The 2011 Legislative Session came to an end last Thursday when the House and Senate completed the 40th day.
It was the last opportunity of the year for bills to make their way through the state legislature. We worked long hours to ensure the passage of key legislation. Bills approved by the House and Senate now head to the Governor's desk for consideration.
Perhaps nothing we did at the state capitol has more far reaching effects than our passage of the state budget.
House Bill 78 (FY 2012 Budget) directs state spending from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012 and totals $18.1 billion in state funds. While state funds have experienced a net increase of 2 percent as a result of improving economic conditions, total spending for FY 2012 has decreased by more than 4 percent due to expiring federal stimulus funds. Not accounting for inflation, this puts us per capita below 2001 budget levels.
Considering that our population has increased by 18 percent in this same decade, it is clear that some difficult cuts had to be made.
In general, we accounted for these reductions by asking state agencies and departments to cut spending by an average of 7 percent, keeping growth expenses in check, and by enacting measures that allow us to reduce service and payment costs.
With the most recent budget cuts in mind, it is important to review House Bill 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011.
While I welcome and encourage legal immigration, the recent economic recession made it clear that our reduced state budget literally cannot afford to support illegal aliens who unlawfully take advantage of taxpayer funded services. HB 87 will close legal loopholes that have allowed this problem and put an end to the incentives that bring illegal aliens to this state.
Specifically, HB 87 will require employers with 10 or more employees to ensure that their new hires are eligible to work in the United States. The bill also requires secure and verifiable identification for official purposes and helps local law enforcement agencies handle issues associated with illegal immigration.
The legislation does not affect existing programs that provide legal avenues for foreign workers to lawfully come to Georgia and work in our state.
Senate Bill 10 was another thoroughly debated piece of legislation that received a lot of attention when it received final passage this week.
After years of discussion, the legislation allows local communities to decide whether they want to allow Sunday sales of alcohol. SB 10 would do this by allowing city councils and county commissions to call for referendums on whether Sunday alcohol sales should be allowed at stores in their cities and counties.
The state already permits the purchase of alcohol at bars, restaurants and special events on Sunday, but does not allow for the purchase of alcohol at retail stores. SB 10 simply gives our community the opportunity to directly decide Sunday alcohol sales for ourselves.
You may remember that about five years ago I wrote about the stupidity of using corn to produce ethanol for fuel and predicted that food prices would climb.
I said then that we would pay for it either at the pump or the supermarket.
Recently, the Agriculture Department reported that: "Rising demand for corn from ethanol producers is pushing U.S. reserves to the lowest point in 15 years, a trend that could lead to higher food prices."
The demand for corn from ethanol producers rose to 5 billion bushels. That is 40 percent of the nation's total corn crop.
Corn prices have risen to $7.67 per bushel from about $3 five years ago, and we know that corn prices affect most products in supermarkets. Corn is used to feed cattle, hogs and chickens that fill the meat case, and it is the main ingredient in cereals.
It may be time to do as the Germans did years ago, i.e. outlaw the use of major food grains for making fuel.
What galls me is that ethanol production is subsidized by the federal government (our tax money), so we are paying for it both at the pump and the supermarket. We have been subsidizing alternative fuels long enough. It is time they become economically competitive or drop out of the competition.
Senior citizens of Dawson County have told me that they are being hassled by the Dawson County Board of Assessors when applying for their legal ad valorem property tax relief.
I refer them to HB 1445 signed by the Governor on May 13, 2008; specifically, Sections I (b) & (e).
An opinion has been rendered by Legal Counsel of the General Assembly and by the Department of Revenue that "only the income of the applicant and spouse is considered when determining eligibility for this exemption (disabled or over 65 with an income less than $50,000)."
Vicki Lambert, director, Local Government Services Division, Georgia Department of Revenue, sent me the following message last Thursday: "I have talked with the county (Dawson) this afternoon and explained that if this is indeed the exemption that your constituent is applying for then they should be only considering the income of the applicant and spouse and not to include any income that is attributable to anyone else living in the home. Also suggested that the board of assessors revisit their policy and information required to determine eligibility and when there is no question that the applicant qualifies, return all the documents to the taxpayer and not keep copies in their office." Please let me know if this problem continues.
The Governor announced that the Special Session for reapportionment will begin Aug. 15.
The Committee on Reapportionment will hold hearings in numerous locations.
Hearings for our section of the State will be in Gainesville on June 21.
I'll let you know the time and location as soon as I get notification.
Now that the 2011 Legislative Session is over, I can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533, phone (706) 864-6589, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call Gerald Lewy, my communications director, at (706) 344-7788. He'll know how to get your message to me. Delete - Merge Upbodycopy