Archive for March, 2010

House passes watered-down jobs bill

The House has approved HB 1023 the long-sought jobs bill, but by watering-down the capital gains tax cut, the bill lost much of its opposition.

An amendment to the bill makes it so the state must have $1 billion in reserves before the capital gains tax — levied against the sale of stocks, bonds and some luxury goods — is cut.

The bill passed by a vote of 154-8 with little discussion.

Gov. Sonny Perdue vetoed a similar bill last year, but has been on board this time around because of the safeguards requiring the state to have rebuilt its reserves. Those reserves are largely spent now as the state deals with the lingering effects of a devastating recession.

The bill gives a small tax credit to businesses that hire unemployed workers.

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House would let C-Tran join MARTA

The House overwhelmingly passed a bill to help Clayton County bus riders, who are about to see their transit service close down completely on Wednesday.

By a vote of 142 to 14, the House voted to raise the county’s sales tax cap, opening the door for the county to join MARTA by levying an additional 1 percent sales tax, if it chooses to do that.

Last year people took just over 2 million rides on the county’s bus service, C-Tran.  The Clayton County board of commissioners, facing a budget shortfall for C-Tran as well as the overall county budget, voted 4-1 to shut the bus service down.  About two-thirds of C-Tran riders say they have no access to a car.

Joining MARTA would require both a referendum and a county commission vote, said sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale).  That commission vote might come from the same group of people who voted to shut down the service.

Abdul-Salaam has also introduced a bill (HB 1446) that would call for a …

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Ad valorem tax bill passes Senate

In one of the final bills of the day, the Senate voted to remove the quarter mil state ad valorem tax. SB 517 passed 31-14.

Earlier in the day, Democrats blocked SR 1287, which would have been a Constitutional Amendment, which would have done the same thing. Because SR 1287 was a Constitutional Amendment, it required two-thirds vote in the Senate and the House before going to the voters.

“This bill eliminates the state’s portion of a tax on the American Dream, which is home ownership,” said State Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen). “Homeowners need as much financial relief as possible and should not be over taxed.”

The State of Georgia currently levies an ad valorem tax on all property, and is a component of local property tax bills.  The state millage rate is a quarter mil (.25/$1,000 assessed value).

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Schaefer, husband dead House member says

Former state Sen. Nancy Schaefer and her husband are dead, it was announced from the House floor.

No details were provided. The deaths were announced by state Rep. Rick Austin (R-Demorest) and House members immediately stood for a moment of silence at about 7:35 p.m.

“Nancy Schaefer was a great lady, and she served Georgia and her constituents with honor and grace,” Austin told House members.

In addition to serving in the Senate, Schaefer was a one-time candidate for state school superintendent.

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Senate paves way for Georgians to buy health insurance across state lines

Two days after the Senate tabled a bill that would have allowed the interstate purchase of cheaper health insurance, Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) had it placed at the end of the Crossover Day calendar.

And SB 407 passed 29-16.

“My focus is on those people with no access to health care and no access to mandates,” Hill said. “If we give them the opportunity to buy affordable health insurance those people will be better off.”

Hill argued that his insurance bill would allow Georgians with no insurance to be able to other states and buy it cheaper. He said the bill would “ignite competition,” to bring insurance rates down. Wyoming is the only state in the county that currently allows the practice.

“This bill is for the big insurance companies,” said Steve Thompson (D-Marietta). “I have seen every major insurance lobbyist in the state out there in the hall today.”

Thompson was livid after the vote, which closed out Crossover Day in the Senate. He tried to call …

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Senate opens door for music and sports hall of fames to bolt Macon

A simple Senate bill to reduce the size of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame board and give the governor more power to replace the body on a whim, morphed into legislation that could see the sports hall and the Music Hall of Fame move out of Macon.

An amendment to the bill, authored by Republican Chip Pearson of Dawsonville, calls on the state to actively seek “proposals for a new location or alternative ownership, management and operation at the same location,” for both of the halls.

SB 523, which also calls for more collaboration between the two halls, passed unanimously.

Pearson, who chairs the economic development committee, said the goal of the amendment is to send out a message that the state may be interested in seeking alternate funding for the halls.

He said no group or person has come forth to express interest in the halls.

“There may be a white knight out there that doesn’t even know this thing exists,” Dawson said. “We’re hoping that this will pique …

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House wants schools funding option

Voters could give school systems a new source of revenue under legislation that cleared the House on Friday by a vote of 136 to 19. The legislation calls for a constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters, would broaden the uses for the education sales tax, also referred to as the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax or ESPLOST). Currently, the money has to be earmarked for construction projects. But the constitutional amendment would allow school boards to put before local voters an ESPLOST that would earmark the proceeds to pay maintenance and operation expenses or reduce property rates, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Butch Parrish (R-Swainsboro).

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Senate: restore status of DOT transit and intermodal work

The state Senate has cleaned up some business from last year’s transportation reorganization, passing a bill (SB 520) that would restore Division status to the state Department of Transportation’s group that works on mass transit, rail and other alternatives to roads, the Intermodal office.

Last year’s law laid out the divisions within DOT, and since it didn’t mention the Intermodal Division, DOT officials said they had to take away its status as a division.  Advocates for intermodal programs at DOT raised concerns at the time, saying it was more than bureaucratic semantics and would diminish the program’s power to get things done even more.  They have a hard enough time since the state’s gas tax legally can only be spent on roads and bridges.

Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna), who works on non-transportation matters for a consultant that also does transportation work for the state, said that he went to Washington and met with the administration’s top transportation officials.  …

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House: Ethics disclosure rules apply to DOT board

The House of Representatives has approved a bill (HB 1242) that would make it clear that state Transportation Board members serve under the same ethics disclosure rules as legislators.

They must file personal disclosure forms. And lobbyists that buy them meals, travel or gifts must file reports on it, said the bill’s sp0nsor, Rep. Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming).  Some believed the board members already fell under such rules, but not all thought so and not all board members followed them, Hamilton said.

The bill passed 158-0.

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House votes to levy new tax on hospitals

After an extended, and sometimes heated, debate, the Georgia House has voted to enact a new 1.45 percent tax on hospital patient revenues, a move estimated to raise $169 million for Medicaid.

With the state’s hospitals on board, the House approved the move after first agreeing to exempt physician-owned surgical centers. That amendment lowered the revenue estimate by $6 million.

The vote on the overall bill was 141-23.

But the debate wasn’t as easy as the vote count. Rep. Mark Hatfield (R-Waycross) said he signed a pledge not to raise taxes and warned other lawmakers who also signed the pledge not to do so. Hatfield then took the unusual step of naming the names of many lawmakers who had signed the pledge. His doing so brought a gasp and a few boos from the House, where it’s generally considered a no-no to name names.

“There’s only one label you can apply to this rag of a bill,” Hatfield said. “And that is a tax increase.”

But, ultimately, the bill passed as lawmakers realized …

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