House gives final approval to tax relief legislation
The House of Representatives voted March 13 to give final approval to legislation that would provide a number of sales tax exemptions and other state tax relief, including a two-year extension of the sales tax holiday periods for back-to-school purchases and energy-efficient appliances.
HB 958 also includes a two-year extension of the state income tax credit for video game production companies with annual payrolls of at least $500,000 and yearly net incomes of less than $100 million. Companies who claim the credit will not be allowed to claim more than $1.5 million in a single year, and every credit must be approved by the Department of Economic Development.
Also included are renewals of the sales tax exemptions for construction materials used in new manufacturing plants and other projects of regional significance and a previously expired sales tax exemption for the state’s food banks. HB 958 now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.
On another tax relief issue, the Senate gave final approval to House legislation that would repeal Georgia’s estate tax. HB 658, which awaits the governor’s signature, ends any requirements for estate tax returns on July 1, 2014, repealing the current law which taxes the fair market value of any property or assets transferred to others due to a death. HB 658 does not affect tax, penalty, interest liabilities or refund eligibility for taxable years prior to the sunset date. Any previous administrative proceedings, civil actions, prosecutions or punishments will not be decreased or waived.
On March 12, the House voted to approve an amended version of SB 213, also known as the Flint River Drought Protection Act. Supporters of the original version of the bill said it was intended to protect farmers in southwest Georgia from lawsuits over the endangered species act. To do this, the bill allowed for the process of augmentation, which was not defined in current law; neither was it confined to the lower Flint Basin. Furthermore, citizens with water permits downstream from the augmentation could have been denied access to water that flowed by them by the Environmental Protection Division director. The original version would also have enabled the state to prevent farmers from withdrawing water from the Flint basin for crop irrigation purposes.
As chairman of the Legislative Rural Caucus, I was part of a bipartisan coalition of House members who pointed out the problems with the original version of SB 213 and introduced a compromise version of the bill. Working with the Georgia Farm Bureau and the Georgia Agribusiness Council, substantial changes were made to SB 213.When the bill passed the House, the amendments defined augmentation to be limited to using ground water – as opposed to aquifer storage and recovery, inter-basin transfers or piping water from reservoirs – to add to a stream during a drought, only within four streams in the lower Flint basin, instead of statewide, for the sole purpose of protecting vulnerable aquatic life. The Senate approved the House’s changes the next day and sent SB 213 to Gov. Deal for his signature.
House members also approved final passage on the Work-Based Learning Act, which replaces the Youth Apprenticeship Program with a work-based learning program in Georgia schools. HB 766 allows students in the 11th and 12th grades and other students over age 16 to enroll in a work-based learning program, designed to provide students with real-world work opportunities to prepare them for a future career.
Students who enter into the program will be granted leave time from school to work as a student learner for any business enterprise approved by the local work-based learning coordinator. The legislation, which now awaits the governor’s signature, also defines eligibility requirements for work-based learning coordinators.
House members also approved SB 342, which permits the Department of Public Health to disclose information regarding an individual infected with HIV to a health care provider whom the individual has consulted for medical treatment.
More than half of Georgians infected with HIV are not currently receiving treatment. SB 342, which awaits the governor’s signature, seeks to nudge those individuals into a treatment program that will improve both the quality and length of their lives. By providing physicians with a patient’s care status, we empower our health care professionals to make the necessary, life-saving recommendations to those infected with HIV.
Other Senate legislation approved by the House last week includes:
• An amended version of SB 292, which would establish an Alzheimer’s Disease Registry within the Department of Public Health.
• SB 318, which will allow bars to open on the Sunday during the St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Savannah, one of Georgia’s largest tourist events of the year. Gov. Deal signed the legislation into law on March 13.
• SB 320, which establishes a Veterans Court Division, specializing in the treatment of defendants who are veterans in order to ensure their successful reentry into society.
• SB 349, which amends the powers and duties of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and establishes governing boards to oversee community service boards and revises the boards’ powers and duties.
• SB 382, which criminalizes the practice of using a false name or address for the purpose of obtaining or attempting to obtain return goods in order to gain store credit.
• SR 746, which expresses support for the State Plan for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias.
• SR 941, which urges Congress to increase the number of visas available to Korean citizens possessing skills in specialty occupations in Georgia.
The House also voted to approve HR 1523, which seeks to create the Joint Study Committee to Review and Recommend Necessary Changes to the Georgia Code of Military Justice; HR 1585, which urges local governments to display the American flag in their respective government building; HR 1601, which creates a Georgia-Based Film and Post-Production Study Committee; and HR 1722, which establishes a House Study Committee on Medical Education.
On March 10, legislation that I introduced and has already passed the House won approval by the Senate Public Safety Committee. HB 88, which would provide Class E and Class F driver’s licenses free of charge to qualified volunteer firefighters, now awaits action by the full Senate.
The 2014 session of the General Assembly is down to its final two legislative days. The House of Representatives and Senate will be in full session Tuesday, March 18, for the 39th day and Thursday, March 20, for the 40th and final day. Monday and Wednesday will be filled with committee meetings, preparing legislation for final action.
Please let me know your views on the issues facing our state, or whenever I can be of service.