Full of intra-party Republican fighting between the Senate and House leadership, the 2008 Georgia legislative session came to a close last Friday with a number of key issues left unaddressed for another year including tax reform, transportation funding and trauma care.
"I found the session the most unusual one I've attended yet," said Rep. Robert Mumford (R-Conyers). "It wasn't entirely productive."
House Speaker Glenn Richardson's (R-Hiram) much touted, revised and diluted property tax reform failed to come to fruition for a number of reasons but principally because it went through so many rapid revisions that legislators were uncertain what they were approving.
From an initial proposal to wipe out property taxes completely in Georgia, Richardson's formerly GREAT tax plan ended up as a bill to eliminate the car tag tax over two years.
"Frankly, the Speaker's tirades weren't helpful on Friday," said Sen. John Douglas (R-Covington). "His words in the past towards the governor have not been helpful. We're all in the same party. We're Republicans and we need to be able to work together."
Richardson's refusal to compromise with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Senate Republicans on their plan to trim the state income tax by 10 percent over five years didn't help either. In the end not even a proposal to limit the amount by which property assessments could rise succeeded in making it out of the legislature.
"We didn't raise taxes but we didn't cut them either," Douglas said, adding that the General Assembly did see fit to trim the governor's requested budget by $300 million this year, due to the current recession.
The lack of a tax cut was pleasing to some, including Gov. Sonny Perdue, who has said Georgia can not afford a major tax cut in a time of a slowing economy.
A constitutional amendment that advocates hoped would ease congestion in Metro Atlanta died on Friday when it fell three votes short of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass in the Senate. The bill had already received a two-thirds majority in the House. The bill would have allowed local governments, with the approval of their constituents, to band together to levy a one-cent sales tax to fund road improvements in their district.
"I was very disappointed that the transportation bill did not pass the Senate," Mumford said.
Douglas, who did vote in favor of the transportation bill, said he was also disappointed to see the proposal fail.
"We are going to have to work with the governor and the [Georgia] Department of Transportation to resolve that because we've got some serious transportation issues in Newton County that need to be addressed and we can't put them off much longer," Douglas said.
A trauma care proposal, which would have channeled money from the state portion of property taxes to trauma hospitals instead of creating a new fee, was never voted on by the House floor.
Douglas said the Senate-developed trauma funding proposal will be brought forward again next year.
The Water Conservation and Drought Relief Act did receive approval from both houses. The bill, which Douglas said he expects the governor will sign, provides partial funding for the permitting process local governments must go through before receiving permission for the construction of new reservoirs or improvements to old ones.
"I think we did do some good things on water, although I'd like to see the legislation strengthened and worked on," Mumford said, adding that he didn't think the bill contained strong enough language on inter-basin transfers, which are the criticized practice of removing water from one water basin and putting it in another.
The National Rifle Association was pleased with the final passage of a bill that will allow the 300,000 Georgians with concealed weapons permits to carry guns into restaurants, state parks and on public transportation.
Douglas, who authored the amendment to allow the carrying of concealed weapons in restaurants and on MARTA, said he didn't think there was anything contrary to elected officials passing the legislation while at the same time maintaining the ban on guns at political rallies and government buildings - places that politicians frequent.
"I feel that the violence in society today is particularly directed at government officials," Douglas said, adding that the presence of armed guards at many government buildings decreases the chances of gun violence breaking out. "But in places like MARTA or a restaurant, the likelihood is that there's not an armed guard there and you may be called on to protect yourself or your family."
Douglas said he has written to Gov. Perdue, to request that he sign the gun bill.
A constitutional amendment, introduced by Douglas, to extend the terms of all General Assembly members from two years to four years, did not pass the House. Douglas blamed the House leadership for blocking a floor vote on the bill.
"I don't think they wanted [some senators] to have four year terms right now," Douglas said, adding he didn't plan on reintroducing the bill until the atmosphere at the Capitol changed.
In some good news for Newton County, the Alcovy Judicial Circuit will receive a fifth superior court judge once Perdue signs the legislation approved by the General Assembly. The new judge will be appointed in July, 2009. Also the city of Porterdale received $200,000 for the renovation of the Porter Memorial Gymnasium.
A bill, sponsored by Douglas to increase the senior citizen homestead exemption from Newton County ad valorem taxes to $30,000 and to increase the qualifying income cap to $25,000, passed the General Assembly.
The bill will go before county voters for final approval in a referendum this November. It is estimated the bill could cause a $437,000 shortfall in county revenue in its first year.
Douglas' bill to prohibit any state agency from requiring an employee to speak or learn any language other than English as a requirement of employment or a promotion failed to make it out of the Senate
The Associated Press contributed to the writing of this report.