Press Room

Legislative Bulletin - March 31

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Georgia General Assembly will adjourn Friday, April 4.  

There are just four (4) legislative days remaining in this legislative session.  Legislators will be in session today (Monday), Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday for sine die, not to meet again until January 12, 2009 – "the second Monday after the first Tuesday in the year," unless called into special session.  Go ahead; mark your calendars for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's annual legislative kick-off, the Eggs & Issues Breakfast, for Tuesday, January 13, 2009!  

In this two-year session that will end Friday, almost 5,000 bills and resolutions have been introduced, with all but a few still in play.  Many of these the Georgia Chamber of Commerce has spearheaded to what we hope and believe will be a successful conclusion.  Some successes have already been won: the statewide water management plan, for example, has been signed into law, as has SB 352, to bring all state department and agencies' rules and regulations under legislative oversight.  

Thousands of bills, of course, never see the light of day, introduced but defeated or amended because they were contrary to our state's economic development goals, were anti-business, or would have had an unintended and detrimental impact on business.  

For a current, complete list of all bills that the Georgia Chamber of Commerce is tracking – that affect business statewide and our members – please visit:

Compliance Committee Ã‚»
Economic Development and Tourism Committee Ã‚»
Education Committee Ã‚»
Environmental, Energy, Natural Resources and Water Management Committee Ã‚»
Federal Affairs Committee Ã‚»
Healthcare Committee Ã‚»
Judiciary Committee Ã‚»
Small Business Committee Ã‚»
Taxation and Business Incentives Committee Ã‚»
Technology and General Business Committee Ã‚»
Transportation Committee Ã‚»
Workers' Compensation, Labor and Employment Committee Ã‚»  

Bills are grouped by the committee of the Georgia Chamber's Government Affairs Council (GAC) to which the measure has been assigned for review, study and recommended action.  Check these pages of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce web site regularly for timely updates on legislation we are following that affects business statewide and our members.  

For local chambers of commerce and business/civic organizations: The Georgia Chamber will be traveling the state for "Post Session Briefings" after adjournment.  This is a great opportunity for your members to get an insider's report on which bills passed or failed and what to expect in the future.  We want to keep you informed and engaged.  Local chambers across Georgia are vital to our economic development efforts and helping to keep our state business friendly.  The government affairs staff of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce is happy to and will be available to visit your chamber of commerce, Rotary Club, or other business-related organizations.  If you would like to schedule a Post Session Briefing at your chamber, please contact Ginger Hathcock at (404) 223-2269.


The Final Four  

Legislative days, not college basketball teams!  Among the key issues to be resolved in this final week:  

·  The roughly $21+ billion 2009 budget,  

·  Differences between the House and Senate-passed versions of transportation funding,  

·  Reservoir funding and planning legislation,  

·  Senate adoption of the annual "back to school" and "energy efficient" sales tax holidays,  

·  Trauma care funding (the state Senate is expected to vote one proposal on trauma network funding Monday, a $10 fee added to auto registrations.  This proposal would raise about $74 million a year, in addition to the almost $60 million in the budget for trauma care for the rest of this year),  

·  Senate approval and concurrence of two critical tax priorities for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, HB 237, the "Integrated Plant Theory" bill, HB 272, to cap the tax on energy paid by manufacturers when energy prices soar, 
 
·  Resolution of differences between the Senate and House versions of legislation that would allow individuals to "freeze" their credit file.  Each of the three national credit reporting agencies in our country already do this voluntarily and give consumers the opportunity to deny others permission to view their credit file.  However, because the Georgia Chamber of Commerce resists the notion that government should set pricing for businesses and services in a competitive, free-market, we OPPOSE these bills.  

·  Watching to see if opponents' efforts to derail plans to revitalize Jekyll Island succeed, plans already approved by the Jekyll Island Authority and supported by local business leaders, and  

·  And to see what compromise House and Senate members may be able to reach in their tax reform/tax cut initiatives.  The House version would eliminate the ad valorem tax on personal vehicles ("car tag tax") and the Senate version would cut personal income taxes by 10 percent.  

·  Also the NRA's "bring your guns to work" has been assigned to a conference committee and could meet this week to iron out differences between the two chambers' versions.    

GAC Education Committee

Among the bills still pending related to education are HB 1133 to encourage, through tax credits, corporate and individual contributions to scholarship funds and the "BRIDGE" bill [HB 905 – "Building Resourceful Individuals to Develop Georgia's Economy," sponsored by Rep. Fran Millar], which directs the State Board of Education to develop programs to improve graduation rates and to improve the preparedness of students for postsecondary education and careers program on time, to provide for model programs for students at risk of dropping out of high school; to train school counselors and graduation coaches to provide for educational counseling.    


GAC Economic Development and Tourism Committee

HB 1129, "The Georgia Tourism Development Act," would provide tax incentives for companies creating certain high-volume tourism destinations in Georgia.  The bill passed the House unanimously last month, 124-0, and is scheduled to be heard today in the Senate Finance Committee.  The Georgia Chamber of Commerce supports this legislation.  

SB 80, which passed the Georgia Senate last year, would permit – but NOT require – public retirement systems to invest in private investment funds, such as venture capital funds – and does not include the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia specifically.  The Georgia Chamber of Commerce supports this legislation to bring Georgia in line with a majority of other states to allow private investments in venture capital funds by the state pension systems retirement funds.  As one of the few states in our nation that denies state pensions from investing in private investments, we send a poor signal to potential investors in our state.  


GAC Environmental, Energy, Natural Resources and Water Management Committee  

A conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of HB 1132, "The Uniform Environmental Covenants Act," is expected to meet and report out a final version of the legislation.  

"The Georgia Water Supply Act of 2008," or so-called reservoir bill, passed the Senate Natural Resources Committee on March 27, and is expected to be considered by the full Senate early this week.  The Senate Finance Committee made changes to the bill.  Therefore, if HB 1226 passes the Senate, a conference committee of House and Senate members will be needed to agree and recommend a final bill to both chambers.  Another reservoir-related measure, "The Water Conservation and Drought Relief Act," SB 342, is waiting final action in the House.  Both bills are pro-actively supported by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.  

HB 1281, to encourage one, uniform standard for water restrictions, and which also would prohibit any restrictions on filling swimming pools unless there is not enough water for humans, farms or industries and unless required by the director of the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD), is eligible for a Senate vote this week.  The Georgia Chamber supports this legislation.  

Gov. Perdue has signed into law SB 352, which now includes the Environmental Protection Division under legislative oversight.  As with every other state department, under SB 352, the bill stipulates that if a legislative committee files an objection to an EPD proposed rule, the rule cannot be employed until after the next session, when General Assembly has had a chance to review it.  SB 352 exempts rules that are enacted to enforce federal laws or regulations, but requires departmental demonstration of how the state's proposed rule would result in the promulgation of federal action.    


GAC Healthcare Committee  

Among bills in this committee which fate will be decided this week:  

HB 798, SB 383, SB 404, and SB 433.  An earlier bill to expand government regulation of health care, HB 923, was defeated the House Insurance Committee, and did not meet the Day-30 crossover deadline.  

We wish to congratulate the people of Americus and Sumter County, whose hospital was destroyed just over a year ago, on March 1, 2007.  Sumter Regional Hospital has re-opened in a brand-new 76-bed facility.  Since the tornado, the hospital has been literally operating out of tents and trailers.  Our friends in southwest Georgia hope to break ground this fall on a permanent hospital that is scheduled to be opened in 2010.  

The Georgia Trial Lawyers' Association's director of political affairs, Bill Clark, has announced that his organizations' top priority for 2009 will be repeal of the liability standard for hospital emergency rooms and their personnel, a part of the 2005 SB 3 tort reform bill.    


GAC Judiciary Committee  

Thursday past, the Senate Judiciary passed HB 1346, to curb organized retail theft rings.  The bill, which passed the House on March 11, is awaiting final Senate approval this week.  The Georgia Chamber of Commerce supports Chairman Larry O'Neal's bill.

The "Corporate Good Samaritan Act of 2008," SB 305, introduced by Sen. David Shafer and sponsored in the House by Rep. Burke Day, passed the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, and will hopefully be brought by the Rules Committee to the House floor early this week for a vote.  The Georgia Chamber of Commerce supports legislation that provides "good Samaritan" protections for businesses that render aid in times of natural disasters, acts of terrorism, pandemic diseases or other emergencies. Currently individuals are protected from litigation when trying to help others in emergencies.  This protection should be extended to business and non-profits to enhance, not hinder, our state's ability to respond quickly and effectively to emergencies with private as well as public resources.  

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has announced the appointment of a Senate Study Committee on Employment Contracts: "In my capacity as President of the Senate, I am appointing a Study Committee to examine legal limitations on non-compete contracts in Georgia.  The Committee will be charged with developing and proposing a statutory or Constitutional reform package to better balance the rights of employees with those of employers seeking to bring intellectual property businesses to Georgia.  Sens. Judson Hill, Bill Cowsert, and David Adelman are appointed to serve on this study committee."  


GAC Small Business Committee

Expecting to see Senate adoption of HB 948, the traditional sales tax holiday for "back-to-school" supplies and energy efficient products.  The dates outlined in the House bill are July 31-August 3, 2008, for school supplies, and October 2-5, 2008, for energy efficient products.  

Will the House vote on SB 454 this week?  A bill to permit public stadiums in unincorporated areas to sell alcoholic beverages on Sundays?  And which was amended the House Regulated Industries Committee to also permit grocery stores to sell on Sundays, if, and only if, approved by local voters?    


GAC Taxation and Business Incentive Committee  

Two key parts of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce "Legislative Agenda" could be up for a vote in the Senate floor, and we urge support for these measures:

HB 237 would exempt the sales tax on all machinery and equipment that is necessary and integral to the manufacturing process and all water-pollution eliminating machinery.  

And HB 272, which would cap the taxes on energy manufacturers pay when energy prices soar.  

The Senate Finance Committee also passed HB 1211 and HR 1276, "The Georgia Bona Fide Large Forest Conservation Use Act of 2008."  A vote by the full Senate is expected this week.  

We're gonna avoid a long, drawn-out summary of the Senate and House tax cuts that each passed overwhelmingly in its chamber.  Enough has been written about these tax cuts to paper the Georgia Dome four-times over.  

The Senate and House versions both include caps on property assessments, both on residential and commercial property, the Senate proposal a the rate of "government inflation," which has been about 5.05% over the last five years; the House at 2 percent for homeowners and three percent for business property owners.  

The major difference between the two: the House version eliminates the ad valorem tax on personal vehicles; the Senate version cuts personal income taxes by 10 percent, dropping the top rate from 6 percent to 5.4 percent.  Both include the Governor's proposed state's quarter-mill property tax elimination.  The Senate version also includes language to dedicate to education, the rainy day fund and then to taxpayer refunds any General Treasury dollars in excess of a formula tied to the inflation rate and population growth.  

In compliance with O.C.G.A. Sec. 50-13-4, the Georgia Department of Revenue has given notice that it proposes to amend Chapter 560-7-8 of the Rules and Regulations of the State of Georgia by adopting new Rules 560-7-8-.46, entitled "Definition of Business Enterprise."  Comments to the Department of Revenue, if any, are due by April 29, 2008.  As an electronic copy is attached here.

HB 1168, promoted by the Tourism Development Alliance of Georgia and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's Board of Directors' Committee on Tourism, to revise the existing hotel-motel tax to better promote Georgia as a tourism destination, passed the Senate Finance unanimously last Wednesday.

HB 1399 is on the Senate Finance Committee calendar this Monday morning.  The bill adds a $2 fee per room per night to fund sports marketing across Georgia.  

Just two years ago, we were number 1.  But in economist Dr. Arthur Laffer's 2008 ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index, Georgia ranks 8th.  Using a composite of 16 variable factors, from personal income taxes to property tax burden to quality of the state's legal system, Dr. Laffer gives his rating of the 50 states that spend less, tax less, and generally experience greater growth rates.  His 2008 top ten:  

1. Utah
2. Arizona
3. South Dakota
4. Wyoming
5. Tennessee
6. Virginia
7. Colorado
8. Georgia
9. Idaho
10. Texas  

Other states of interest in the South and Southeast:  

14. Florida
18. Alabama
19. North Carolina
21. Louisiana
23. Mississippi
25. South Carolina  

Full report at
http://www.alec.org/fileadmin/newPDF/ALEC_Competitiveness_Index.pdf

How Georgia fared in specific factors (1=best; 50=worst):  

Top marginal personal income cumulative growth, 1996-2006:
Georgia's rate: 6 percent; Georgia's rank: 25th  

Top marginal corporate income tax rate:
Georgia's rate: 6 percent; Georgia's rank: 15th  

Property tax burden: (per $1,000 of personal income):
Georgia's rate: $30.48; Georgia's rank: 23rd  

Sales tax burden: (per $1,000 of personal income):
Georgia's rate: $27.59; Georgia's rank: 31st  

Remaining tax burden: (per $1,000 of personal income):
Georgia's rate: $12.94; Georgia's rank: 3rd  

Estate/Inheritance Tax levied?:
Georgia's rate: NO/0 percent; Georgia's rank: 1  

Debt service as a percent of total tax revenue:
Georgia's rate:  6.7%; Georgia's rank: 6th  

Public employees per 10,000 of population (full-time equivalent):
Georgia's rate: 540.0; Georgia's rank: 23rd  

State Liability System Survey: (tort litigation treatment, judicial impartiality, etc.):
Georgia's rate: 61.2; Georgia's rank: 31st  

Average Workers' Compensation Costs: (per $100 of payroll):
Georgia's rate: $2.02; Georgia's rank: 11th  


GAC Technology and General Business Committee  

The House passed virtually unanimously Sen. Tim Golden's legislation, SB 359, to establish a "Made in Georgia" marketing and labeling program to promote good and products manufactured in Georgia.  

The state Senate has created a study committee to look at the future of manufacturing in Georgia, SR 1097.  

The Georgia Department of Insurance has promulgated Emergency Regulation 120-3-24-0.8, "Rules and Regulations for Loss Prevention Due to Combustible Dust Explosions and Fire," which will be in effect for 120-days, until the adoption by regular rulemaking authority.  

"Emergency Regulation Chapter 120-3-24-0.8 effective March 7, 2008, requires all new and existing facilities that have operations involving the manufacturing, processing, and/or handling combustible particulate solids including manufacturing processes that create combustible dust to register by electronic means with the Commissioner beginning July 1, 2008.  This must be completed/updated annually.

Before a business license may be issued by the city and/or county jurisdiction to legally operate within the city and/or county jurisdiction after September 1, 2008, each industry is required to receive an annual "Certificate of Registration" from the office of the Safety Fire Commissioner."  

The 57-page regulation can be read at: http://www.gainsurance.org/ANNOUNCEMENTS/1078ER-372008143836.pdf

According to the Department of Insurance in their announcement of the new regulations: "All manufacturers in Georgia will be required to have a designated safety officer.  Monthly reporting will ensure that emergency plans are in place and drills are conducted."  Questions or concerns should be directed to Fred Meyer, Administrative Procedure Attorney, Department of Insurance, at (404) 656-5875.  


GAC Transportation Committee  

The House of Representatives last week passed SR 845, as amended in the House.  A conference committee of three Senators (Sens. Don Balfour, Jeff Mullis, and Doug Stoner) and three House (Reps. Donna Sheldon, Vance Smith, and Calvin Smyre) members will work on a final proposed Constitutional amendment for voter that would allow voters in a county or a pre-determined region to decide on a one-cent sales tax for transportation projects in their county or region.  The House voted to give local governments the option of levying a one-cent sales tax hike to fund regional transportation projects. The constitutional amendment passed 136 to 35, easily earning the needed two-thirds majority.  Earlier the Senate voted 51-4 for a similar funding mechanism to address the staggering funding Georgia faces in transportation.  Depending on which version prevails, SR 845 will send 90-100 percent of every dollar raised in a given region back to that area to be spent exclusively on projects there, from local roads to highways, transit, commuter rail, ports and airports.   

Thousands of transportation projects are on the chopping block, in every part of the state because of the multi-billion-dollar funding deficit for transportation.  There's simply not enough money to keep pace even with routine maintenance and repaving, much less to bring new projects to completion.

Georgia is the 4th-fastest-growing state in the country - growing twice as fast as the national average - and yet Georgia spends less on new transportation infrastructure than almost an other state!   In just six years: 84 percent of Georgia's road pavement will be rated "fair, poor or bad."  20 percent of all bridges in Georgia show significant deterioration or do not meet current design standards.   Overall construction costs have increased by 28 percent in just one year.  Average cost per "right of way" parcel has jumped by approximately 400 percent over the past ten years.  

As Department of Transportation Commissioner Gena Abraham noted: The department that has the funding to work on about 270 projects a year has 1,470 active projects on the books now, and more than 9,000 planned.  ""We're going to have to talk about projects coming off our books," she said. "There's no other way around it."  

An issue first brought to the attention of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce two years ago is moving forward to final passage, addressed in the form of  SB 488 (To allow foreign nationals to keep driver's license from their home country).  Sponsored by Sens. Rogers, Pearson, Orrick, Adelman and Judson Hill, the bill passed the state Senate 50-0 on Friday, February 29, 2008.  SB 488 passed the House Motor Vehicles unanimously Friday, March 28.  This issue was raised with Georgia Chamber of Commerce staff during fall "Listening Sessions" with the international chambers of commerce located here in Georgia.    


Sidebars  

One of our favorites to retire at the end of the year:  Dick Pettys, who has been covering the state Capitol and Georgia politics for almost 40 years, for many years with the Associated Press and more recently as editor of InsiderAdvantageGeorgia, will retire by the end of the year.


* * *  

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce is the unified voice of the business community, aggressively advocating the business viewpoint in the shaping of public policy, encouraging ethical business practices and ensuring the state's future as economically prosperous, educationally competitive and environmentally responsible.  

233 Peachtree Street, N.E.
Suite 2000
Atlanta, Georgia 30303-1564
www.gachamber.com
(404) 223-2264
Toll Free in Georgia: (800) 241-2286    

Special note of thanks!  As this session winds down, we'd like to thank each of the members of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's Government Affairs Council (GAC).  The 450 men and women, government affairs professionals representing the 4,500 business members of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, make a difference and make a genuine sacrifice for the best interest of state and business in Georgia.  They are HOW GEORGIA DOES BUSINESS!

Special appreciation goes to our volunteer leadership, each who each so much of their time, talent and energy to promoting the agenda of the Georgia Chamber and the interests of business across our state:  

Government Affairs Council (GAC)
Chairman: Skin Edge, GeorgiaLink Public Affairs Group
Vice Chairman: Haydon Stanley, Fiveash-Stanley  

Ex-officio: Don Cargill, J.D. Cargill & Associates
Ex-officio: Ric Cobb, Georgia Petroleum Council  

GAC Compliance Committee
Chair: Roy Robinson, The R.B. Robinson Company
Vice Chair: Jean McRae, The Vaquer Firm  

GAC Economic Development and Tourism Committee
Chair: Maria Zack, The Strollo Group
Vice Chair: Steve Allen, Georgia Power Company  

GAC Education Committee  
Chair: Mike Holiman, Cornerstone Communications
Vice Chair: Chandler Haydon, Haydon Consulting  

GAC Environment, Energy, Natural Resources and Water Management Committee
Chair: Bo Moore, McKenna Long & Aldridge
Vice Chair: Allen Richardson, Georgia-Pacific Corp.  

GAC Federal Affairs Committee
Chair: Jay Morgan, J.L. Morgan Company, Inc.
Vice Chair: Clint Austin, ConnectSouth  

GAC Technology and General Business Committee
Chair: Earl Rogers, Georgia Hospital Association
Vice Chair: Brenda Jones, CheckFree Corporation  

GAC Healthcare Committee
Chair: Kevin Curtin, AT&T
Vice Chair: Sheila Humberstone, Troutman Sanders Public Affairs Group  

GAC Judiciary Committee
Chair: Kirk McGhee, Attorney at Law
Vice Chair: Robb Willis, Troutman Sanders Public Affairs Group  

GAC Small Business Committee
Chair: Chuck McMullen, Piedmont Public Affairs
Vice Chair: David Raynor, NFIB Georgia  

GAC Taxation and Business Incentives Committee
Chair: Terry Lawler, CompuCredit Corporation
Vice Chair: Guy Griswold, Griswold Lesser  

GAC Transportation Committee
Chair: Kevin Perry, Georgia Beverage Association
Vice Chair: Michael Wall, Comcast  

GAC Workers' Compensation, Labor and Employment
Chair: John Poole, Poole & Dunn Management Services
Vice Chair: Craig Camuso, CSX Transportation
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