First ses­sion fin­ishes with a flour­ish

The Covington News - - OPINION - Dave Bel­ton is the newly elected Dis­trict 112 Ge­or­gia Rep­re­sen­ta­tive. The Mor­gan and New­ton County rep­re­sen­ta­tive is serv­ing in his first term in Ge­or­gia’s House. He is a res­i­dent of Mor­gan County.

The last day of my first ses­sion was thrilling and ex­haust­ing. I worked from 7 in the morn­ing to mid­night to get “Kelsey’s Law” over the fin­ish line. Only 13 min­utes re­mained be­fore the of­fi­cial “Sine Die” when all work must cease un­til next year. But I am in­cred­i­bly grate­ful that my work, and the work of New­ton Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Pam Dick­er­son and Doug Holt be­fore me, fi­nally came to fruition af­ter four long years. More im­por­tantly, I am hum­bled to be just a small part of coura­geous Kelsey’s fight to pro­tect fel­low teenage girls.

Over­all, it was a great ses­sion for the chil­dren of Ge­or­gia. “Haleigh’s Law”, the med­i­cal cannabis oil bill, has al­ready been signed in an emo­tional event by the Gover­nor. New­ton Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Pam Dick­er­son’s Cy­ber­bul­ly­ing Law also passed. Se­nate Bill 8 cre­ates a “Safe Har­bor for Sex­u­ally Ex­ploited Chil­dren Fund Com­mis­sion” and tough­ens penal­ties against sex traf­fick­ers. It is a sad fact that At­lanta is con­sid­ered the sex slave capitol of Amer­ica. Fund­ing for this Safe Har­bor will be de­rived from fees on strip clubs, an in­dus­try that is known to par­tic­i­pate in hu­man traf­fick­ing. Also, the long de­bated Autism Bill fi­nally reached the Gover­nor’s desk, re­quir­ing in­sur­ance com­pa­nies to cover up to $35,000 for autism treat­ment for chil­dren 6 years of age or younger.

The big news in ed­u­ca­tion was the Gover­nor’s “Op­por­tu­nity School Dis­trict”. This is­sue will come to you — the voter — in the Novem­ber 2016 elec­tion, where you will choose whether the Gover­nor should be al­lowed to take-over (for a few years) a few per­sis­tently fail­ing schools. This will only af­fect schools that have failed for three con­sec­u­tive years and will NOT af­fect any schools in New­ton or Mor­gan coun­ties.

There were many other im­por­tant ed­u­ca­tion bills that passed. Of para­mount sig­nif­i­cance was HB 91 which al­lows adults who did not pass the oner­ous Ge­or­gia Gra­da­tion Tests long ago to now get their high school diplo­mas. Th­ese tests were poorly de­signed and are no longer given nor re­quired. An­other was the “Move on When Ready Act” which al­lows all high school stu­dents, whether in public or pri­vate school, to earn both high school and the post­sec­ondary credit while at a post­sec­ondary school. The “Dig­i­tal Class­room Act” al­lows lo­cal boards to use dig­i­tal and elec­tronic soft­ware in­stead of phys­i­cal text­books. And a bill I spon­sored al­lows State Char­ter Schools to cre­ate a 501c in or­der to at­tract and re­ceive pri­vate funds. Over­all, I hope you’ll agree that Ge­or­gia is of­fer­ing many more ed­u­ca­tional choices and op­por­tu­ni­ties than ever be­fore.

The big­gest change to most Ge­or­gians was the Trans­porta­tion bill which raises gas taxes about 7 cents a gal­lon. The rate will then be ad­just- ed an­nu­ally based on fuel ef­fi­ciency stan­dards. There is also a new an­nual fee for low or zero emis­sion ve­hi­cles of about $200, and their large one­time tax credit has been elim­i­nated. There is also a new an­nual fee for heavy ve­hi­cles set at $50 for ve­hi­cles weigh­ing be­tween 15,500 and 26,000 pounds and $100 for ve­hi­cles larger than 26,000 pounds. This was added be­cause big trucks cause more wear and tear to our roads. Fi­nally, there was the “Delta Tax” on jet fuel and a new $5 per night tax on ho­tels. The ho­tel tax was con­sid­ered less oner­ous to Ge­or­gians than the rental car tax that was pre­vi­ously pro­posed be­cause, ac­cord­ing to stud­ies, 86% of ho­tel guests in Ge­or­gia come from out of state.

I am still very trou­bled by this plan, as it is one of the largest tax in­creases (around $900 mil­lion) in Ge­or­gia his­tory. For the sec­ond time, I was forced (by House rules) to re­cuse my­self from the vote be­cause it con­tained pro­vi­sions that im­pact my em­ployer. (I work for Delta Air Lines.) But I hope you will re­mem­ber that a re­cusal is es­sen­tially a “No” vote since the re­quire­ment for a bill to pass is to reach 91 “Yes” votes. The bill passed over­whelm­ingly.

I hope you will con­tact me with con­struc­tive com­ments at dav­e­bel­ton112@gmail.com or 706-372-4114.

DAVE BEL­TON COLUM­NIST

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