House overwhelmingly approves Rep. Shaw’s metal theft enforcement bill
On March 7, the Georgia House of Representatives voted 168-2 to approve legislation I introduced to address the growing problem of metal theft in our state. HB 872 would place additional purchasing requirements on secondary metal recyclers in order to limit the number of individuals who may sell copper or wire.
The measure would also require that additional information be kept in the records of each transaction, provide for forfeiture proceedings when any copper has been taken illegally and require registration of secondary metal recyclers with the sheriff of each county in the state. Under HB 872, metal buyers would also face civil liability if the law’s provisions are not followed and metals purchased were proven to be stolen. The bill now moves to the Senate, where it has been referred to the Regulated Industries Committee for its consideration.
On March 5, another bill that I introduced, HB 931, was approved and sent to the Senate unanimously by House members. This measure would update provisions of state law regarding domestic farmers’ mutual fire insurance companies.
Also, I am very pleased that HR 1561, which I introduced to urge the U.S. Department of Labor to withdraw its proposed policies that would restrict young people from working on farms, was favorably reported by the House Industrial Relations Committee. I was especially glad to have Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black in attendance at the committee meeting to speak in favor of the legislation. The resolution, which states that “passing on the family farm to the next generation is vital to the continued survival of the agriculture industry,” now awaits action by the full House.
In other business last week, the House voted to approve a $19.2 billion annual state budget for fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1. This is an increase of approximately $700 million over the amended budget for the current fiscal year in light of a 4.7 percent overall increase in revenues over the past eight months.
Education remains Georgia’s highest priority, receiving more than 54 percent of the state’s appropriated revenues. The House version of the budget includes $23.5 million in funding for the Valdosta State University Health Sciences and Business Administration Building, which is a very important project for our district and all of South Georgia.
Meanwhile Georgia continues to do more with less by eliminating 540 state employee positions. What growth we have seen has been appropriated to essential spending such as market salary increases for certain law enforcement officers and increasing resources for physicians so they will practice in our state.
All in all, Georgia continues to be very fiscally conservative ranking 49th in the nation in per capita spending. The new budget plan, HB 742, now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
House members also adopted a primary recommendation from the 2010 Joint Tax Reform Council by passing the Georgia Tax Tribunal Act. HB 100 will provide a low-cost mechanism for Georgia’s citizens to resolve disputes involving taxes that are currently administered under the Department of Revenue. In order to be appointed to the tribunal, a person must have eight years of experience as a tax attorney. This ensures citizens will be able to come before an expert to handle challenges to state tax assessments and denials of state tax refund claims. The tribunal will not have the ability to determine the constitutionality of statutes nor will it replace existing procedures for administratively solving disputes prior to the issuance of a final assessment or refund denial. This tribunal does not limit a citizen’s ability to file their matter with the Superior Court and all decisions of the tribunal are subject to appeals to the Superior Court.
Other bills approved by the House and sent to the Senate last week include HB 397, an extensive revision to the state's Open Meetings and Open Records laws; HB 685, which I co-sponsored and would extensively revise the state law governing dangerous and vicious dogs; HB 861, which would require drug screening tests for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits; HB 972, which would provide the Georgia Composite Medical Board with the authority to license and regulate pain management clinics, part of the state’s effort to crack down on the operation of “pill mills”; HB 1114, which would make assisted suicide a felony offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison; HB 1166, which would restore child-only healthcare policies to the Georgia insurance market; and HB 1198, which would allow grandparents to appeal in the court system to visit with their grandchildren if the parents are unable or unwilling to allow such visits.
With this year’s session now in its final 10 days, I look forward to working with my colleagues on completing tax reform and criminal justice reform legislation, two of the major items remaining on the agenda. As always, please contact me with your views on the issues or whenever I can be of service.