We returned to the Gold Dome on Monday, March 2nd for the 24th day of the 2015 legislative session. This week, we considered several key pieces of legislation. These bills all address important issues facing our great state, so we reviewed each measure thoroughly and voted on many bills on the House floor.
One of the most significant bills of the Session passed the House last week, House Bill 170. I voted against this legislation for several reasons, but the most compelling reason is its adverse impact on Butts County citizens. HB 170, as currently drafted, will redirect over $1.7 million in sales tax currently collected by Butts County on motor fuel (gas and diesel) to the State. Butts County and its cities derive over 53% of their operating revenue from sales tax on motor fuel. According to county and city officials, this loss in revenue will result in a significant property tax increase, substantial cut in necessary public services, or a combination of both. While I support a shift in the tax code to ensure that users of our roads are paying for the maintenance of our roads, this particular approach deals a crippling blow to the property taxpayers, businesses and citizens of Butts County. My intention is to continue working with leadership in the House and members of the Senate to eliminate the impacts on Butts County.
With that said, let me tell you what HB 170 does assuming it makes it through the Senate without change which is not likely. Transportation improvements have long struggled to match Georgia’s rapid economic progress, resulting in too many roads and bridges that are now in need of critical maintenance. HB 170, or the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, is an attempt to address the critical and urgent need for funding for Georgia’s transportation infrastructure needs. HB 170 seeks to raise just under a billion dollars for maintenance and repair of our state’s bridges and roadways, many of which have been deemed functionally obsolete and structurally deficient; therefore, these funds are crucial to guarantee that our roads and infrastructures are safe for Georgia drivers. Well-maintained roads and bridges will enhance safety and quality of life for our citizens, and should assist with economic development in most of Georgia. Safety and economic development, however, are dependent upon money actually being spent in our counties. As for Butts County in particular, the resulting property tax increase and/or loss of services will greatly discourage new economic development opportunities and may even drive existing businesses away.
If you are interested in the details of how HB 170 works, read on. It provides funding through a variety of measures, including the conversion of the state sales tax on motor fuel to a straight excise tax that will be dedicated to transportation. This excise tax will initially be set at 29.2 cents per gallon, which approximates the sales tax rate that has been imposed on gasoline using a weighted average of the price of gasoline over the previous four years. Unlike the current gas tax, which is a 4% sales tax that varies with the cost of gas, the flat excise tax will provide a more stable alternative. This tax conversion will provide a dedicated, predictable, and steady funding source and a long term solution to our state’s transportation funding issues. Not only will the excise tax conversion provide the necessary funding for transportation maintenance and improvement, it also will help ensure gas taxes remain constant between counties and through periods of high spikes in gas prices.
Additional revenue for our transportation needs will come from a significant bond package that will go towards funding for the 128 transit systems across Georgia. Funding for our transit systems will enable more communities across our state to take advantage of public transportation options. This bond package is a practical way to provide more immediate funding for our transportation needs, while leveraging the state’s high credit.
Other funding sources in the Transportation Funding Act include the establishment of a user fee for alternative fueled vehicles of $200 for non-commercial and $300 for commercial vehicles each year. As these vehicles do not use gasoline, their owners do not currently pay their share of taxes devoted to the maintenance of the roads they use. This fee will provide equality among those who drive on our roads. HB 170 will also eliminate the state tax credit for the purchase of alternative fueled vehicles, as well as the state tax credit on jet fuel, which was established several years ago in a struggling economy, where companies were in jeopardy of bankruptcy. Furthermore, the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank will grant preference for loans to be given to tier 1 and tier 2 counties, as well as to eligible projects with local financial assistance.
In addition to HB 170, the House passed another piece of legislation to better ensure safety on Georgia’s highways and roads. HB 190 requires appropriate automobile insurance for drivers in transportation network companies, such as Uberand Lyft. Currently, many of these drivers are offering ride-share services to the public with their personal auto policy, which does not cover commercial activity when the vehicle is being used for hire. Because personal insurance policies will not cover any damages or losses if a vehicle is being used for commercial use, drivers have gaps in insurance coverage, which puts both the driver and passenger at risk in the event of an accident. HB 190 addresses this disparity in coverage by requiring the transportation network company or the driver to purchase a commercial motor vehicle insurance policy that maintains $1 million in insurance coverage for drivers anytime they are logged into the company system, regardless if any passengers are on board. The legislation also requires at least $300,000 in coverage for bodily injury or death and $50,000 for property damage. HB 190 takes the necessary steps to protect the many Georgians who drive or ride with companies like Uber and Lyft.
House Bill 325 also passed this week to improve transportation safety in Georgia. HB 325 expands seat belt laws by requiring vans that have 15 passenger capacities to wear seat belts. Under current law, safety belts are only required for vans that carry 10 passengers or fewer. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study, approximately 1,111 fatalities occurred between 1990 and 2002 as a result of crashes involving 15 passenger vans, and the study found that 80% of those who died were not wearing seat belts. These are hundreds of lives that could have potentially been saved by the simple act of buckling a seat belt. HB 325 draws attention to this important issue, and will make drivers and passengers on Georgia’s roads more aware of the need to buckle up, ultimately saving lives.
Another life-saving bill passed this week was House Bill 210, which allows Georgia citizens to qualify for organ donation by utilizing state issued I.D. cards. Currently, organ donor status is listed on drivers’ licenses, but not on state issued I.D. cards. HB 210 changes this, so that more people can become organ donors, regardless of their eligibility to drive in Georgia. It is important that we encourage public education and awareness of the value and lifesaving ability of organ donation, and I hope that HB 210 allows for more citizens to engage in this discussion and process.
In addition to passing several measures related to our state’s transportation system, the House also passed a bill to improve the health and safety of our children. House Bill 362 ensures that schools are well equipped to treat students with asthma by allowing schools to obtain and stock levalbuterol sulfate, a medication commonly used to treat asthma. Under HB 362, any school employee who is trained in recognizing symptoms of respiratory distress could administer the medication to students. Asthma is such a common illness and schools should be prepared to help our children handle these types of emergencies.
Another issue that our schools must be prepared to manage is illiteracy. To combat illiteracy, Governor Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal announced Read Across Georgia Month, a campaign to make reading more fun for Georgia’s children. As a part of the celebrations, First Lady Deal visited the House and introduced a new Pre-K book, TJ’s Discovery, which was written by teachers at the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School. This book will be given as a gift to every student in Georgia’s Pre-K program and helps teach parents and caregivers how to make reading come alive to the children in their lives. I commend our First Lady for her diligent efforts to help Georgia’s children develop a lifelong love of reading.
Finally, this week we took some time to recognize John Smoltz, a former pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and honoree in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition to being named an eight-time All Star, Smoltz is the only pitcher in major league history to top both 200 wins and 150 saves. Smoltz was honored before the Georgia House of Representatives with House Resolution 343 for his accomplishments both on and off the field. I’m proud that such an outstanding athlete and citizen claims Georgia as his home state.
Next week will be an extremely busy week at the Georgia State Capitol. On Friday, March 13, we are scheduled to complete the 30th legislative day, which is also known as “Crossover Day.” Crossover Day is the last date in which a piece of legislation must pass at least one of the General Assembly’s two chambers. With this deadline in mind, we will work diligently to pass legislation through the House chamber. I hope that you will contact me during this crucial week, so that I can address any concerns you might have. You can visit me or call my office at the State Capitol. The number is 404-656-0213. I look forward to hearing from you.
The state House recently honored John Smoltz! He played 21 seasons in MLB for three teams, all but one of which were spent with the Atlanta Braves!
On Tuesday, February 17, we began the sixth week of the 2015 legislative session. We were able to continue session as scheduled, despite the winter storm in other areas of the state. We completed day 19 of the session, so we are about halfway finished. With the 2015 legislative session heating up, an increasing number of bills were passed out of committees and voted upon by the full body of the House.
Senate Bill 5
The House and Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 5, which will enable the Georgia Ports Authority to accept federal dollars for the Savannah Harbor deepening project. The project began last month, and the project will deepen the Savannah River from 42 feet to 47 feet, allowing the port to accommodate larger container ships. The state of Georgia has thus far designated $266 million towards the project, and President Obama recently requested the appropriation of $42 million in federal funds from Congress. Thanks to the combination of state and federal funding, the project is currently scheduled to be finished by 2020. With the new improvements, Savannah Harbor has the potential to become one of the busiest ports in the world and positively impact counties all over Georgia.
House Bill 100
The House passed another important bill related to Georgia’s education system this week. The statute requires that a child be 5 years old by August 1st to be able to enroll in kindergarten. The current cutoff date is September 1st, and this change will take effect for the 2017-2018 school year; July 1st will be the cutoff date for the 2018-2019 school year and all years thereafter. This legislation will provide children with a better opportunity for success throughout their educational careers by ensuring that they are well prepared and mature enough to begin that journey. In the past, educators have been concerned with the maturity of younger students, and I think this legislation will help alleviate those concerns.
House Bill 198
This week, the House unanimously passed House Bill 198; this legislation is an important topic to protect teens and young adults in Georgia. HB 198 aims to lower the rate of suicide among teens by requiring annual suicide prevention training for certified public school system personnel in order for them to better identify symptoms of suicide. Suicide is a very real problem among young people, and is the third leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This training will teach staff when to refer students to mental health services and how to identify those resources within their schools and/or communities. This training and implementation would be free for all school systems. It is our hope that this legislation will help equip Georgia school employees with the tools they need to prevent these unfortunate situations.
House Bill 119
We passed legislation to help protect our law enforcement officers this week. House Bill 119 authorizes probate judges to disclose to peace officers if a patient who is being held in their custody is legally determined to have AIDS. This legislation will help keep our men and women in uniform safe and allow them to take appropriate health safety precautions. It is necessary that we protect Georgia’s law enforcement officers, who already make so many sacrifices to keep us safe.
As for House Bill 170, I have received several calls, emails and messages from folks in the district regarding my position on HB 170. I cannot support HB 170 as it came out of committee this week. I do support shifting sales taxes on motor fuel to an excise tax because the excise tax must be used on roads and bridges and thus cannot be lost in the general fund. Read More.
If you have concerns or questions about proposed legislation, I hope that you will contact me. I am always eager to hear from you, so that I can better understand what issues are most important to you and your family. Please stop by and visit me at the Capitol if you are in Atlanta during the legislative session, or call my office at the State Capitol and let me know what I can do for you. The phone number is 404.656.0213.Read More
We returned to Capitol Hill on Monday, February 9th for the fifth week of the 2015 legislative session. Many bills are beginning to make their way out of committee to receive a vote from the entire House of Representatives. We quickly got to work voting on several pieces of legislation to help the citizens of Georgia.
We kicked off our fifth week of session by passing the Solar Power Free Market Financing Act, or House Bill 57. This legislation, passed unanimously by our body, will make it easier and more affordable for Georgians to put solar panels on their rooftops by allowing individuals to fund solar power installations through third-party financing plans. With the option to finance, more homeowners and small business owners can avoid financial barriers, and pay for the use of these systems over time. If approved by the Senate and Governor Deal, this measure will provide our citizens with more energy options and the opportunity to lower their power bills.
The House also passed a measure this week to improve the quality of life for Georgia’s elderly. House Bill 86 creates the Georgia Adult and Aging Services Agency, which will take on the responsibility of improving services, and ensuring that services are properly and effectively administered to meet the needs of older adults and people with disabilities. The bill would move the current Division of Aging Services out of the Department of Human Services, which is responsible for many other initiatives. This important bill ensures that our seniors receive the full care and attention that they deserve, and I look forward to seeing this legislation make its way through the Senate.
We also continued to focus much of our attention this week on Georgia’s education system and its students. As I have written in previous weeks, education is a top priority in the General Assembly, and the unanimous passage of HB 91 in the House this week further speaks to that point. This legislation would make it easier for some deserving students to obtain high school diplomas. HB 91 retroactively allows former high school students who failed the Georgia High School Graduation Test, an assessment that was phased out in the 2011-2012 school year, the chance to receive a diploma. HB 91 allows those students who met all other requirements for graduation to petition their local school board where they were last enrolled to obtain a degree. HB 91 will tremendously benefit these individuals by giving them the option to pursue postsecondary education and thus helping them succeed in Georgia’s workforce.
Just as HB 91 opens doors of opportunity for former high school students, legislation introduced in the Senate this week is aimed at providing improvement opportunities for schools in Georgia. This week Governor Deal, along with Senator Butch Miller, introduced a senate resolution to create “Opportunity School Districts.” This model of education, which has proven to be successful in several states, allows the state to temporarily step in to assist chronically failing schools. Under the governor’s proposal, a school is considered to be chronically failing if it scored below 60 on the College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI), for three consecutive years. If deemed an Opportunity School District, the state would then temporarily assume supervision, management, and oversight of that school. This measure, which would require a constitutional amendment and referendum from Georgia voters, would ensure that all children have access to the outstanding education that they deserve. I am eager to learn more about the governor’s proposal and the ways that we can address the critical problem of underperforming schools in our state.
Also this week, we passed an adjournment calendar that sets the legislative schedule through the remainder of the 2015 legislative session. Based on this adjournment resolution, the 40th legislative day, marking the conclusion of session, will be on April 2. I hope that you will contact me before that day to provide feedback and way in which I can better serve you and your family. Please stop by and visit if you are in Atlanta or call my office at the State Capitol. The phone number is (404) 6560213
Finally, a group of 4th graders from Community Christian School toured the capitol. It is such a delight to see our youth taking an interest in politics!
During the third week of the Georgia General Assembly’s 2015 legislative session, my colleagues and I had the responsibility of passing one of the most important pieces of legislation of the year: the 2015 amended fiscal year budget (AFY 2015). This budget, a mid-year adjustment of state spending through June 30, 2015, was first introduced by Governor Deal at last week’s Joint Appropriations hearing. Since then, through a series of Appropriations Committee meetings, we have carefully reviewed and edited the AFY 2015 budget. Thanks to the committee’s diligent work, the House version of the Amended Fiscal Year 2015 (AFY 2015) budget was packaged into House Bill 75 and was passed unanimously by the House on Thursday, January 29th.
The House version of the AFY 2015 budget is very similar to Gov. Deal’s initial budget proposal. The amended budget includes an addition of $276 million in “new” funds, 70% of which will go toward education. Here are how the funds were allocated.
- $128.5 million will go towards K-12 enrollment growth
- $35 million will be added for local school systems to expand their wireless broadband internet connectivity.
- $7.4 million will go for equalization funding grants that will provide additional funds to K-12 systems that qualify based on per student wealth rankings
- $750,000 will go to support the Governor’s newly created Education Reform Commission
Higher education was also set as a budget priority, with funds designated for new engineering and military scholarships and the creation of the Georgia Film Academy. I am happy to see our state continue to put money into our school systems, as our children are a precious resource.
There are also several significant additions for economic development in our state. As we strive to ensure that Georgia remains the number one state in the country to do business, the House version of the AFY 2015 budget appropriates the following.
- $20 million in grants toward job-creating economic development projects through the OneGeorgia Authority
- $20 million for Regional Economic Business Assistance grants
- $4.5 million to support routine maintenance in the Department of Transportation
- $1.5 million set aside to keep Xpress buses running in 13 metro counties
By financing transportation and economic development projects such as these, we can make Georgia an even better place for business for years to come.
With a thriving economy comes an increase in our state’s population, so it is crucial that we take measures to ensure the good health and safety of all citizens.
- $5 million in the AFY 2015 budget is allocated for driver education programs to improve safety on Georgia’s roads.
- Funds are also set aside to expand the length of the Department of Corrections’ Residential Substance Abuse Treatment program from six to nine months
- The Board of Regents is issued $4.8 million to provide clinical trials on cannabidiol for children with medication resistant epilepsy.
These programs, among others, will make Georgia healthier and safer for families across the state.
In addition to passing the amended budget, we also took time to recognize some outstanding citizens across our state. On Monday, January 26, the House celebrated Georgia National Guard Day in honor of our brave Georgians in uniform. Dozens of airmen and soldiers visited the State Capitol and were recognized for their accomplishments on the House floor with House Resolution 27. We also had the honor of witnessing a new member of the Georgia National Guard be sworn into the Army National Guard by our colleague and veteran, Representative John Yates. It was an honor to meet this new soldier, as well as the many others who make such tremendous sacrifices for our freedom and safety.
On Tuesday, January 27, we had the privilege of meeting another group of courageous Georgians in honor of National Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this day, we paid special tribute to the Holocaust witnesses of liberation. These heroic Americans witnessed some of the worst atrocities in human history while they were serving in the U.S. military during World War II. They were each recognized in the House Chamber for their contribution to history preservation and the role that they played in the liberation of the Holocaust. Our colleague, Representative John Yates was among the six honorees that were recognized before the House.
Finally, this week we welcomed members of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team to the Gold Dome. Hall-of-Famer Dominique Wilkins, CEO Steve Koonin, coach Mike Budenholzer, shooting guard Kyle Korver, and forward Elton Brand all visited the capitol on Tuesday, January 27th. After a recent 16 game winning streak, the Hawks were recognized before the House for their sportsmanship, citizenship, and positive economic impact on Atlanta.
As the 2015 legislative session moves into its fourth week, committees will be meeting more frequently to discuss pieces of legislation. I would love to hear your input on any bills that come before the House, because your comments help guide my decisions on Capitol Hill. I encourage you to call my office at the State Capitol in Atlanta at 770.957.3937. I can also be reached via email at email@example.com. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.Read More