Georgia’s 2014 legislative session closed last week, with the House working through two day-long floor sessions. During that time, we considered 44 Senate bills and resolutions, along with dozens of votes to resolve differences between House and Senate versions of bills. The House had already worked on most of the more notable pieces of legislation in play during preceding weeks, but we did see several that were significant, or of interest, during those final two days.
SB 350 came to us from the Senate seeking a wholesale privatization of Georgia’s child welfare programs and services, similar to what’s been done in Florida. In the House, however, the bill was significantly revised in committee. By the time it came to us on the House floor, it had been changed to create a two-year pilot program, involving only a portion of the children being served by the state. The intent is to review whether privatization could improve on the sometimes deplorable performance of the state’s programs, primarily in terms of outcomes, but also with an eye towards cost efficiency. This measure is, in part, a response to some awful failures in Georgia’s child services that have been highlighted in the media. While I would’ve taken pause given the all-or-nothing nature of the bill’s original form, I did think a constrained pilot program was appropriate. I voted “yes”, and the bill passed 104 to 70. Nonetheless, the House and Senate were not able to resolve remaining differences on the topic, so the bill did not see final passage.
SR 415 seeks to place a referendum on the November ballot, which, if approved, would amend the state constitution, placing a cap on our income tax rate. The rate could never go above the current 6 percent for either individuals or businesses. The intent is to aid economic development, giving workers and businesses assurance that our income tax, which is already a bit high for our region of the country, won’t go higher. This measure saw another short, but sharp, late session debate, with opponents holding that the state shouldn’t tie its hands in the face of unknown future circumstances. I felt this was a very taxpayer friendly measure and sided with the supporters. Many of us would like to see the state transition towards more of a consumption tax system, and away from income taxes, but that remains for a future legislature to consider. As a proposal to amend the state constitution, this resolution required a two thirds majority vote to attain passage, which means 120 of the 180 members of the House. When the vote tally came in, the “yea’s” were 119, falling just short. However, that was not the final word. Normally, as the presiding officer over our proceedings, the Speaker does not vote. House rules, however, do allow this. Speaker David Ralston chose to do so, and the resolution passed. This type of legislation doesn’t require the Governor’s signature, so plan on seeing this question on your November ballot.
HR 1265 doesn’t qualify as significant, but I do think it’s interesting. I suspect we’ve all read news pieces about computer controlled/driven cars. While the technology is by no means ready for prime time, limited implementations may not be that many years off. Introduction of such vehicles carries significant implications for laws governing rules of the road, insurance and liability, just for starters. This resolution would create a legislative study committee to look into some of these concerns, as a number of other states are already doing. The resolution passed 158 to 7, with my support.
Now for my customary session wrap-up: Since Jan. 13, I’ve reviewed over 430 bills and resolutions, and cast roughly 400 votes on the House floor. I received 3,250 contacts (phone calls, visits, mail and email), of which about 13 percent were from within the district (I continue to make in district contacts my priority). Email made up over 90 percent of my in-district contacts, and 92 percent of all contacts. “Spam” email accounted for 9 percent of the out-of-district contacts.