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House passes tax cut, rural development legislation
Kevin Tanner
Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville.

The House got back to work at the Georgia State Capitol on Feb. 20, and we had a very busy seventh week of the 2018 legislative session. 

As we get closer and closer to Crossover Day, our agendas continue to get fuller and our days get longer. 

This week, the House voted on several bills in the House Chamber, and committees worked diligently to hear important legislation before the Crossover Day deadline.

 Also, on Feb. 22, we convened for a joint session with our Senate counterparts to hear the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Chief Justice P. Harris Hines deliver the annual State of the Judiciary address.

Over the past several weeks we have been working closely with the Governor’s Office to bring forward the largest tax cut in Georgia’s history. We accomplished this in the House when HB 918 made its way to the House floor on Feb. 22, where it passed overwhelmingly.

 This legislation would make necessary changes to our state’s outdated tax code, which has not been updated in decades, and seeks to decrease the tax burden on our citizens by cutting individual and corporate state income taxes. HB 918 would double the state standard deduction for Georgia taxpayers for all filing statuses, effective Jan. 1, 2018, and would reduce the income tax rate for individuals and businesses from 6 percent to 5.75 percent beginning on Jan. 1, 2019. 

The legislation has a trigger that would further reduce the tax rate to 5.5 percent on Jan. 1, 2020.  Finally, this revenue neutral tax proposal would also address the state revenue projections resulting from the recent Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  This historic tax update would benefit all of Georgia’s citizens by allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets, and I am proud of the General Assembly’s work on this important measure.

The House also passed several bills that came from the House Rural Development Council’s (RDC) legislative recommendations. On Feb. 21, the House overwhelmingly passed House Bill 769 in an effort to improve access to quality health care in the rural parts of our state. This bill includes several health care provisions, such as allowing for remote pharmacy orders, updating credentialing and billing practices, establishing the Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability, establishing micro-hospitals and creating a grant program for physicians practicing in medically underserved rural areas of the state. 

Under HB 769, a Georgia licensed pharmacist located within the United States could remotely place pharmacy drug orders for hospital patients, provided that the orders are reviewed by a pharmacist who is physically in the hospital within 24 hours or by the next business day. The bill would also direct the Department of Community Health to study various ways to streamline and expedite the credentialing and billing process for state medical plans. 

Additionally, HB 769 would establish a Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability through the existing Office of Rural Health. This center would provide leadership training and health data analysis for rural hospitals and would be located at a Georgia postsecondary institution with a health program or college that focuses on rural and underserved areas of the state. The center would educate and train rural hospital leaders on best practices and hospital operating standards. 

Furthermore, the legislation would allow for the creation of micro-hospitals, a hospital in a rural county that has two to seven inpatient beds and provides 24/7 emergency services, without requiring a new certificate of need when a hospital is closing or has recently closed and is purchased by a hospital in a neighboring county. Finally, the bill would create a grant program within the Georgia Board of Physician Workforce to provide financial assistance for some rural physicians who establish or operate a practice in an underserved area of the state.  This measure was the first RDC-related bill to pass the House this session, and the bill’s wide-ranging health care provisions would allow this critical sector to thrive in rural Georgia.

This week, the House overwhelmingly passed another bill that would also greatly benefit our rural communities, House Bill 735. HB 735 would create an income tax credit for track maintenance expenditures on owned or leased short line railroads. This legislation mirrors the Federal Railroad Track Maintenance Credit, and the tax credit would be 50 percent of the maintenance expenditures during the taxable year and would be capped at $3,500 per mile of railroad track. Short line rails serve as a virtual lifeline to our rural communities, and this measure would incentivize investment in rail infrastructure, boost reinvestment, create jobs and keep rural Georgia connected to the rest of the state. 

On Feb. 22, the House unanimously passed a bill that would have a great impact on Georgia’s active-duty military members. House Bill 840 would exempt active-duty military members serving in a combat zone from penalty fees associated with unintentionally unpaid special, occupational or sales taxes and license, regulatory or administrative fees incurred while they are in a combat zone. HB 840 does not exempt active-duty military members from paying these taxes, but it does give them 60 days from the time they return from their military service to make full payment of the taxes due without penalties if they present proof of their presence in a combat zone. Oftentimes, active-duty military members are unable to renew licenses, like small business licenses, that expire while they are stationed in a combat zone, and this bill would prevent our service members from being penalized with late fees while they are deployed.

Feb. 28 marks legislative Day 28, otherwise known as Crossover Day. This is the last day a bill may pass out of its original legislative chamber and remain eligible for consideration this legislative session. With this deadline in mind, my colleagues and I will be working even longer hours this week to ensure that quality and meaningful legislation passes the House this session.

As you know, I am continuing the tradition of holding a weekly informational breakfast each Saturday during session.  This Saturday we will be meeting at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame located in Dawsonville at 9 a.m. I look forward to seeing you there.

I am honored to serve as your Representative at the State Capitol. I am always available to assist you and encourage you to contact me with questions or your opinions. I can be reached on my cell phone at (678)776-5059, at the Capitol at (404)656-3947 or by email at kevin.tanner@house.ga.gov.