March 20, 2015

After being in recess on Monday and Tuesday, the legislature reconvened and was in session three days.  Most of the floor action this week focused on recognition and invitation resolutions.  Among visitors to the General Assembly were former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, singer/performer Ludacris, and a group of Special Olympians who will be representing Georgia on the National Team.  We have now completed 33 legislative days.  The legislature will be in session five days next week.

 

House and Senate committees were busy perfecting bills for possible floor action before the end of the session. The Senate Health & Human Services committee amended then passed Rep. Peake’s medical marijuana bill (HB 1 SCS).  This Senate committee substitute is more expansive than the Senate’s original medical marijuana bill that passed earlier because it includes eight of the nine medical conditions in the original HB 1 and it also includes the state clinical trial for children with epilepsy from SB 185.  Sen. McKoon’s “religious freedom” legislation (SB 129) is scheduled for a hearing in a House Judiciary subcommittee next Tuesday.

 

While floor activity may have started slowly, the Senate finished the week by tackling two important items, the FY 2016 budget and the transportation funding bill.

 

Friday morning, the Senate passed its version of the $21.8 billion FY 2016 budget.  One of the major differences between this version and the House version that passed earlier is the issue of judicial pay raises.  The Senate Appropriations committee has approved 4% raises for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges and 2% raises for all Superior Court Judges regardless of their local salary supplements.  The budget will now go to a conference committee that will work out an agreement between House and Senate.

 

The Senate committee substitute to the transportation funding bill (HB 170 SCS) is considerably different from the House version. The Senate substitute calls for the current state sales tax on fuel to be replaced by a 24¢/gallon excise tax on gas and diesel.  It also calls for a $5.00 daily fee on automobile rentals, an annual impact fee of $25 for passenger vehicles and $50 for trucks and busses to be added to vehicle tag renewals, and instruction for future General Assemblies to make annual payments of $250 million toward debt service for DOT.  Local governments would be allowed to continue collecting sales taxes on fuel without restrictions on how to spend the revenue. The substitute leaves in place the following provisions in the original bill: $200 annual fee for personal electric vehicles, $300 annual fee for commercial electric vehicles, elimination of the state sales tax exemption on aviation fuel, and elimination of the $5,000 state tax credit for electric vehicle purchases.  The Senate debated this bill for several hours then passed it by a vote of 29-25, mostly along party lines, after making several changes.  The changes in the Senate-passed version include removing the $25 and $50 annual impact fees and creating a Special Joint Committee on Ga. Revenue Structure (HB 170 APS).  The bill will now go to a conference committee that will work out an agreement between the House and Senate.

 

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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