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Keeping state on road to prosperity
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The 2014 legislative session was one for the history books. Two winter ice storms interrupted legislative operations for several days at a time, and the introduction of unprecedented - and controversial - bills increased the time legislators needed to properly review the supporting research, documentation and the official bill itself.

Although there are always successes and failures at the end of every legislative session, it is still hard to accept that some of the most debated bills fell short of final passage.

However, it's also important to remember that several good things came out of the 2014 legislative session.

These bills will positively impact Georgians for years to come by reducing regulatory burdens on families, keeping our state on a fiscally responsible path and providing a mechanism for some of our brightest students to attend one of Georgia's outstanding technical schools.

This isn't the end for bills that weren't as successful. Many of these measures will be reintroduced in 2015, and between now and next January, there is plenty of opportunity to rewrite and strengthen these pieces of legislation.

The "American Dream" is still alive and well in Georgia, and our state remains one of the best places in the nation to pursue a quality secondary education, own a business and raise a family. I am proud to highlight the following pieces of legislation that passed during the 2014 legislative session - many of which will ensure the future prosperity of individuals, communities and the entire state as a whole.

House Bill 658: The elimination of the "Death Tax."

The death of a loved one is already a difficult and life-altering event. However, many are caught by surprise when the burdensome estate tax - also known as the "death tax" - is imposed on the surviving members of the family.

This year, the Georgia General Assembly passed HB 658, which will effectively end this tax on July 1. No estate taxes will be levied and no estate tax turns will be required after this date - giving already grieving families the chance to focus on healing rather than worrying about a heavy tax obligation.

Senate Resolution 415: Capping the state income tax.

Georgia is well-known as a competitive state for business growth. Our state is home to the world's busiest airport, as well as a major international port, and we are one of the Southeast's leaders in job creation and development.

In order to maintain this position, it's necessary to take a close look at the measures implemented by neighboring states that in turn, have strengthened their ability to win business opportunities over our state.

States like Tennessee and Florida have become a more attractive location for business because neither one imposes a state income tax. With the passage of SR 415, we are one step closer to eliminating Georgia's state income tax. The resolution proposes an amendment to the state constitution that will prohibit the Georgia General Assembly from raising the state income tax; ultimately giving businesses reassurance that Georgia will remain a low-tax state.

This amendment will need to be approved by voters during the upcoming general election in November-meaning that the power of our state's taxation authority is in your hands.

House Bill 772: Drug testing for applicants and recipients of public assistance.

Although entitlement programs help many families and children in need of assistance, there is a significant amount of fraud that occurs each year.

Not only does this affect the state, but it affects the taxpayers who provide the financial means for these programs.

HB 772 gives our state more accountability over Georgia's welfare programs by enforcing stricter measures for public assistance recipients.

Welfare applicants and recipients who are suspected of drug use may be asked to take a drug test, and all EBT (electronic benefits transfer) cards must contain a photo ID of welfare recipients who qualify for food stamps.

The intent of this legislation is to encourage welfare recipients with drug problems to seek help and protects taxpayer dollars from being used to support drug habits.

House Bill 990: Transitioning the power to expand Medicaid eligibility to the legislature.

The impact of the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, continues to be felt across the nation, and not in a good way.

Since its implementation, Georgia's state officials have struggled to find ways to create the required programs and exchanges without bankrupting the state.

As ACA costs continue to skyrocket, Georgia has had to make some tough decisions in order to preserve the state's financial health. We cannot rely on a federal government that is trillions of dollars in debt and borrows more than 40 cents for every dollar it spends to fund this expansion.

With the passage of HB 990, the decision to expand Medicaid eligibility rests in the hands of legislators. This transition of power has the potential to save millions of taxpayer dollars, as well as incentivize lawmakers to create a more sustainable solution for Georgia's Medicaid program.

House Bill 697: Creating the Zell Miller Grant scholarship for Georgia's brightest tech students.

Georgia's HOPE scholarship and grant program was the first of its kind when it was created two decades ago. Since its inception, many of Georgia's top students have made the decision to remain in the state to pursue post-secondary education and careers rather than leaving for greener pastures.

However, a four-year liberal arts degree isn't a practical or desired path for every student.

HB 697 gives students the opportunity to pursue an affordable college education at one of the institutions within the Technical College System of Georgia.

Technical students are critical to developing and maintaining a strong, talented workforce - which is attractive to relocating or expanding businesses. The passage of HB 697 recognizes Georgia's continued focus on job creation and workforce development.

Sen. Steve Gooch serves as chairman of the Transportation Committee. He represents the 51st Senate District, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties. He may be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via email at