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New laws could soon take effect

POSTED: May 20, 2009 4:00 a.m.

This week marked the governor’s deadline for signing and vetoing bills.  With his signature, these measures will become law either immediately or upon the new Fiscal Year, beginning July 1. 

  

Measures that will impact state funding, housing, transportation and education are crucial to the future development of our state, and I’d like to take a closer look at what some of these new laws are designed to do.

  

Give taxpayers the most value for their money.  Just this week, the governor signed the Fiscal Year 2010 budget (House Bill 119), our spending plan that will take us through July 1 of next year.  This $18.6 billion budget represents a joint effort between the Senate and House to close a $3.3 billion shortfall by cutting waste and providing the most needed services to Georgians. 

  

Facing a steeply declining economy, we were determined to use taxpayers’ money in the most conservative and efficient manner possible.  Despite declining revenues, we managed to fully fund Medicaid programs, restore funding for school nurses, prevent teacher furloughs, address Pre-K enrollment needs, fully fund charter systems, keep crime labs open, and provide funding for important infrastructure projects.  This budget represents a collaborative effort between the Senate, House and governor to better serve Georgians through government efficiencies.

  

Relieve homebuyers and homeowners.  My mantra for fixing the economy is to fix housing first.  The housing market has far-reaching effects on many other sectors of the economy, and its demise has created a ripple effect across the nation. 

  

Amid recent news that Atlanta home prices have fallen 25 percent over the past year, the governor signed a $1,800 homebuyer tax credit that is sure to stimulate the market. 

  

Under HB 261, the credit is available now through the next six months for the purchase of a single-family home.  In addition to helping homebuyers, we are also helping homeowners by keeping their property taxes low. Increases in assessed property values will be prohibited for the next two years under a measure that caps all real property valuation assessments at zero percent (HB 255). 

  

To further protect property owners, the Governor also signed my legislation that requires tax assessors to factor in neighborhood foreclosures when assessing the value of a home (Senate Bill 55).     

  

Overhaul Georgia’s transportation system. The governor fulfilled his and the legislature’s goal of reforming Georgia’s transportation governance with the signing of SB 200.  The legislature will now have greater control over funding infrastructure, deciding how the budget is approved, and in doling out funds for local projects.  The appointment of a planning director will also help streamline the working relationship between the governor, legislature and the DOT to develop and carry out statewide transportation plans.  Now with a smooth transportation governance plan in place, we can concentrate on developing concrete funding solutions next session. 

  

Enhance public education. The legislature recognizes that the success of our state lies entirely with our children and investing in their future is essential.  The governor has signed bills that will attract excellent teachers, help students move ahead of the curve, and increase the system’s flexibility to fit every child’s individual needs.  Math and science teachers will receive additional compensation in 2010 to help shore up Georgia’s 14.3 percent shortage of teachers in these vital subject areas (HB 280).  

  

High school juniors and seniors who have surpassed their coursework will now be allowed to complete their high school diploma while attending college full-time (HB 149).  Becoming effective July 1, this bill will apply for the 2009-2010 school year.

  

Another way the education system can now meet students’ needs is by giving them greater school choice.  Beginning in the 2009-2010 school year, students in a local school system can transfer to another public elementary or secondary school (HB 251).  The school must be located within the system in which they reside or the system that the local board has assigned to them.  These measures will go a long way to making our state school system more sensitive to the needs of individual students. 

  

I am also proud to announce that another two bills I authored this session have been signed into law, the first of which seeks to enforce immigration laws by prohibiting local governments from implementing or enforcing sanctuary policies (SB 20).  A “sanctuary policy” is any regulation that prevents local officials or employees from reporting a person’s immigration status or otherwise providing immigration status information. 

  

Effective immediately, state and federal funds will be withheld should a local government violate this legislation or fail to report a person’s immigration status. The governor also signed my bill that clarifies the use of stream buffers, ensuring compliance on where buffers are needed and where they are not (SB 155).  This bill will take effect July 1. 

  

After a challenging session this year, it is encouraging to see that the laws governing our state have strengthened and improved.  The Code of Georgia contains state laws aimed at the best interest of citizens and at making Georgia a great place to work and live.    

  

Sen. Chip Pearson can be reached at (404) 656-9921 or via e-mail at chip.pearson@senate.ga.gov.

 

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