Many advocates, lobbyists and members spend the last 10 legislative days leading up to “Sine Die” look for possible vehicle legislation where their amendments can be attached. Keeping up with that portion of a dead piece of legislation that was attached to a live piece in either chamber is always an interesting challenge, especially at 10 p.m. or later, in the waning, tiring hours of Session.
THIS WEEK’S ACTION UNDER THE GOLD DOME
Update on the “Uber Bill”
The February 14 edition of “Under The Gold Dome” discussed House Bill 907, which creates new regulations for ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft. The bill was discussed in the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security on February 20 and passed committee on February 21, 2014. The bill’s main sponsor Rep. Alan Powell (R – Hartwell) and representatives from Uber have discussed the issue back and forth, with the former asserting that ride-sharing services must abide by the same regulations as the taxicab industry and the latter asserting that such restrictions are attempts to quash innovative technologies trying to enter the Atlanta market. The bill is currently in the House Rules Committee and will need to ‘crossover’ on Monday.
New Exemptions to Georgia Public Record Disclosures Law
House Bill 796, sponsored by Rep. John Carson (R – Marietta), adds an exception to the list of records that are not required to be made public due to the Georgia Public Record Inspections Law. Currently, all records that are kept or created by a government agency or created by a private party in the performance of work for a government agency must be open for inspection and copying. O.C.G.A 50-18-71 (2013). The General Assembly has created a list 47 types of documents that are exempted from this requirement and House Bill 796 adds another.
The new exception would allow a private contractor to keep payroll and employee personal records private despite the public disclosures requirement. This exception would only apply to contractors working on public building projects and does not affect contractors uninvolved in public projects. The bill is currently in the House Judiciary Committee.
Georgia’s “Gun Bill”
House Bill 875, known as the “Safe Carry Protection Act,” will lift restrictions on where guns may be carried and on licensing provisions for gun owners within the state. This bill has received a significant amount of national attention, including favor from the National Rifle Association and sharp criticism from Americans for Responsible Solutions.
The bill has caused waves due to three provisions.
- First, it treats churches and bars similar to other private property within the bill and allows licensed carriers to carry weapons into these establishments. The bill reserves the rights of private property owners to “exclude or eject a person who is in possession of a weapon.”
- Secondly, this bill codifies a doctrine allowing licensed carriers to bring weapons into the unsecured portions of the airport, and to bring weapons into government buildings where ingress is not restricted or screened.
- Finally, in its most controversial portion, HB 875 allows local boards of education to appoint staff and faculty members who are permitted to carry guns on school grounds and at school functions.
House Bill 875 passed the House on February 18, 2014, and is currently in the Senate in its Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
Pursuit of State Income Tax Elimination
According to the Tax Foundation, the nation’s leading non-partisan tax policy research think tank, Georgia’s individual income tax system is divided into six brackets with a top tax rate of 6% – ranking Georgia as the 23rd highest among states levying an individual income tax in the United States. Georgia’s corporate income tax is also a flat 6% tax rate, the 13th lowest among states levying a corporate income tax. Several states have already eliminated their state income taxes. In FY 2011, seven states – including Florida and Texas – had completely eliminated their individual income tax, while Tennessee and New Hampshire have chosen only to tax interest and dividend income but not to tax wage income.
On the corporate income tax front, three states – Nevada, Washington and Wyoming – have eliminated corporate income tax, and Texas’s margins tax is not classified as corporate tax revenue. Mark Rider, Associate Professor of Economics at Georgia State University, said that eleven other states are considering similar tax reforms shifting away from income tax towards more consumption tax. One of those states is North Carolina – a competitor of Georgia’s – who reduced their state personal income tax rate this summer. Proponents argue that reducing the income tax in Georgia can help bolster the state’s competitiveness in attracting and keeping businesses and high-wealth individuals.
Senate Resolution 987, a resolution to create a committee to study elimination of the state income tax covered in the February 21, 2014 edition of “Under the Gold Dome,” is not the only Senate effort to deal with income tax.
The Senate adopted Senate Resolution 415 on February 24, 2014, which proposes an amendment to Article VII, Section III of the Georgia Constitution. The amendment proposed by Resolution 415 limits the General Assembly’s ability to raise the state income tax above 6%, and limits its ability to levy any new state income taxes.
An Attempt by the General Assembly to Reduce the Financial Burden of Higher Education
House Bill 697 creates the Zell Miller Grant Scholarship and amends the pre-existing Zell Miller Scholars award to the Zell Miller Scholarship Scholars award. The Zell Miller Grant Scholarship (the “Grant”) will award students who meet the requirements for HOPE and have achieved a 3.5 grade point average at the end of any given semester while in college. The Grant will be determined on either a semester or quarterly basis and will award the difference between the HOPE amount and the current year’s standard undergraduate tuition amount for the institution that the student attends.
The Grant creates an additional incentive for students to maintain high GPA’s while in college and allows back pay for one semester if a student’s grades dipped below the threshold, but were subsequently restored.
As expected, House Bill 697 found substantial support in the House and passed 172 to 2. It is currently in the Higher Education Committee in the Senate.
A transportation funding study committee seeking a comprehensive solution that employs a highly localized approach is the strongest option to ensure a comprehensive, bold and innovative approach to our transportation funding.