February 23, 2018

After taking off Monday for President’s Day, the General Assembly met Tuesday through Friday this week and has now completed 26 legislative days.  Next Wednesday will be Day 28 which is “crossover day.”  All bills that have not passed either the House or Senate by the end of Day 28 will be considered dead for the session and the only way they would be able to progress is to be attached onto another bill that had passed House or Senate and are therefore still alive.

Chief Justice Harris Hines delivered his State of the Judiciary speech on Thursday and noted that he will retire later this year.  He expressed appreciation for Governor Deal and legislators for passing criminal justice reform, and he called criminal justice reform a hallmark of Deal’s administration.  He thanked House Judiciary Chairs Wendell Willard and Rich Golick, who are not seeking reelection, for their service.  Chief Justice Harris proudly declared that every judicial circuit in Georgia now has at least one accountability court and he recited moving examples of how these courts have helped its participants.  He urged legislators to pass alternatives to cash bail for defendants who don’t have the ability to pay, and he ended his speech hinting that Presiding Justice Harold Melton would succeed him as Chief Justice.

The House passed a tax reform bill in response to the Congress-approved federal tax overhaul (HB 918).  This bill would cut the state’s top individual and corporate income tax rate from 6% to 5.75% next year then to 5.5% in 2020 upon legislature approval, and it would double the current standard deduction for taxpayers and eliminate the state sales tax on jet fuel.

The House passed revisions to the title ad valorem tax, TAVT, (HB 327) so that persons buying used cars will pay taxes based on the sales price instead of the book value.  The bill also lowers the sales tax rate on motor vehicles from 7% to 6.75% and reduces to 4% the fee that persons moving to Georgia will pay to register their cars here.

The House also passed legislation based on recommendations from Speaker Ralston’s Rural Development Study Committee:  HB 769 establishes a Center for Rural Healthcare Innovation and allows creation of “micro hospitals” and  HB 827 increases the rural hospital tax credit from 90% to 100% for donations made to faltering rural hospitals.

The House Judiciary Civil committee passed a constitutional amendment (HR 993) that would create a business court with statewide jurisdiction.  The House Judiciary Non-Civil committee passed Rep. John Carson’s distracted driving bill (HB 673) that prohibits the handling of any cellphone or wireless device while driving, although cell use would be allowed for drivers who are using hands-free technology.

The Senate unanimously passed Sen. Gooch’s broadband legislation, “Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act” (SB 402), that proposes using rights of way on highways and state-owned roads for broadband lines.  It also authorizes One Georgia to dispense grants of state and federal funds, calls for local governments to streamline the permitting process for broadband providers, and provides a tax exemption on equipment purchased by broadband providers to serve rural counties that are currently unserved or underserved.

The Senate Judiciary committee passed more recommendations from Governor Deal’s Criminal Justice Reform Council in SB 407 that requires a judge to consider a criminal defendant’s financial resources and obligations when setting bail for a misdemeanor offense. The bill also gives courts discretion to allow defendants to satisfy the payment of probation fees with community service.

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