February 27, 2015

While inclement weather forced the cancellation of committee meetings and closing of the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, the legislature met as scheduled for four days this week and finished their 23rd legislative day yesterday.  We passed the midway point on Monday and are now on the downhill side of this 40-day session.  The legislature will reconvene on Monday, March 2, and work four days next week.


Both the amended FY 2015 budget and the bill allowing the Georgia Ports Authority to indemnify the federal government on the Savannah harbor project (SB 5) have passed the House and Senate and have been signed by Governor Deal.  Several other bills have gotten substantial press coverage; following is a brief description and status of each one at this point in the session.  A bill to allow brewpubs and craft brewers to sell their beer on premises for off-premise consumption remains in committee (SB 63). A requirement for insurers to cover autism treatments for children six years and younger passed the Senate and was heard in the House Insurance committee on Wednesday of this week (SB 1).  A plan to replace the current method of legal remedy, medical malpractice lawsuits, with a patient compensation panel remains in committee (SB 86).  A bill allowing the treatment of nine specified illnesses with medical marijuana passed the House on Wednesday by a vote of 157-2 (HB 1).  There are two bills about ride-share services like Uber or Lyft, and hearings have been held on both of these bills but they remain in committee (HB 190/HB 224).  A reduction in the time period for early voting from 21 to 10 days passed the House Governmental Affairs committee and is now awaiting action by the House Rules committee (HB 194).


The $21.8 billion FY 2016 budget passed the House yesterday and is now in the Senate where it will be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee.  The FY ‘16 budget is nearly $1 billion more than the current year’s budget and almost 75 percent of the increase will go toward education.  Also included are pay raises for all judges of the state’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals as well as raises for the lowest paid Superior Court Judges.  The budget also includes bonds to fund $100 million to repair or replace dangerous bridges, $100 million for transit projects, and $200 million in new transportation projects.


The transportation funding bill (HB 170CS) passed out of the House Transportation committee last week but was sent back to that committee upon request by Rep. Jay Roberts, the bill’s author.  Rep. Roberts is continuing to work with county commissioners and the municipal association to address their concerns about the loss of tax revenue to local governments.  We anticipate the bill may be back before the Rules committee next week.  This bill must pass the House by the end of next week (Day 30) in order to still be alive for this session.


A major tax reform bill was introduced on Tuesday by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta).  The bill would reduce the state’s income tax for individuals and businesses 2% over a three-year period starting in 2016 and would increase the state’s sales tax 1% starting January 1, 2017.  It would also reinstate the sales taxes on groceries and eliminate some, but not all, of the tax breaks affecting individuals and businesses (HB 445).  This bill is not expected to pass this session but is intended to open the dialogue on tax reform.


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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