February 15, 2013

Capitol Partners

Public Affairs & Government Relations

Newly elected Republican legislators, Senator Dean Burke and Rep. Scot Turner, were sworn into office this week.  With the addition of Senator Burke, the Republicans now have a super-majority in the Senate, which means they have 2/3’s of the 56 seats and can vote as a block to adopt constitutional amendments without seeking bipartisan support.

Yesterday Governor Deal signed the hospital provider fee bill (SB 24).  This bill, which authorizes the Board of Community Health to renew the hospital provider fee, is of crucial importance to the state’s budget as it will allow the state to draw matching federal funds of over $400M for the state’s Medicaid program.  It was supported by the Ga. Chamber of Commerce as well as hospital groups.  It was feared that several hospitals in rural areas would have to shut down without the Medicaid payments

In other Senate action, they passed legislation allowing superior court judges to issue statewide wiretap warrants (HB 55).  This was in response to the recent Ga. Supreme Court ruling that wiretap orders must be issued by judges who have jurisdiction where the listening posts are sited. This bill passed the House last week and passed the Senate on Tuesday.  It now goes to Governor Deal for his signature.  They also passed legislation that would allow licensed professional counselors to involuntarily commit patients for 72 hours if the patient poses a threat to himself or others (SB 65).  Senator Unterman said extending the privilege to include this group would help in rural areas where there are few, if any, psychiatrists or other mental health care specialists.

The House Judiciary committee held two hearings this week on the extensive juvenile justice reform bill, HB 242, authored by House Judiciary Chair Wendell Willard.  Among other things, this legislation seeks to divert non-violent offenders from the costly juvenile prison system to community-based programs.  Governor Deal is fully supportive of this bill and has included $5M in his FY ’14 budget for these programs.

The House Rules Committee heard, but did not vote on, the latest versions of two ethics bills authored by Speaker David Ralston (HB 142 and HB 143).  We expect House action on these bills next week.

The House passed revisions to the tax reform legislation that was passed last year. This bill (HB 80) seeks to correct some unexpected consequences of last year’s legislation as well as provide implementation terms that were not included in that bill.  Beginning on March 1 of this year, all vehicles purchased or leased in the state will fall under these new tax rules.  Also, purchasers of any vehicle(s) last year may opt-in to this new system.  Under this new system, the annual vehicle ad valorem tax and one-time sales tax on vehicles will be replaced with a one-time title tax that is 6.5% of the vehicle’s value.  After passing HB 80, it was immediately transmitted to the Senate.  This legislation needs to be passed by both houses and signed by the Governor before March 1 when the tax reform bill from last year takes effect.

The final three DOT Board elections occurred this week.  Athens businessman Jamie Boswell defeated former Representative Bobby Parham, who was running for his second DOT Board term, in district 10. Former Representative Roger Williams was unopposed and will represent district 14, and incumbent DOT Board member Emily Dunn was re-elected without opposition in district 9.  There are now six former legislators on the DOT Board.

We have completed 18 legislative days. The General Assembly will reconvene on Tuesday of next week and is scheduled to work through Friday.

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