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Session concludes with $19.3B budget
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The Georgia legislature concluded the 2012 session by passing a $19.3 billion dollar budget, keeping in line with the state's commitment to pass fiscally sound money management policies.

Through the passage of HB 742, Georgia's economy will be better positioned to grow, create more jobs and get more Georgians back to work. Due to these fiscally conservative management policies, Georgia has continued to maintain its AAA bond rating, which is extremely attractive to businesses seeking to grow or expand their business in Georgia.

Some of the major line items of the FY2013 budget include: $575 million to cover shortfalls in Medicaid, K-12 Education, Regents and the Technical College System of Georgia; $231 million to cover increases in state employee and teacher health benefits; $112 million to fund future economic development projects; $54 million was allocated to fund source expenditures such as motor fuel or the lottery.

Further, the revenue shortfall reserves now stand at $328 million, which is the equivalent of seven to eight days of state operations. State economists are hopeful these revenue estimates will continue to grow as we reassess state revenues at the end of FY2012 in June.

Bills passed out of the Senate

The 2012 Legislative Session adjourned at midnight on March 29. To wrap-up the final days of session, the Senate passed more than 90 pieces of legislation - a tremendous victory for Georgia families and businesses.

Below is a list of some of the key highlights from this week:

HB 692: This legislation deals with falsified evaluations resulting in a bonus or salary increase. If a teacher or certificated professional personnel falsifies, or knows or causes to be falsified, the student assessment results, standardized test scores, or standardized test answers that were in whole or in part of an evaluation resulting in a salary increase or bonus, the increase or bonus is automatically forfeited. Likewise, he or she must repay any, and all, amounts that were previously paid.

HB 954: This legislation would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks or more, except in limited circumstances. As a result, this bill would help protect the lives of unborn children at the stage of development where medical evidence indicates a fetus is capable of feeling pain. Additionally, HB 954 requires physicians to make a determination of probable gestational age before performing abortions in most cases and to report this information to the Department of Community Health.

HB 817: This legislation is a Department of Transportation Housekeeping Bill. This bill makes several changes to Title 32 related to the Department of Transportation. HB 817 will allow for faster time for construction and completion of projects, by increasing the number of design build projects.

HB 916: This legislation allows owners of agricultural land, timberland and environmentally sensitive land may qualify for conservation use assessment. The Senate amended this legislation to state that the owner of a tract, lot, or parcel land - totaling less than 10 acres not 25 - shall be required by the tax assessor to submit additional relevant records.

HB 397: This legislation simplifies the law regarding open meetings by eliminating ambiguities and incorporating judicial interpretations of the law. This legislation clarifies the definition of a "meeting." A meeting does not include a gathering of less than a quorum unless smaller groups meet with the intent of circumventing the law. A meeting does not include property inspections, seminars, state or federal meetings, or social occasions absent an intent to evade or avoid the law. Under this legislation, all final votes must be taken in an open session. If an action is taken during an illegal meeting, a suit to void that action may be brought within six months.

HB 456: This legislation creates the General Assembly Legislative Sunset Advisory Committee and provides that the Committee establish a method by which it will review each state agency for efficiency and productivity. Also, agencies scheduled for review must submit to the committee a report outlining the agency's efficiency and productivity and the extent to which the agency uses state resources to meet the needs of the public. No later than six months after an agency's report is submitted, the Committee must review the report, and make recommendations on the abolition, continuation, or reorganization of the agency and the need for the continuation of the functions of the agency.

HB 808: The legislation authorizes disability income received from the Veteran Affairs to be excluded from Georgia income tax liability. It is currently excluded from federal income tax liability. "Disabled veteran" is defined as a wartime veteran honorably discharged with at least 90 percent disability and who is eligible due to loss of one or both feet, hands, or eyes.

HB 818: Income Tax Credit: Clean Energy Property. This legislation adds certain pump systems to items defined as "clean energy property"; adds natural gas trucks, busses, and taxis to eligibility; and lowers the ceiling for total amount of tax credits for clean energy property in calendar year 2014.

HB 861: This legislation requires most applicants for TANF to take a drug test as a condition to receiving benefits. TANF applicants not on Medicaid will be responsible for the cost of the test, but will be reimbursed for the cost if they test negative for drug use; TANF applicants who are enrolled in Medicaid will pay a $17 application fee for the test. This legislation requires the Department of Human Services to adopt rules related to drug tests for benefits applicants and to follow certain standards. If possible, a swab test should be used in lieu of urinalysis.

HB 1027: Under this legislation, the Mega Jobs Tax Credit is amended to include affiliates. This legislation revises the existing tax credits for Georgia film production by contracting it to de-qualify an interactive entertainment production company. It does not encompass local interest programming or instruction videos or projects created, shot or recorded in Georgia. The credit is modified by excluding expenditures for postproduction of footage shot outside Georgia; however, expenditures will include payments to loan-out companies for services performed in state. Non-resident loan out company employees will be considered taxable nonresidents.

HB 684: This bill requires the Department of Natural Resources to notify local governing authorities before making significant change in services at state parks within the local authority's area.

HB 1114: This bill prohibits assisted suicide, a felony punishable by imprisonment for one to 10 years. Under this bill, it is a felony if a person knows that someone intends to commit suicide and knowingly and willfully assists in that person's suicide. The offense is punishable by imprisonment for one to ten years.

HB 872: This legislation deals with the regulation of metals, specifically the recycling of copper and aluminum and would place additional requirements on secondary metal recyclers and sellers to curb metal theft in Georgia.

If you would like additional information regarding a specific piece of legislation, you may access the Georgia General Assembly Web site at

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