2013 legislative session nears midway point


Thursday, Feb. 14, was the 18th legislative day of the 2013 session of the General Assembly, meaning we are near the halfway point of the session. Last week, the House of Representatives approved and sent to the Senate several proposals of interest:

House Bill 80 would amend the ad valorem title fee system that was established in the tax reform package enacted in 2012 by changing the definition of Fair Market Value (FMV) from the average of the book amount for the current FMV and the book amount for the wholesale FMV to either the same blended average or the retail selling price, whichever is higher. The retail selling price definition would be expounded to include charges for labor, freight, delivery, dealer add-ons and markups and to exclude charges for extended warranties, maintenance agreements, finance, insurance and interest charges. The legislation also provides an exception for vehicles titled and registered under the International Registration Plan, allows for an online registration system and sets a schedule of penalties for failure to timely register a vehicle.

HB 80 also would amend the state title ad valorem tax fee to be set at .375 percent for rental vehicles, down from .75 percent, subject to a minimum sales and use tax revenue per rental vehicle threshold of $400. Failure of a particular vehicle to meet the minimum threshold would disqualify it from the preferential rate. The legislation would set the state and local ad valorem fee rate at 6.5 percent for all leases and require lessors to register with the Revenue Department at a cost of $100 per registrant. The lessee must register the tag within 30 days of the lease.

The bill would also exempt the following transactions from incurring state and local ad valorem fee liability: the addition or substitution of lienholders, so long as ownership remains the same; acquisition of bonded title; acquisition of abandoned vehicles by a manufacturer or dealer of motor vehicles; acquisition by manufacturer, distributor, dealer or rebuilder for resale or title correction purposes only; acquisition of title pursuant to repossession under a valid security interest in the event of payment default; or amending the title for purposes of correcting odometer readings or removing an odometer discrepancy legend, so long as the title is not being transferred.

In addition, HB 80 would create a misdemeanor offense for failing to obtain a title for and register a motor vehicle. For purchases of motor vehicles with a model year between 1963 and 1987, the state title ad valorem fee and local ad valorem fee would each be .5 percent of FMV. Taxpayers who choose to appeal the FMV determination would be required to pay the full amount initially assessed prior to commencing the FMV appeal. Finally, the legislation would exempt lease payments from sales and use tax that would otherwise be imposed on vehicles that have been assessed a state and local ad valorem tax fee, and such fee has been satisfied.

House Bill 103, which I introduced, would remove a participation requirement before the extension of group life insurance coverage to dependents of employees or members of certain groups as approved by the state Insurance Commissioner. The legislation passed the House unanimously.

House Bill 59 would benefit public safety by reducing the number of false alarms reported to law enforcement, thus allowing our first responders to focus their resources on those truly in need. This legislation requires an alarm monitoring company to use a second contact for alarm verification if its first attempt is unsuccessful. If the second contact is reached and the alarm went off in error, then any dispatched law enforcement can disregard the report and continue with their regular duty. No second verification call would be required, however, if the alarm monitoring company has video or audio verification of a fire alarm, panic, robbery-in-progress, or crime-in-progress. It is important that we utilize law enforcement wisely. Reducing the number of responses to false alarms will help communities throughout the state do just that.

House Bill 198, which I co-sponsored and helped pass through my subcommittee, would help ensure that Georgians receive accurate information about their health insurance options. Under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare,” health insurance exchanges will be required to award grants to “navigators.” These navigators will then help people enroll in qualified health plans – a service currently provided by insurance brokers. Despite the fact that navigators will perform services similar to those provided by insurance brokers, the ACA explicitly prevents states from requiring navigators to hold an insurance producers license. This in effect would allow people who have not undergone the same level of training as an insurance broker to essentially carry out a similar role. This could cause consumers to receive inconsistent or inaccurate advice about their health care coverage options. Therefore, HB 198 would allow the state Insurance Commissioner to license navigators and ensure that they have the necessary qualifications to provide proper health insurance guidance.

House Bill 101 would make it easier for our state’s non-profit organizations to raise money by selling food at local events. Georgia law requires food service establishments to obtain a food service permit from the state before selling food to the public. While Georgia already exempts food sold at a fairs or festivals from this permit requirement, it does not exempt food sold by nonprofit organizations at other short-term events. HB 101 would change this so that nonprofit organizations could sell food at events lasting five days or less, like a weekend bake sale or Relay for Life event, without having to get a food service permit from the state. Nonprofit organizations would, however, still have to comply with all local government permitting requirements.

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