January 9, 2015

The 2015 Georgia General Assembly Session will begin Monday, January 12, with the swearing in of legislators and state constitutional officers. This first week will be busy with ceremonial events as well as routine administrative procedures, like legislators receiving their committee appointments and office assignments. Governor Deal will give his State of the State address in the House Chamber on Wednesday morning at 11:00, and the Gubernatorial Inaugural Reception will be held on Thursday evening.

There was a special election this past Tuesday for two House seats which resulted in a need for run-off elections on February 3. The run-off election for House District 50 will be between two former Johns Creek City Council members: Kelly Stewart and Brad Raffensperger. This was the seat vacated by Rep. Lynne Riley when she resigned to become Commissioner for the Georgia Department of Revenue. There will also be a run-off in House District 120 between financial advisor Trey Rhodes and retired attorney Jesse Copelan. This seat was vacated by Rep. Mickey Channell, former Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, who resigned due to health reasons. Including the winners from these two districts, there will be a total of 16 new members in the House.

There is a pretty significant turnover in the Senate with 10 freshmen members out of 56 total Senate seats.

Two of the main issues dominating this legislative session will be education funding and transportation funding. The good news is that there was a reported increase in tax collections of 5.7% for the first six months of the current fiscal year which began on July 1. There was a reasonable increase in education spending in last year’s budget, and with the improving economy, another increase in education spending is anticipated. The Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding released its final report last week and mentioned several options for increasing transportation funding, such as an overall 1% sales tax increase or a motor fuels tax increase. They estimated an additional $1B to $1.5B will be needed to maintain existing infrastructure and that up to $5.4B may be needed for new road construction and transit expansion. These expenditures will not be possible without additional revenue.

Other legislative issues that may advance this session are approval of medical marijuana for specified medical conditions, a slight increase in the cap on the state’s tax credit for private school scholarship funds, regulation of ride-sharing services like Uber, and limited direct sales of alcoholic beverages where they are brewed.

Issues that we do not anticipate moving forward this session include state Medicaid expansion, legislation that would allow firearms on college campuses, regulation of autonomous vehicles, and an increase in the minimum wage.

Beginning next week, we will be sending weekly updates for the session. As always, please do not hesitate to contact any of us if you have questions or need information on any legislative issue. All bills can be found on the state’s legislative web site, and live action can be watched in the House and Senate chambers when they are in session.

 

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