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March 22, 2007

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

Legislators are back from a two week adjournment that was to allow time to resolve a $131 million funding shortfall for PeachCare for Kids. This delay pushes Day 30 – the day a bill must pass a least one chamber to survive – to March 27. Please communicate with your legislators as frequently as possible to discuss legislative issues of concern to you.

Progressing Legislation

HB 187 ESPLOST to Fund Transportation Improvements
(Rep. Scott Martin, R-2)
This bill would authorize schools to use a portion of their ESPLOST revenues for offsite infrastructure improvements necessary for new or expanding schools. Schools could pay for turn lanes, sidewalks, traffic signals and other improvements. Under current case law, counties and cities have to pay for these improvements. The bill also requires schools to pay for the ESPLOST referendum election costs if a special election is held for this sole purpose. TWG: This would include items such as the turning lane into the High School that the BOC has objected to paying for, feeling it was a “school” project.
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HB 531 Minimum Salaries/Full-Time County Chairmen
(Rep. Richard Smith, R-131)
This bill would establish a minimum salary for full time chairs of county commissions. The minimum would equal that of the county’s tax commissioner. This bill would not reduce current salaries of full-time chairs compensated at a higher level. TWG: Local Governments should set their own salaries, not the STATE. We can see the problems it causes when the State sets salaries and the local citizens have to cough up the money to pay the salaries—if the official is earning the pay or not. For example: Magistrate Judge.
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HB 585 Eliminate Property Taxes on Personal Vehicles
(Rep. Mark Burkhalter, R-50)
This bill would phase out property taxes on vehicles over a four year period. The counties and municipalities would provide a tax credit to the owner of the vehicle then submit a request for a reimbursement grant to the Department of Revenue. This process would be modeled after the current system in place for giving the Homestead Tax Relief Grant Credit. If the General Assembly fails to appropriate the money needed to fully reimburse the local governments for the credit, the credit will be reduced by a corresponding amount. TWG: The property owners will be ultimately responsible for any shortfall. The property owner bears the burden of the county tax system now. This bill is introduced with Rep. Burkhalter stating the State has a big surplus and can handle this. Then why is there a Peachcare Crisis and no money for roads?
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SB 221 Septage Disposal Land Application Sites
(Sen. John Bulloch, R-11)
This legislation, resulting from a Senate Study Committee over the interim, would allow a septage land disposal site to be located in a county, without the county having to approve it, so long as it meets local zoning and land use standards and is permitted by the state Environmental Protection Division. As also recommended by that study committee, the septage hauling manifest system is being enhanced by the Department of Human Resources and illegal dumping penalties have already been strengthened to a felony offense. TWG: Why would any Rep. want to let such a company come into a county without the BOC having to approve it? This sounds not only scary, but crazy!

SB 67 Clarifying Contingent Expenses of Superior Court
(Sen. John Wiles, R-37)
This bill clarifies that expenses for providing indigent defense are NOT expenses that a superior court judge can order paid out of county funds. The intent of the legislation is to require circuit public defenders to stay within the budgets given to them by the General Assembly and by the counties in the circuit. Counties should be able to rely upon the budgetary process when appropriating funds for indigent defense.
Status: Favorably reported by Judiciary Committee, Pending in Rules Committee
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Other Legislation being proposed:

House Bill 262
Allows school systems to shorten the 180-day school year by up to 10 days
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Senate Bill 38
Requires Georgia driver’s license or Georgia ID card to register automobiles and obtain tag
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Senator Grant’s “Private Cities Bill” has progressed:
Around March 1, the Senate State and Local Governmental Operations Committee approved both a constitutional amendment (Senate Resolution 309) and companion legislation (Senate Bill 200) that would open the door to private cities in Georgia. The measures have drawn support from a lot of influential interests, especially developers, so passage in the Senate and then the House is quite possible. As TWG stated before, the power to impose taxes should be restricted to voters or to elected officials who can be held accountable by voters. Not by an appointed board which can include ALL developers! Senator Grant seems to be perfectly willing, even eager, to give private business the power to tax through this controversial legislation. The constitutional amendment, however, would also have to approved by Georgia voters.

TWG
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