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Posted: March 1, 2014 10:00 p.m.

House votes on some interesting bills

Business in the Georgia House intensified last week. We considered 77 bills and resolutions on the House floor in a number of lengthy sessions, while at the same time producing several dozen bills per day from numerous committee meetings. We’ve now reached the final quarter of the session, and the pressure is on to get everything done. None of the measures we saw during the week was really high profile, but several were interesting.

HB 153 is intended to change how special purpose local option sales taxes (SPLOST) for counties and cities are composed. It would allow an SPLOST to be set up in increments of 1/20th of a percent (0.05%). The author felt that this would be a taxpayer-friendly move, by allowing local governments to levy an SPLOST at less than the full 1% specified in current law.

The bill sparked a lively debate, with opponents pointing out that this would be redundant flexibility, since an SPLOST can already have a variable time frame, allowing it to be adjusted to the needs of a specific project or list. Some members maintained that the author was trying to solve a local problem by changing a statewide law. Members from areas of Georgia adjacent to other states were concerned with a possible negative impact to cross-border business.

A more significant objection surfaced with discussion about how the bill could create competitive inequities among neighboring Georgia counties. In sum, this bill was one of those rare, unexpected, unscripted dustups on the House floor that many of us relish witnessing.

I felt a number of the concerns were significant, and cast a "no" vote. The bill failed by a vote of 78 to 92. Supporters made a motion to reconsider the vote, which will be done next week. It will be interesting to see if they can recruit the 13 additional votes needed for passage.

HB 449 seeks to stop a disturbing misuse of open records law. Currently, recordings from 911 calls can be obtained via an open records request, which is certainly appropriate in the vast majority of instances. Last year, a media outlet took a very inappropriate interest in obtaining the recording of a call where the caller died while the line remained open. This bill would exempt such calls from the open records laws, with a few carefully drawn exceptions. I supported the bill, and it passed by 163 to 3.

HB 782 is intended to aid disaster response efforts in this state. It would temporarily lift certain regulations on companies and employees who come to Georgia to help fix infrastructure. This would include many state and local licensing and registration requirements, along with certain state and local taxes and fees. The law would only come into play during an officially declared disaster or emergency, lasting until 60 days after the end of the emergency. The idea is to make it easier for repair crews from other states to come to Georgia when we need them most. The bill passed unanimously.

HB 915 is meant to combat yet another new angle of identity fraud. Scam artists, along with (unfortunately) unscrupulous relatives have begun hijacking the identities of children in order to fraudulently obtain credit, just as they do with adults.

The difference here is that most parents have no idea that they should be monitoring their child’s credit profile in the first place. Thus the criminals are less likely to be obstructed by any monitoring hurdles, and parents suddenly get what can be a ghastly surprise well after the crime has been committed. This bill seeks to help parents proactively protect their children’s identities by placing them under a credit freeze. It passed unanimously.

HB 965 would provide amnesty to individuals seeking medical assistance for a drug overdose. It is a response to very sad situations where, out of fear of being incriminated, companions of someone who has overdosed on illegal drugs refuse to call 911. The intent is to carve out a very specially crafted exemption so that lives are saved. Unfortunately, while this is a very laudable intent, the business of wording that exemption is tricky and intricate. Such concerns initiated a debate over what would otherwise have been up fairly cut-and-dried measure. I shared the concerns and sided with those in opposition, but the bill passed, 144 to 20.

On Wednesday, Charles Woodward was at the Capitol with the Cattlemen, and I appreciated the chance to say hello.

Doug Holt (R-Social Circle) can be reached at 404-656-0152 or Doug@DougHolt.org.

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