January 30, 2015

After a busy budget week, the legislature reconvened this week for four days and has now completed eight legislative days.  There were 123 bills and 212 resolutions introduced in the House and Senate this week.

The much anticipated transportation funding legislation (HB 170) was introduced yesterday in the House.  This bill proposes an excise tax of 29.2 cents per gallon to replace the current taxing scheme which is a combination of excise and sales taxes amounting to about 27 cents per gallon. A portion of these sales taxes were collected locally and could be spent by on whatever was needed, so eliminating the sales tax will affect cities and counties.  It has been reported that approximately $500 million in local revenues will transfer to the state when the current scheme is replaced by the excise tax.  This bill would allow local governments to levy their own excise tax of up to 3 cents per gallon; however, it requires all that revenue to be spent on transportation.  In order to ensure that drivers of alternative fuel vehicles also help pay for the roads they are using, there would be an annual user fee of $200 for personal vehicles and $300 for commercial vehicles.  Drivers of hybrid vehicles would not pay this fee.  In the FY’16 budget, lawmakers have included $100 million in bonds to fund transit projects in addition to a considerable amount for road and bridge improvements.  The large investment in transit projects should be of interest to Democrats and help spur their support of a transportation funding bill.  Republican leaders have presented this bill as a tax conversion, not a tax increase, though “anti-tax” members of their party may not agree with them.

Other noteworthy bills this week include House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1.  Rep. Allen Peake’s medical marijuana bill (HB 1) had nearly 100 co-sponsors. This bill will decriminalize a particular strain of cannabis oil used to treat various medical disorders.  It was assigned to the House Judiciary Non-Civil committee.  The bill requiring insurance coverage for autism treatments for children who are six years and younger (SB 1) was unanimously passed by the Senate Insurance and Labor committee and then the full Senate.  Passage of this bill was cited as one of the priorities by Senate Republican leadership.  It is opposed by the Georgia Chamber and other business groups as well as the insurers, and Speaker Ralston has expressed concern about the cost to businesses and increase in insurance premiums if this coverage is mandated.  A notable resolution introduced this week is the Constitutional Amendment that would lower the minimum ages for serving in the Senate from 25 to 21 and in the House from 21 to 18 (HR 37).

The House passed the $20.9 billion amended FY ’15 budget (the “little budget”) yesterday then sent it to the Senate.  With the improving economy, the amended budget included an increase of $276 million over the original FY ’15 budget.  The bulk of this increase will go to public schools to cover the growth in enrollment.  Other expenditures include $40 million for economic development grants, $16 million for rising Medicaid costs, $4.9 million to hire additional caseworkers at DFCS, and $4.9 million to begin medical marijuana trials.  As another sign of economic improvement, Appropriations Chairman Terry England announced that the revenue reserve fund is now $862 million.  In committee action, the House Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications committee passed a bill allowing homeowners and businesses to finance the purchase of solar generating equipment (HB 57).  That bill is now in House Rules committee and awaits action by the full House. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions or need information on any legislative issue. All bills can be found on the state’s site, and live action can be watched in the House and Senate chambers when they are in session.

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