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Speaker Ralston challenged the House and we delivered

POSTED: April 28, 2010 4:00 a.m.

Working with David Ralston as Speaker of the House this session has been a real joy, just like sharing representation duties for Dawson County with David the past several years.

  

When this year’s legislative session began, the Speaker challenged the House of Representatives to pass four pieces of legislation that would improve the entire state of Georgia. Each of these bills was aimed at addressing a particular problem currently affecting our entire state. We answered his challenge and the results are impressive. 

  

The first of these four bills to pass the House was the Georgia Water Stewardship Act of 2010. This legislation, which is ready to be signed into law, will help us responsibly manage our limited water resources. 

  

The second was House Bill 948, the Fiscal Year 2011 Budget.

  

After much deliberation, the FY 2011 Budget passed the House last week. It is now under consideration in the Senate.

  

This week, the House passed the final two remaining bills of Speaker Ralston’s challenge, House Bill 277 and Senate Bill 17. 

  

House Bill 277 will finally give Georgians the opportunity to approve a Regional Transportation Sales Tax.

  

As you are probably aware, transportation funding has been a major issue in the General Assembly for the last several years. Georgia has seen unprecedented growth and has swelled to a population of more than 10 million people, resulting in a need for additional transportation infrastructure.

  

House Bill 277 creates 12 Special Tax Districts for Transportation along Georgia’s Regional Commissions’ existing boundaries.

  

Each of the 12 districts will assemble a Regional Transportation Roundtable, which will be comprised of local government officials, such as county commissioners and city mayors. During the Roundtable meetings, local officials from throughout the district will create and approve their district’s transportation investment list.  

  

Once the Roundtable has approved a transportation project list, the list will be put on a referendum that Georgians within the district will be able to vote on. If approved by the voters, the district would implement a sales tax similar to a TSPLOST, or Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, for the set list of projects. 

  

A Citizen Review Panel will also be created in each district, which will monitor the optional sales tax by checking progress on the project list. This will ensure that the voter-approved projects are on time and within budget.

  

In addition to the measures providing regional transportation projects, House Bill 277 takes into account special considerations for transit systems. The legislation allows for a portion of a region’s revenues to be used for transit capital expenses, maintenance, and operations, if these changes are approved by voters.

  

Revenues may also be used to fund a 20-year reserve for a district’s transit maintenance and operations requirements. All of these measures will finally provide Georgians with traffic relief across the state.

  

This week the House and Senate also addressed Speaker David Ralston’s ethics reform legislation, Senate Bill 17. This measure will bring greater transparency and openness to Georgia’s ethics laws.

  

In a bipartisan vote, both chambers overwhelmingly approved the bill. Titled the “Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Act of 2010,” the legislation toughens the General Assembly’s ability to properly handle ethics matters. It expands the state’s authority over campaign finance and personal finance disclosures. It also requires lobbyists to report their expenditures on public officials twice as often as currently required.

  

Further, Senate Bill 17 addresses the unfortunate, yet real situations in which public officials use the power of their office for coercion, retaliation, or punishment.

  

It brings local governments and the Department of Transportation Board under the same ethics requirements as the General Assembly, as well as other state level public officials. The legislation also doubles the fines, fees, and other penalties for violations of the act. 

  

After much discussion, the House and Senate passed the final Amended Fiscal Year 2010 Budget. You may remember that halfway through the process the governor reduced his original revenue estimate.

  

This caused much lobbying and gnashing of teeth by those of us attempting to revise the already revised Amended Budget. This budget sets state spending through the end of June 2010. 

  

The session ends on April 29.  I’ll start my wrap up columns analyzing our successes and continuing challenges next week.

   

Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533; (706) 864-6589; e-mail hamerson@windstream.net. Or, contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.

 

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