Your Georgia General Assembly is moving into the final quarter of the 2008 Assembly session as we have completed 31 days of the no-more-than 40 legislative day session. The final quarter is when the tough legislation is worked out and debated. In addition, the budgetary issues really storm to the front as the Appropriations Committee members move to submit a balanced budget that fulfills needs of federally mandated programs like education and Medicaid, as well as, universities, roads and other needed projects and programs.
The highlight of the week is that House members were able to reach a tenable compromise and voted to pass out a tax relief package that was defeated last week. House Resolution 1246, which failed to pass last week, was overwhelmingly adopted this week after some modifications were made to the legislation that would allow voters to determine whether they wanted the tax relief in the form of a constitutional amendment. The latest version of the tax relief proposal eliminates the ad valorem taxes on auto license tags, the .25 mills in property tax charged by the state on property owners (a total annual savings of $94 million), and a freeze on property tax assessments. Because this bill is a constitutional amendment, 120 votes were needed to pass the resolution and this time it passed 166-5 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.
As part of the removal of the auto property tax or what we call the "birthday tax," we implemented House Bill 1158 which places a $10 trauma charge on motor vehicle tags in the state of Georgia. The reason we call it the "birthday tax" is that your tag renewal is tied to your birthday. The ten dollar tag charge would be used exclusively to help fund our state’s trauma care network. Trauma care is the hospital you need when there is an accident. Currently this state has only 4 level one trauma care units with those being in Atlanta, Savannah, Macon, and Augusta. Enhanced trauma care is desperately needed in all regions of the state. There are two points I want to make about this. First, trauma funding is essential for saving lives. Second, most of us would gladly pay $10 dollars additional on our car tag, and NOT pay hundreds of dollars for the car tax. This legislation, House Bill 1158, passed 164-7.
In an effort to enhance charitable giving to private schools, we passed House Bill 1133, a bill that provides an income tax credit to taxpayers who make contributions to ‘student scholarship organizations" that provide 90 percent of their funding in the form of scholarships. As with most tax credits there are additional rules. This legislation passed 92-73.
In an effort to strengthen our regional areas of the state, we easily passed HB 1216 that essentially changes our regional development centers or RDCs into regional commissions. The purpose of these commissions is to develop, promote, and assist in establishing coordinated and comprehensive land use, environmental, transportation and historic preservation planning in the state. In addition, these regional commissions would assist local governments in planning. Twelve regional commissions would be created. The bill passed 134-34.
In an effort to separate and codify theft, we have created a new offense called "organized retail theft." Organized retail theft is committed when 2 or more people are involved in retail property theft in large quantities over a 180-day period with the intent to resell the stolen items. HB 1346 passed unanimously.
Please do not hesitate to let me know your position or thoughts on issues that concern you. If you would like to reach me, please call me at (404) 656-5099 or write me at: State Rep. Ron Stephens ,228 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. Ron Stephens represents South Bryan.