Archive for April, 2010

Poor stripped of low-income tax credit refund after all

By Ernie Suggs and Nancy Badertscher

In one of the last votes of the 2010 General Assembly session late Thursday, lawmakers eliminated a low-income tax credit for the poor.

Republicans argued that this would only affect people who pay no income taxes. “If you don’t pay taxes, why should you be getting a refund back?” asked Rep. James Mills (R-Gainesville).

Democrats argued that the low income tax credit was put in place in 1988 when the state sales — paid by all Georgians, regardless of income — was raised by one cent. “If we take this away without full debate, we would be hurting the poorest of the poor,” said Rep. DuBose Porter (D-Dublin), a candidate for governor.

The bill passed the House 97 to 62.

Earlier in the evening, it looked like the low-income credit might survive. The Senate scrapped a bill that maintained the refundable portion of the low-income tax credit for people who earn less than $20,000 annually.  But less than two hours later,  Republicans tacked on an …

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Lorenzo Wallace Sr. closes the door on the Senate after 23 years

It seems appropriate that the Senate was at its most quiet when Lorenzo Wallace Sr. stepped to the rostrum to speak.

For 23 legislative sessions, Wallace has served the Senate as a doorman and finally, sergeant at arms. Thursday marked his retirement.

“I am convinced that I am one of the luckiest persons on the face of the earth,” Wallace said.

Wallace, 90, has been the sergeant at arms for five years. During his first 18 years in the senate he worked as a doorman.

In one of his official duties, he announces special guests when they visit the senate chamber. Thursday afternoon for example, he introduced Gov. Sonny Perdue and led him to the rostrum.

As part of his honor, several senators led Wallace to the speaker’s platform.

“He has always been a calming force on this process,” said Sen. Minority Leader Robert Brown (D-Macon). “From time to time, we can get loud in here. People can try to push the rules. Unauthorized people try to get in. He just quietly moves up to people and …

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Perdue mingles with media, orders refreshments

No one is sure what Gov. Perdue is going to do after his term of governor is up. Journalism maybe.

At about 9:30 p.m., the governor snuck into the Senate’s press gallery to hang out with members of the print media. He promised to look into expanding the cramped Senate quarters, where they have toiled for the past 40 days.

And, in Perdue fashion, he was the center of attention and the life of the little press party.

“Hey Mullis,” he shouted at Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga). “We need two Cokes and a Diet Coke.”

Mullis retreated to the Senate break room and returned with the treats.

Mullis traditionally provides drinks and snacks for members of the media.

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Wiles to crack GOP Whip in the Senate

The Senate has a new majority whip.

Republicans in the senate voted unanimously to elect Sen. John Wiles of Kennesaw to the position.

Wiles, who had been acting whip, had been the chief deputy whip for the 2010 Legislative Session.

He rose to power earlier this month with several members of the GOP were ousted from power after voting against the so-called “sick tax,”

That bill, HB 307, imposes a 1.45 percent hospital tax on patient revenue. Former whip, Mitch Seabaugh of Sharpsburg resigned from his position over the controversial vote.

Since then, Wiles had been the acting whip.

“I’m honored and humbled that my colleagues called me to serve the people of Georgia and the Senate in this leadership role.  I will continue to serve the people of Georgia, my district and the Republican Caucus with conservative values and integrity,” Wiles said.

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So-called “Hustler” bill wins final approval.

The Georgia General Assembly gave final approval late Thursday to  legislation that  would exempt from the Open Records Act any crime-scene photos showing nude or dismembered bodies. The Senate agreed 48-0 to the House amendment for final passage at 11:14 p.m. Thursday.

The bill was prompted by the murder of graduate student Meredith Emerson and a request by a reporter for Hustler magazine for gruesome crime-scene photos. It would not have protected the release of the Emerson photos, but ones in future cases, its sponsor said.

The reporter ultimately dropped the request.

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Governors to perform weddings

Depending on when he signs the bill, for those of you planning nuptials, you might be able to get Sonny Perdue to perform the ceremony.

The Senate voted 43-4 to expand who can conduct wedding ceremonies to include the state’s governor.

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Zero Tolerance bill clears Senate, waiting for governor’s pen

Last semester, Eli Mohone found himself kicked out of his Morgan County school, depressed and labeled dangerous after accidentally bringing a fishing knife – which he reported to authorities – to school.

Now, he is the namesake of a new Georgia law.

The House voted 156-0 to pass SB 299, a bill authored by Sen. Emanuel Jones that changes the state’s policy on “Zero Tolerance” discipline in schools. Jones has dubbed the bill the Eli Mohone Act. It passed the Senate earlier in the session 47-0. The senate, on Thursday, agreed to the House substitute 49-0.

“I am ecstatic about it. It has been a long-hard fight,” Jones said. “This is a tremendous accomplishment for all the kids of Georgia who were subject to harsh zero tolerance rules.”

Jones’ bill gives principals and school systems more discretion in how they handle disciplinary cases in their schools. Jones said the previous use of zero tolerance criminalized students for minor, accidental, or sometimes insignificant …

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Poor to keep low-income tax credit refund

Low-income Georgians got a break Thursday night.

While approving HB 1198, the senate agreed a conference committee recommendation to strip the bill of a controversial amendment that would have eliminated the refundable portion of the low-income tax credit for people who earn less than $20,000 annually.

Those Georgians – about a million, mostly seniors – would continue to receive the refund. The refund was designed to offset sales taxes that the poor pay to the state.

At question was as much as $26 per person annually.

“I am happy that the conference committee felt that removing the refund would be punitive to lower income Georgians,” said Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker).

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Governor says farewell to House

Gov. Sonny Perdue has just bid farewell to House members.  It’s the last day of the last session of his eight-year term in office.  Perdue spoke of the challenges that lawmakers faced this session and of the accomplishments of his tenure in office.

He spoke for 15 minutes, applauding lawmakers for passing water conservation, ethics and transportation bills.

“It’s been a great run,” Perdue said.

To lawmakers, he said: “106 days ago,   I stood right here and gave a charge to all of us, and I asked you to work to do the hard things now for a better tomorrow. It has been painful in some regards …. You’ve done the job.”

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Bill would allow Georgians to opt out of federal healthcare system

A bill that would prohibit mandatory participation in any federal healthcare system is headed to the desk of Gov. Perdue for his signature. The bill, originally proposed as SB 317, was attached as an amendment to SB 411, the Healthy Georgians Act of 2010.

The amendment was part of language originally crafted by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta). Although SB 317 passed the senate, it got stuck in the House.

He said his amendment would protect Georgians “rights on health care choice.”

“I want to thank the entire General Assembly for helping me protect all Georgians from being compelled to participate in the federal healthcare program,” Hill said. “My original bill intended to shield every person in our state from having their basic rights of choice infringed upon by an unwanted government mandate.  With the passage of my measure, we will all continue to enjoy those rights to purchase private or public healthcare, or decline to participate in any healthcare plan at all.”

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