Key leg­isla­tive is­sues re­main un­ad­dressed

Next ses­sion con­venes in 2009

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Rachel Oswald

Full of in­tra-party Repub­li­can fight­ing be­tween the Se­nate and House lead­er­ship, the 2008 Ge­or­gia leg­isla­tive ses­sion came to a close last Fri­day with a num­ber of key is­sues left un­ad­dressed for an­other year in­clud­ing tax re­form, trans­porta­tion fund­ing and trauma care.

“ I found the ses­sion the most un­usual one I’ve at­tended yet,” said Rep. Robert Mum­ford ( R- Cony­ers). “ It wasn’t en­tirely pro­duc­tive.”

House Speaker Glenn Richard­son’s ( R- Hi­ram) much touted, re­vised and di­luted prop­erty tax re­form failed to come to fruition for a num- ber of rea­sons but prin­ci­pally be­cause it went through so many rapid re­vi­sions that leg­is­la­tors were un­cer­tain what they were ap­prov­ing.

From an ini­tial pro­posal to wipe out prop­erty taxes com­pletely in Ge­or­gia, Richard­son’s for­merly GREAT tax plan ended up as a bill to elim­i­nate the car tag tax over two years.

“ Frankly, the Speaker’s tirades weren’t help­ful on Fri­day,” said Sen. John Douglas (R-Cov­ing­ton). “His words in the past to­wards the gov­er­nor have not been help­ful. We’re all in the same party. We’re Repub­li­cans and we need to be able to work to­gether.”

care Richard­son’s re­fusal to com­pro­mise with Lt. Gov. Casey Ca­gle and Se­nate Repub­li­cans on their plan to trim the state in­come tax by 10 per­cent over five years didn’t help ei­ther. In the end not even a pro­posal to limit the amount by which prop­erty as­sess­ments could rise suc­ceeded in mak­ing it out of the leg­is­la­ture.

“We didn’t raise taxes but we didn’t cut them ei­ther,” Douglas said, adding that the Gen­eral As­sem­bly did see fit to trim the gov­er­nor’s re­quested bud­get by $300 mil­lion this year, due to the cur­rent re­ces­sion.

The lack of a tax cut was pleas­ing to some, in­clud­ing Gov. Sonny Per­due, who has said Ge­or­gia can not af­ford a ma­jor tax cut in a time of a slow­ing econ­omy.

A con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment that ad­vo­cates hoped would ease con­ges­tion in Metro At­lanta died on Fri­day when it fell three votes short of the two-thirds ma­jor­ity it needed to pass in the Se­nate. The bill had al­ready re­ceived a two-thirds ma­jor­ity in the House.

The bill would have al­lowed lo­cal gov­ern­ments, with the ap­proval of their con­stituents, to band to­gether to levy a one-cent sales tax to fund road im­prove­ments in their dis­trict.

“I was very dis­ap­pointed that the trans­porta­tion bill did not pass the Se­nate,” Mum­ford said.

Douglas, who did vote in fa­vor of the trans­porta­tion bill, said he was also dis­ap­pointed to see the pro­posal fail.

“We are go­ing to have to work with the gov­er­nor and the [Ge­or­gia] De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion to re­solve that be­cause we’ve got some se­ri­ous trans­porta­tion is­sues in New­ton County that need to be ad­dressed and we can’t put them off much longer,” Douglas said.

A trauma

pro­posal, which would have chan­neled money from the state por­tion of prop­erty taxes to trauma hos­pi­tals in­stead of cre­at­ing a new fee, was never voted on by the House floor.

Douglas said the Se­nat­ede­vel­oped trauma fund­ing pro­posal will be brought for­ward again next year.

Lim­ited suc­cesses

The Wa­ter Con­ser­va­tion and Drought Re­lief Act did re­ceive ap­proval from both houses. The bill, which Douglas said he ex­pects the gov­er­nor will sign, pro­vides par­tial fund­ing for the per­mit­ting process lo­cal gov­ern­ments must go through be­fore re­ceiv­ing per­mis­sion for the con­struc­tion of new reser­voirs or im­prove­ments to old ones.

“I think we did do some good things on wa­ter, al­though I’d like to see the leg­is­la­tion strength­ened and worked on,” Mum­ford said, adding that he didn’t think the bill con­tained strong enough lan­guage on in­ter-basin trans­fers, which are the crit­i­cized prac­tice of re­mov­ing wa­ter from one wa­ter basin and putting it in an­other.

The Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion was pleased with the fi­nal pas­sage of a bill that will al­low the 300,000 Ge­or­gians with con­cealed weapons per­mits to carry guns into restau­rants, state parks and on pub­lic trans­porta­tion.

Douglas, who au­thored the amend­ment to al­low the car­ry­ing of con­cealed weapons in restau­rants and on MARTA, said he didn’t think there was any­thing con­trary to elected of­fi­cials pass­ing the leg­is­la­tion while at the same time main­tain­ing the ban on guns at po­lit­i­cal ral­lies and gov­ern­ment build­ings — places that politi­cians fre­quent.

“I feel that the vi­o­lence in so­ci­ety to­day is par­tic­u­larly di­rected at gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials,” Douglas said, adding that the pres­ence of armed guards at many gov­ern­ment build­ings de­creases the chances of gun vi­o­lence break­ing out. “But in places like MARTA or a restau­rant, the like­li­hood is that there’s not an armed guard there and you may be called on to pro­tect your­self or your fam­ily.”

Douglas said he has writ­ten to Gov. Per­due, to re­quest that he sign the gun bill.

A con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment, in­tro­duced by Douglas, to ex­tend the terms of all Gen­eral As­sem­bly mem­bers from two years to four years, did not pass the House. Douglas blamed the House lead­er­ship for block­ing a floor vote on the bill.

“I don’t think they wanted [some sen­a­tors] to have four year terms right now,” Douglas said, adding he didn’t plan on rein­tro­duc­ing the bill un­til the at­mos­phere at the Capi­tol changed.

In some good news for New­ton County, the Al­covy Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit will re­ceive a fifth su­pe­rior court judge once Per­due signs the leg­is­la­tion ap­proved by the Gen­eral As­sem­bly. The new judge will be ap­pointed in July, 2009. Also the city of Por­terdale re­ceived $200,000 for the ren­o­va­tion of the Porter Me­mo­rial Gym­na­sium.

A bill, spon­sored by Douglas to in­crease the se­nior cit­i­zen home­stead ex­emp­tion from New­ton County ad val­orem taxes to $30,000 and to in­crease the qual­i­fy­ing in­come cap to $25,000, passed the Gen­eral As­sem­bly.

The bill will go be­fore county vot­ers for fi­nal ap­proval in a ref­er­en­dum this Novem­ber. It is es­ti­mated the bill could cause a $437,000 short­fall in county rev­enue in its first year.

Douglas’ bill to pro­hibit any state agency from re­quir­ing an em­ployee to speak or learn any lan­guage other than English as a re­quire­ment of em­ploy­ment or a pro­mo­tion failed to make it out of the Se­nate

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