This was also posted at Georgia Legislative Watch.
Tomorrow is the first day of the 2008 session of the Georgia General Assembly. This session is the most important that the Republicans faced since taking control.
Here is a look at what will be taken up during the session:
GREAT Plan: Speaker Richardson’s tax proposal has been the source of much contention. Local governments, teachers unions and bloggers have all voiced strong opposition to the plan. Meanwhile, property owners have suffered at the hands of local governments with continuous backdoor tax increases through reassessments. Many legislators in the Republican dominated legislature are philosophically against property taxes, but the political ramifications of passing a controversial tax reform bill will too much for many of them to bear. House leadership will push the bill to the floor for a vote. If it passes the House, which isn’t likely though possible, it will not pass the Senate.
Water Management Plan: Earlier this month the Georgia Water Council (created in 2004) passed a comprehensive plan to better deal with the water needs of the state. As we all know, Georgia has dealt with a historic drought this years that has caused many of us to voluntarily adjust our daily habits in order to conserve water. Some local government enacted very strict outdoor water restrictions in order to force residents to conserve.
Some environmental groups are not happy with the plan and are working on an alternate plan to be presented to the legislature.
The recently submitted plan will likely pass, some alterations are possible as long as they are consistent with federal mandates.
Grady and Healthcare: There will be a major push by Democrats to increase state funding of Grady. Recently, opponents of reforming are attempting to demagogue the issue by portraying the creation of a non-profit board as privatization. Democrats are also wanting to tap into other Metro Atlanta counties as a funding source for the hospital due to its regional use.
Republicans leaders refuse to sink more until there is a change in the way the hospital manages its money. Some Republicans are using the issue as part of the continuing crusade against abortion. Such rhetoric will only create more tension as the legislature looks for a bi-partisan solution.
Glenn Richardson publicly floated a $10 fee on car tags in order to fund trauma centers. State Senator David Shafer, who has taken the issue head on will introduce legislation that would require hospital over a certain bed capacity to turn over management to a non-profit corporation. For more information, please visit Reforming Grady.
Both Sonny Perdue and Casey Cagle have proposals to deal with health insurance. Perdue’s plan would subsidize health insurance premiums for small business. Cagle’s proposal would create a clearing house website for consumers to look at different health insurance policies from private insurers, as well as state subsidized plans if the individual is eligible (I am assume this is existing plans, like PeachCare, I’m not sure if Cagle’s plan creates state subsidized plans available for purchase).
Education: The Governor’s education task force has suggested that education funding be more flexible so schools can put money into more urgent areas. The flexibility would be given after academic criteria is met. However, the method that is used to determine school funding is still in place.
Transportation: With a new commissioner in place, it’s likely that the state won’t move on any new transportation methods, such as commuter rail, for at least another year. However, there is some controversy. Gena Abraham was Sonny Perdue’s candidate for the job. State Rep. Vance Smith was the House’s choice. Abraham won by one vote. This could play out next year as House leaders will look to get even with GDOT members that voted against Smith.
Transportation funding is another matter. The Georgia Department of Transportation currently faces a $7.7 billion funding shortfall. There were several proposals in the last legislative session to address the issue. State Rep. Vance Smith proposed a ten year, one cent statewide sales tax that would be used for transportation projects. The proposal would be a $22 billion tax increase, the largest in Georgia history. The proposal would be subject to voter approval. The Governor is not sold on the proposal.
There is also a proposal (introduced last session) by State Rep. Chuck Martin that would allow counties to enter into a regional SPLOST agreement, subject to majority vote approval among the counties participating. Martin’s proposal is the most politically viable.
Sex Offenders: State Rep. Jerry Keen will attempt fix some constitutional issues with Georgia’s sex offender law. In November, the Georgia Supreme Court that ruled that the law violated the Fifth Amendment as it amounts to a regulatory taking.
It is uncertain what exactly Keen plans to do to rectify the constitutional issues.
Gun Bills: Last year the State Senate went against on of the more powerful lobbies in the country, the NRA. The “parking lot” bill will be pushed and rumor has it that Casey Cagle will allow the bill (HB 89) to come to the floor for a vote. The NRA went as far as bringing Wayne LaPierre down to lobby for passage of the bill and to oppose the Second Amendment Protection Act, which is being pushed by Georgia Carry.
The bill also put the NRA at odds with an equally powerful lobby, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, which is actively opposing the NRA. The Chamber’s argument is that HB 89 would trample the private property right of business owners.
The NRA has put legislators on notice that voting against the “parking lot” bill would guarantee a grade of “F” for the session.
It should be noted that this was not the original intent of HB 89. The original language was stripped during committee in the Senate after the first version of the “parking lot” bill, SB 49, died.
Vetoes: The legislature has a list of bills that could be considered for a veto override. Rumors have been flying as far as what that bill(s) will be. HB 91, sponsored by State Rep. Jill Chambers, is a strong candidate. HB 91 requires the executive branch (the Governor) to provide an annual report to the legislature contracts of $50,000 or more. It also requires a “list of any employment or consultant contracts, whether or not in writing, under which the employee or consultant is to be compensated more than $20,000.00.”
The House could also target Perdue’s veto of a $120 million property tax break from the 2007 supplemental budget. The House threatened to override (and did, but that is another story), the Senate leaders have refused to act.
The AJC has a list of important players under the Gold Dome.
You can stream each day of the session at this link, which also has video of the various committee meeting that took place in the months after the 2007 until just recently (including the Ways & Means hearings on the GREAT Plan).