The fi­nal stretch of the ses­sion

The Covington News - - Front page -

The House worked through two more leg­isla­tive days last week, and the fi­nal two days will be this week. The days are spaced out to give the Se­nate suf­fi­cient time to de­lib­er­ate on the bud­get, which the House passed the pre­vi­ous week. Then a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee will need time to work through dif­fer­ences be­tween the two ver­sions that in­evitably re­sult. We con­sid­ered 28 bills and res­o­lu­tions on the floor, along with dozens of re­views and con­fer­ences to iron out dif­fer­ences be­tween House and Se­nate ver­sions of var­i­ous mea­sures.

SB 17 is a sig­nif­i­cant ethics re­form, con­tain­ing more strin­gent re­port­ing re­quire­ments on all of­fi­cials and lob­by­ists, and which also cre­ates new pro­vi­sions on abuse of power, con­flicts of in­ter­est, im­proper con­duct and sex­ual ha­rass­ment. Many fines and penal­ties for late re­port­ing and other vi­o­la­tions have been sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased. Trans­parency of all this in­for­ma­tion will be en­hanced with a fo­cus on mak­ing ev­ery­thing col­lected by the com­mis­sion avail­able on­line. This bill was a re­sponse to the lob­by­ist re­lated is­sues that brought down Speaker Glenn Richardson last year and is, thus, timely and highly ap­pro­pri­ate. I still feel some pro­vi­sions could be stronger, which is why I am a co-signer on HB 920, a com­pet­ing mea­sure with even stricter re­quire­ments, es­pe­cially on gifts to elected of­fi­cials. Still, I was pleased to see this bill, since it is nonethe­less a very solid mea­sure, and will build on the highly rated sys­tem we al­ready have in place. Ge­or­gia is cur­rently rated No. 7 among the 50 states by the Cen­ter for Pub­lic In­tegrity, which main­tains an ethics stan­dards rank­ing of the states. When it came time to vote, I sup­ported the mea­sure, and it passed by 168 to 2.

SB 346 seeks to re­form el­e­ments of the Ge­or­gia prop­erty tax code. While much of the bill fo­cuses on mak­ing the ap­peals process more pro­fes­sional and un­bi­ased, the bill also calls for prop­erty own­ers to re­ceive no­tice of their as­sess­ment and likely tax bur- den ev­ery year, not just in years when their val­u­a­tion has changed. While some felt that this process might be an ex­ces­sive bur­den on lo­cal gov­ern­ments, most of us thought the right of tax­pay­ers to have de­pend­able in­for­ma­tion about one of their larger tax bills was the greater con­cern. I voted “yes,” and the bill passed by 137 to 7.

SB 421 would raise the limit on the state’s re­serve or “rainy day” fund from 10 per­cent to 15 per­cent of rev­enues. The sharp­ness of the present re­ces­sion has made clear the wis­dom of hav­ing a larger re­serve. The bill passed unan­i­mously.

HB 277 is a bill I men­tioned a cou­ple of weeks ago. It was a trans­porta­tion fund­ing mea­sure from last year that got as far as con­fer­ence com­mit­tee be­tween the House and Se­nate, but no fur­ther. House Trans­porta­tion Chair­man Jay Roberts had new con­fer­ence com­mit­tee mem­bers ap­pointed two weeks ago, in hopes of find­ing a com- prom­ise fund­ing so­lu­tion. He of­fered the House a new ver­sion of the bill last week, in which 12 re­gions around the state, cor­re­spond­ing with the ex­ist­ing re­gional com­mis­sions, could in­de­pen­dently hold ref­er­en­dums on a 10-year, 1 per­cent sales tax for trans­porta­tion cap­i­tal projects. Each re­gion would se­lect projects from the DOT pri­or­i­tized plan­ning list to be con­structed with the first 75 per­cent of the rev­enues. The re­main­ing 25 per­cent would be dis­trib­uted to the coun­ties and cities for their own lo­cal trans­porta­tion needs. Vot­ers would thus have a spe­cific list of projects pre­sented to them when it came time to de­cide. The bill is a com­pro­mise be­tween the statewide ap­proach fa­vored by the House lead­er­ship, and the county ap­proach pre­ferred by the Se­nate. I thought this was a good bal­ance, and voted in fa­vor of the mea­sure. A solid bi­par­ti­san ma­jor­ity agreed, and the bill passed by 141 to 29.


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