed by the Governor, this legislation will take effect July 1, 2008.

Representative Jan Jones’ legislation to establish the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. This would offer an alternate route for groups and companies seeking to establish charter schools. In addition to applying to local school boards or the state board of education, this bill would allow petitions to be submitted to a seven member charter commission. This legislation passed.

Lawmakers is now on hiatus until January 2009. Thank you for watching!