March 6, 2015

The General Assembly met for four days this week and has now completed 27 legislative days.  The House and Senate have an unusual schedule next week when they are scheduled to meet on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with recess days between meeting days.  There will be a multitude of committee meetings on these recess days to pass bills so they will have an opportunity to make it to the floor before week’s end.  Friday, March 13, will be the 30th legislative day which is also known as “cross-over” day.  This is typically a long day for House and Senate floor action. Rules are that by the end of Day 30, every bill must have passed the legislative body where it was introduced and “crossed-over” to the other body in order to still be alive for the session.  As expected, this deadline produces a flurry of activity and late hours.


It took much discussion, many revisions, and a lot of stops and starts, but the House finally passed the transportation funding bill (HB 170) yesterday afternoon by a bipartisan vote of 123-46.  There were two amendments offered on the floor, but both failed.  One of the amendments would have lowered the excise tax from 29.2 cents per gallon to 24 cents per gallon.  The other amendment called for voter approval through local referendum before light-rail transit could be constructed in a county.  As passed by the House, HB 170 has been estimated to produce nearly $900 million per year for transportation projects.  It removes the current sales tax on motor fuel and replaces it with an excise tax of 29.2¢ per gallon, imposes annual fees of $200 for private electric vehicles and $300 for commercial electric vehicles, abolishes the state’s $5,000 tax credit for the purchase or lease of electric vehicles, and abolishes the tax credit on jet fuel.  Local government groups which had originally opposed the bill became more accepting after the bill was changed to allow them to increase local option sales taxes from 1% to 1.25%.  HB 170 now moves to the Senate and indications are that many changes will be made in the bill.


In the Senate yesterday afternoon, after a lengthy debate, they voted along party lines to pass Gov. Deal’s plan for the state to take over under-performing schools. This legislative package includes a constitutional amendment (SR 287) and enabling legislation (SB 133) that creates a statewide “Opportunity School District” with a superintendent to be appointed by the governor.  If this package passes both houses, the constitutional amendment will be placed on the 2016 general election ballot and must be approved by Ga. voters in order for the plan to be implemented.  Democrats have opposed the bill due to loss of local control. These bills now go to the House.


After voting to engross the bill so no floor amendments could be added, the Senate also passed the “religious freedom” bill (SB 129) that has been widely reported in the press.  Senator Josh McKoon, the bill’s author, said the bill is needed to protect individual freedoms; however, opponents have said that it encourages discrimination.


Two gun bills were introduced this week by a freshman House member.  One bill would allow guns on college campuses (HB 544) and the other would eliminate the requirement for persons to have a weapons permit and would instead make these permits voluntary (HB 543).  Both of these bills have been assigned to the House Public Safety and Homeland Safety committee.


In committee action, House Motor Vehicles voted to table a bill that would allow Tesla to continue selling its vehicles directly to the public without going through a dealer (HB 393), and Senate Health and Human Services passed a very narrow medical marijuana bill that calls for a state-run five-year study of Georgia citizens who have epilepsy and are under 18 years of age (SB 185).


On a lighter side, Rep. Joe Wilkinson announced that he is sponsoring legislation to name the official state dog.  Instead of choosing one breed, he is highlighting “adoptable dogs” in an effort to promote rescuing and adopting dogs from shelters and the need for having pets spayed and neutered. (HB 561)


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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