House approves Rep. Shaw's insurance confidentiality bill
On Feb. 19, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to approve legislation I introduced to provide for insurance compliance self-evaluative privilege. HB 162 would protect the confidentiality of communications in order to encourage insurance companies to conduct voluntary audits.
The legislation is now under consideration in the Senate Insurance & Labor Committee.
Also this week, I introduced the Georgia New Markets Jobs Act, which would provide that certain entities may earn state premium tax liability credit for the purpose of establishing qualified low-income community investment. HB 439 awaits referral to a House committee.
Transportation Funding Act: The House Transportation Committee voted Feb. 18 to approve an amended version of HB 170, the Transportation Funding Act. Further changes before a vote on the House floor are possible as the legislation is still a work in progress. The package that emerged from committee includes the following provisions:
• The act will convert the state sales tax on motor fuel to an excise tax. This excise tax will be set at 29.2 cents per gallon on gasoline and 33 cents per gallon on diesel which approximates the average sales tax rates collected over the previous four years. These excise tax rates will be indexed to Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards as well as Construction Price Index (CPI) and adjusted annually. This provides a reliable, predictable funding source dedicated to transportation.
• Converting the sales tax on motor fuel to an excise tax adjusts Georgia's participation in, and advantage of, the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA).
• Converting to an excise tax dedicated to transportation will move the "fourth penny" revenue previously collected on motor fuel from the state's general fund to funding for transportation needs.
• Any local sales taxes on motor fuel currently authorized by the voters will be honored. Future SPLOST and E-SPLOSTs could continue to be levied on gasoline if reauthorized by voters, but diesel fuel will be exempted to ensure truckers can deduct the entire excise-only tax on diesel fuel. Such local sales tax revenue would have to be dedicated to transportation purposes. Other local sales taxes could no longer be collected on motor fuel, but the maximum rate will be increased to 1.25% to compensate for the lost tax base. As a reminder, this provision replaces the local 6-cent excise tax on motor fuel option which is no longer a part of this package.
• Alternative fueled vehicles will pay a user fee of $200 for non-commercial and $300 for commercial vehicles each year. As these vehicles do not use gasoline, their owners do not currently pay their share of taxes devoted to the maintenance of the roads they use. This fee will not be imposed on hybrid vehicles which require purchase of gasoline.
• Eliminate the state tax credit for the purchase of alternative fueled vehicles.
• The Transportation Infrastructure Bank will be directed to assist tier 1 and tier 2 counties and encourage investment in every region of our state.
• In addition to HB 170, the following items are proposed to be included in the FY 2016 state budget:
• A significant bond package will provide for critical transportation needs including transit. This is a prudent way to provide more immediate funding for our transportation needs while leveraging the state's high credit-rating to borrow at little cost to the state.
• Increase funding for Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants (LMIG).
• Recapitalize the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank so that a revolving, self-sustaining, loan/grant fund is created to incentivize governments, authorities, CIDs and other entities to provide matching funds for local construction of projects.
I would like to thank many city, county and school leaders from our area who have provided a great deal of needed information and dialogue as to how this legislation would affect local governments and taxpayers. Click here for more information on Georgia's identified transportation needs.
Transportation Board Re-Election: I would like to congratulate my dad, former Rep. Jay Shaw of Lakeland, on his re-election to the State Transportation Board, representing the 8th Congressional District. He served as chair of the board last year and has done a great job of representing the interests of our district since he was first elected in 2010.
FY 2015 Budget Finalized: The House and Senate have reached final agreement on midyear amendments to the state budget for the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30. As adjusted, the $21.1 billion total budget for fiscal year 2015 now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.
Additional funding in HB 75, the supplemental budget legislation, includes $126 million to local school districts to account for enrollment growth; $49.5 million for increases in Medicaid reimbursements; $40 million for economic development grants; $35 million for expanded Internet connectivity in the public schools; $6.2 million for 103 new child welfare case workers; $4.9 million for medical cannabis trials at Georgia Regents University; $648,000 to establish the Georgia Film Academy to expand the potential workforce for the state's growing film industry; and $203,000 for a charter school to help prison inmates earn high school diplomas.
HB 75 also includes language calling for the Department of Community Health to study ways to continue providing health insurance coverage for part-time school employees, including bus drivers and cafeteria workers. Legislative budget writers now turn their full attention to the proposed $21.8 annual budget for fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1.
Port of Savannah: The House and Senate have approved legislation that would remove a potential legal barrier to Georgia's ability to receive federal funds for the deepening of the Savannah Harbor, which is seen as a vital project for the state's economic future.
SB 5 would authorize the Georgia Ports Authority to legally indemnify the federal government when it distributes its $430 million share of the $700 million project, which is aimed at increasing the number of products shipped to and from Georgia businesses via the Savannah port.
The project, which began last month and is scheduled for completion in 2020, will deepen the Savannah River by five feet to allow the port to accommodate larger container ships. The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.
Also, House members approved and sent to the Senate for its consideration:
• HB 47, which would authorize certain prescription drug refills of topical ophthalmic products under certain conditions.
• HB 52, which would change provisions in the state's child custody law to require parenting plans to be incorporated into final custody orders.
• HB 100, which would change the enrollment age eligibility date for school children from Sept. 1 to Aug. 1. Students would have to be 5 years old by Aug. 1 in order to enroll in kindergarten for that school year.
• HB 119, which would allow a probate judge who has signed an "order to apprehend" an ill or suicidal person to disclose to law enforcement officers if that person has HIV or AIDS.
• HB 160, which would allow the trapping of raccoons in eight Georgia counties where the practice is currently prohibited.
• HB 172, which would amend Georgia's "boating under the influence" law so that it would not apply to a person on a homemade or inflatable raft.
• HB 198, which would require annual suicide prevention education training for certified school system personnel. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Opportunity School District: Legislation proposed by Gov. Nathan Deal would create an Opportunity School District that will allow the state to temporarily step in to assist chronically failing schools, giving students and parents hope for a better future.
In the governor's proposal, persistently failing schools are defined as those scoring below 60 on the Georgia Department of Education's accountability measure, the College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI), for three consecutive years.
The Opportunity School District would take in no more than 20 schools per year, meaning it would govern no more than 100 at any given time. Schools would stay in the district for no less than five years but no more than 10 years.
Creating the Opportunity School District requires a constitutional amendment. The Governor is working with legislators this session to put the amendment on the 2016 ballot and to pass enabling legislation that will govern how the district operates.
Monday, Feb. 23, was the 20th legislative day of the 2015 session of the General Assembly, marking the session’s halfway point. Please feel free to contact me 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 email@example.com.