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‘No texting’ law passes House

POSTED: March 31, 2010 4:00 a.m.

Congratulations to Sally Sorohan for all of her work to get a “no texting while driving” bill passed. We still have a long way to go, but SB 360 and HB 938 both passed their respective houses. Surely one of them will make it to the Governor’s desk. It was my privilege to be a sponsor of a House version of the bill. The final bill will incorporate the best efforts of all legislators who participated in this landmark legislation. 

  

Last year during the 2009 Session, the House led the fight for property tax reform in Georgia. One of the key bills in that effort was House Bill 233. This legislation, which has now been signed into law, addressed local governments’ habit of backdoor tax increases through unfair and inaccurate property tax assessments.

  

Due to these practices, property owners found that their property re-evaluations were rising, even when their property value had declined or stayed the same.

  

HB 233 addressed this problem by halting property assessment increases for two years. As a result, property assessments in Georgia could not rise above their value for two years unless the property was improved or rezoned. 

  

While HB 233 increased predictability in taxation for property owners, we felt that more reform was still needed for Georgia’s property owners.

  

With that in mind, I supported the passage of HB 1139. This legislation requires local governments to notify property owners of their annual property tax assessment, even if there is no assessed value change.

  

It also requires that these notifications include an option to appeal the assessment of the listed property. This legislation will streamline the property tax appeals process and ensure property owner rights.

  

In addition to taxation reform, we took steps last week to increase flexibility for public programs to receive private donations and federal grant funding through the passage of House Bills 1200, 1310 and 1199. Each of these bills helps state programs give high level services without relying on Georgia tax dollars.

  

The first bill, House Bill 1200, would allow school boards to solicit and accept donations for field trips and other school-related purposes. This legislation will help schools dealing with budget cuts to find new ways to fund field trips and other hands-on learning opportunities. 

  

Next is House Bill 1310, which allows the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Commission to solicit monetary donations, such as federal grants.

  

And finally, House Bill 1199 allows the Department of Natural Resources to create a public not-for-profit foundation. This new foundation will allow DNR to accept financial donations for educational programs.    

  

Last week was the big push to get legislation out of the House and into the Senate with over 100 bills being considered. By the end of “crossover day” on Friday, some 263 bills had passed the House and 183 had passed the Senate since we convened in January. The 2011 budget was not subject to the crossover rule and is still pending in the House. We expect to get it completed this week.

  

The budget was not completed sooner because some of the bills passed Friday are needed to make it balance.

  

Unlike some other states, Georgia’s spending can be no more than the revenue generated.

  

One of the biggest holes (over $600 million) in the budget is Medicaid, the insurance program for the very poor. This is a joint federal-state program, which requires a state match based on the perceived wealth of the state.

  

Georgia’s match is about 25 percent (1 to 3). That means for every dollar spent on Medicaid, one part (25 cents) comes from the state and three parts (75 cents) comes from the federal government. On the surface that seems like a “no brainer,” but Georgia’s portion in the 2011 budget is more than $1.5 billion.

  

In order to fill the hole, the governor suggested a “provider fee” be paid by the hospitals that cater to Medicaid patients or cut the reimbursement rate. 

  

Doctors and hospitals were against cutting the reimbursement rate, so they finally agreed to accept the provider fee (HB 307).

  

The total fee needed to be 25 percent of the hole so it can drawdown 75 percent from the federal government. This fills the hole. The money is then redistributed based on the number of Medicaid patients.

  

Some hospitals will end up being net losers and some, like Grady, will be net gainers; over all, the Medicaid budget will be balanced.  

  

User fees, unlike taxes, are paid for a service and the amount of the fee is supposed to pay for the cost of that service. Cities, counties and the state have fees:  tap fees, hook-up fees, franchise fees, inspection fees, etc.

  

For the past two months we have had teams looking at Georgia’s fee structure with a look toward bringing them up to date.

  

While some legislators insisted the fee increase was nothing more than raising taxes, House Appropriations Chairman Harben put it another way.

  

He said raising user fees for services that don’t benefit most Georgians is a fairer way of bringing in more state revenue than furloughing teachers. He noted that: “Teachers shouldn’t have to give up part of their salaries so someone can get their airport inspected.”

  

Airport inspection fees had been at $10; if HB 1055 passes the Senate, they will be $100 per runway with the inspections made every two years. 

  

The 2011 budget won’t be finalized until late in April when this session ends. That’s about three weeks longer than usual.

  

Keep in touch.  I will be at Ryan’s Steakhouse (Hwy. 53 and Ga. 400) in Dawson County for Saturday breakfast with constituents on April 3 at 8:30 a.m. 

  

I will be at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega for Saturday breakfast at 8 a.m. on April 10 and 17.

   

Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 401 Capitol Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30334; (404) 657-8534; fax (404) 463-2044; e-mail amos.amerson@house.ga.gov. Or contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.

 

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