2015 Legislative Session gets under way
The 2015 session of the Georgia General Assembly convenes Monday, January 12, the first of 40 legislative days for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate to address the major issues facing our state. I am honored to represent House District 176 and to begin my fifth year of legislative service.
During the first week of the session, Gov. Nathan Deal will present his budget recommendations for the remainder of fiscal year 2015 and the annual budget for fiscal year 2016 to the General Assembly. Beginning Jan. 20, members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will hold hearings to receive detailed information on the budget requests from various state agencies. Georgia's annual budget is the No. 1 responsibility for the Legislature each year.
Through the first half of the current fiscal year, state revenues are showing a 5.7 percent increase over last year, and the new state budget is expected to exceed $21 billion. Also this year, lawmakers will consider a full agenda of proposed legislation covering a number of priorities for our state.
Transportation Funding: A special Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding held eight public hearings to address a growing crisis with regard to funding the construction, repair and maintenance of Georgia's transportation infrastructure. The committee’s official report concluded that Georgia needs a minimum of $1 billion to $1.5 billion in additional annual revenue to maintain the state's existing roads, bridges, air and transit system infrastructure, as well as $5.4 billion more annually for necessary transit expansion and new road construction.
Noting that Georgia currently ranks 49th in terms of state spending per capita on its roads, the report states, “Investment in transportation infrastructure must be viewed in its larger economic context. Roads, bridges, transit systems and rail lines are critical means of connecting businesses with their customers and employees. However, congestion on major highways costs the state billions each year in lost productivity, including extended commutes and delayed shipments of goods. These problems are only expected to grow as the United States, and fast-growing states like Georgia particularly, continue to experience rapid population growth, increased use of freight and shipping lanes, and urban areas become more congested. In order to remain nationally and globally competitive, and to meet these challenges, Georgia must take immediate and significant steps to increase its investment in transportation infrastructure.”
To generate those funds, lawmakers must consider a variety of options, one of which is an increase in the state motor fuel tax. Among the funding options included in the report are:
• Reduce the Georgia Department of Transportation's bonded indebtedness with payments from the state's general fund.
• Reform Georgia's motor fuel tax structure by converting the 4 percent sales tax on motor fuel to an excise tax.
• Index the motor fuel tax to inflation, construction costs or even the price of gasoline to preserve its purchasing power.
• Recapitalize the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank so that a revolving, self-sustaining loan/grant fund is created specifically to incentivize governmental entities to provide matching funds for local construction projects.
• Implement a one-cent statewide sales tax for transportation purposes.
• Increase Georgia's motor fuel tax, which has not been increased since 1971.
• Establish an annual road use fee for alternative fuel vehicles.
• Seek long-term solutions to wean the state and local governments from use of sales taxes on gasoline for non-transportation purposes.
• Acknowledge the need for additional investment in transit systems around the state.
• Give specific attention to the development of new toll lanes and managed lane networks.
• Double the funding for Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants.
Medical Cannabis: For the second consecutive year, legislation has been introduced to authorize the limited use of cannabis oil for the treatment of certain medical conditions, including childhood seizure disorders and chronic pain. HB 1, the "Haleigh's Hope Act," would strictly regulate the legal production of marijuana in Georgia to obtain the cannabis oil used in the treatments. The Senate failed to agree on the final language of a similar proposal that went through the legislative process during the 2014 session.
Child Abuse Claims: HB 17 would increase the statute of limitations for the filing of civil lawsuits in cases of child abuse, which currently is five years after an alleged victim turns 18 years old. The legislation would add 30 years to the statute, or 35 years after the alleged victim has turned 18. Sponsors of HB 17 say Georgia presently has one of the shortest statutes of limitations in the nation for child abuse civil claims.
Other Pre-Filed Legislation: More proposals are awaiting lawmakers' consideration during the 2015 session.
• HR 1 and HB 2 propose a constitutional amendment to legalize pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing in Georgia.
• HR 2 would impose term limits of eight consecutive years on members of the House and Senate.
• HB 3 would make it illegal to knowingly conduct transactions that could place in jeopardy the competitive eligibility of a college student-athlete.
• HB 5 would place limits on drone aircraft photography.
• HB 12 would create a misdemeanor offense when a person falsely claims to have been a military veteran or received a military decoration.
• HB 29 is aimed at preventing government overreach on individuals’ religious expression.
• HB 35 would increase the state’s limit on the total amount of qualified education tax credits.
Please feel free to contact me throughout the session with your thoughts on these and other issues, or whenever I can be of service. My legislative office is located at 508-A Coverdell Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; phone 404-656-0213 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.