February 12-- Three area legislators provide their perspectives on activity last week in the Georgia General Assembly.
State Senator Blake Tillery of Vidalia
The fifth week in the Senate pushed us closer to the halfway point of the 2018 Legislative Session, as we are just two legislative days away from the 20 day mark. Before this week, we just thought we were busy. Now we know this session is in full swing. Monday was a huge day for many of our state’s most vulnerable. HB 159, the Adoption Bill, was in the Senate for movement. We have held no short of five committee hearings and six working group meetings on this bill alone. The bill is substantially different from the bill as it originated and as it finally passed the House. And that’s the way this process works. In the end, however, we all agree this bill was meant to help Georgia families solve Georgia’s problem of finding permanent, loving homes for 14,000 children in foster care across our state and it does just that.
One of the compromises we were able to come to with the House concerned the age at which a person in Georgia could adopt. Currently, one must be at least 25 years old, however the House suggested lowering the age to 21. We were able to agree that the adoption age for single adults should remain at 25, but should be lowered to the age of 21 in cases of family member adoptions. Another compromise was reached concerning the revocation period for the surrender of parental rights. Under current law, a birth mother has 10 days to “undo” the surrender of her child. The House wanted to allow a revocation of this 10 day period at any time after 24-hours after the birth (confusing, I know, but think about it as a “double-negative” or “waiver of a waiver”). The Senate suggested the waiver period could not begin until 72-hours after surrender, giving a birth mother at least 3 days to rethink her decision to give up her child. We were able to reach a consensus by scraping the waiver altogether (doing away with the “double negative”), and creating an unwaivable 96 hour period for a birth mother to rethink the surrender of her child.
A fantastic bill I was happy to see pass the Senate this week was Senate Bill 338. Checks and balances are important in every branch of government, but the House and Senate are only in session from January until around March. This makes it difficult to keep tabs on what rules and regulations agencies are implementing in Atlanta the rest of the year. Often times these rules and regulations exceed the scope and desires of legislation they purport to assist. SB 338 checks the power of agencies by strengthening a mechanism for setting aside agency rules or regulations that go too far. I proposed a floor amendment to further strengthen legislative oversight of runaway agency rules and regulations which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.
As more legislation is now moving, the number of you reaching out to me is growing daily as well. I appreciate that, and I try my best to respond personally to each of you. Many of you have called me about House legislation, particularly HB 778 concerning CTAE programs. In my brief tenure at the state legislature, I’ve learned one thing – legislation changes on a regular basis up here. A floor amendment, committee substitute or even the insertion of a comma or period can alter a bill in its entirety. For example, last year a constituent called to ask me to vote for a certain house bill. The same constituent called me back 10 days later and asked me to vote against this very same measure! What she was in favor of before was now completely different!
Your calls and emails are valued and we keep a tally of those here. Please just remember what you saw on a particular bill number a week ago may not be on the bill being considered now. Suffice it to say with reasonable certainty what you see in one chamber will likely be very different when it reaches the other. At my last check, 853 bills had been filed in the House and 390 had been filed in the Senate just this session. Few of these will ever reach the Senate floor. Even fewer will pass both chambers. Fewest, if any, will look exactly the same as introduced if and when they reach the Governor’s desk.
Our community also experienced a great loss this week. Telfair County Commissioner Arthur “Skip” Moore passed away unexpectedly Wednesday morning. He was 54 years old. I got to know Commissioner Moore when I was a county commissioner. I will miss his friendship and our hearts go out to his wife, Virginia and his family.
As always, please let me know if you are headed to the Capitol. I’d love to see you. All of our page positions are now full, but sometimes cancellations happen, so feel free to still call. My office will do our best to help your child experience their government in action.
State Representative Greg Morris of Vidalia
Taxes and spending, or how elected officials collect and spend your money, should be the top concern of all citizens. I will dedicate this column to the more important measures being proposed.
Federal Tax Reform. I want you to be aware that the state does have to address a potential windfall that could be detrimental to Georgia taxpayers due to the much needed tax cuts coming from Washington. The state stands to collect $3.6 billion over the next five years in extra revenue from the new federal tax bill. That figure could be much higher though. That is because the new tax law eliminates many of the deductions we have used to lower our state tax bills. Simply put, the new federal law will cause taxpayers to most likely use the standard federal deduction rather than itemized deductions that lowered state taxable income. Nobody but tax preparers ever pay attention to the annual bill that adopts federal tax law changes into the Georgia state tax code, but this one is crucial. Governor Deal has indicated he would not address the subject in this annual bill, but would consider signing a separate bill on the subject. Unless the Legislature makes some changes you may pay less in federal taxes and much more in state taxes. I support changes to make the state revenue neutral so all Georgians can enjoy the benefits of President Trump’s historic tax cut.
Jet Fuel Exemption. Also part of Gov. Deal’s bill would re-instate the sales tax exemption on jet fuel the Legislature eliminated a few years ago. Currently, Georgia has the 4th highest such tax in the country, while some of our competitors for jobs like North Carolina have no tax at all. I know it might not seem right that large corporations like Delta reap millions in savings for these targeted tax breaks. I plan to support the measure because I believe it can create more jobs in Georgia. Lower fuel costs will cause Delta to keep and provide more direct international flights out of Atlanta. In a moment of surprising candor, a top financial tech CEO told me he brought his 1400 jobs to Georgia because direct flights from Atlanta to Asia cut his monthly travel from 17 to 9 days. Who could blame him?
State Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville
FIRST HALF OF SESSION APPROACHES-MAJOR LEGISLATION PASSING
As the midpoint of the 40 day Session approaches, committees began to consider some of the major legislation in both Houses and some important legislation reached each floor. The Amended Budget is nearing completion as the Senate version will be considered and differences will be worked out with the House. The House is hard at work considering the FY 2019 Budget.
--HB 159, The Adoption Bill-- In the Senate's version, the birth mother had 10 days to reclaim a child who has been placed with an adoptive family or if 21 years or older had the option to permanently waive those parental rights at birth. House Amendments remove the birth mother's option to waive parental rights and shorten the 10 day reclamation period to 4 days. At least 6 months state residency is required. Allows for payment of birth parents' expenses and legal fees in both private and agency adoptions. Allows parents to temporarily delegate parental authority through a power of attorney to a relative or approved non-relative.
PASSED BY THE SENATE THIS WEEK
--SB 331-- Lottery winners of over $250,000 can get anonymity if they request confidentiality in writing.
--SB 333-- Allows local governments to create deferred compensation plans for employees and allows automatic enrollments.
--HB 38-- Expands Veterans Licenses to Georgia residents who served in the National Guard and Reserves in any state. Removes a requirement of Georgia residency at time of enlistment.
--SB 118-- Mandates private insurance coverage of autism in children up to 12 years. Caps per policy payout at $30,000 per year and exempts small business with 15 or less employees.
--SB 352-- Establishes a Commission on Substance Abuse and Recovery. Felonizes patient brokering− years of imprisonment and monetary fines increase with the numbers of patients illegally brokered. Increases the penalties for insurance fraud when drug testing elderly, disabled, or addicted individuals.
--SB 197-- Prohibits the passage of any type of legislation letting individuals receive creditable service in state retirement systems without paying full actuarial cost
--SB 328-- Sets an expiration date of December 31, 2018 for three little-utilized income tax credits: federal qualified transportation fringe benefits, private driver education courses, and diesel particulate emission reduction technology equipment.
--SB 338-- Amends the information state agencies must include in a 30-day notice of intent when proposing new rules or regulations. Makes it easier for the legislature to override or postpone new proposed rules or regulations.
PASSED BY THE HOUSE AND NOW IN THE SENATE
--HB 700-- Allows members of the Georgia National Guard enrolled in graduate programs receive service cancelable educational loans.
--HB 728-- Changes effective date to January 1, 2018 for Public Education Innovation Fund Foundation to implement tax credits for private donations. Donations would fund grants for public schools.
--HB 756-- Changes from December 31 to "180 days after fiscal year end" the deadline by which local governments must publish tax proceeds information from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes (SPLOST).
PASSED OUT OF SENATE COMMITTEES
--HB 275-- Removes prohibition on hunting without a wildlife management area license. Requires boats used for body or wake surfing be equipped with a wide angle mirror to monitor the safety of surfers in the wake. Prohibits boats with an outboard, stern drive, or inboard/outboard engine from creating wake for the purpose of body or wake surfing
--SB 17-- Allows restaurants in cities or counties that allow Sunday sales to sell alcohol starting at 11:00 A.M. instead of the present 12:30 P.M.
--SB 378-- Requires the state auditor to conduct an economic analysis before a tax exemption or tax credit bill can be introduced, amended, or adopted by the House or Senate.
--SB 370-- Increases carve-out of estate value to $25,000 before state seizes for Medicaid repayment. Would be repealed if Federal Agency disallows
Full transcripts of bills may be found at http://www.legis.ga.gov/en-US/default.aspx . Simply type the bill number into the box at the top left-hand corner of the screen and specify if it is in the House or the Senate. The FY 2018 budget (H.B. 44) may be found at http://www.senate.ga.gov/sbeo/en-US/AppropriationsDocuments.aspx. As always, I welcome any questions you may have.
I may be reached at
234 State Capitol, Atlanta , GA 30334
(404) 656-5038 (phone)
(404) 657-7094 (fax)
Or Call Toll-Free at
1-800-367-3334 Day or Night
Reidsville office: (912) 557-3811