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Thursday, June 28, 2007

State House Update

Friends and Neighbors-

I selected and listed 17 bills below that will be on the Georgia General Assembly's plate next January when session reconvenes. They were introduced in the 2007 session. These bills either represent significant changes to the status quo or reflect a clashing of differing perspectives on an issue. The list is by no means comprehensive, though, because hundreds of bills are introduced each year.

As always, I appreciate your thoughts on legislation. Keep in mind that each bill could change substantially during the committee process and may not proceed at all. You can read bills in their entirety at http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?t=unbivbcab.0.nh86l7bab.cjjqc7bab.1766&ts=S0262&p=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.legis.state.ga.us%2F.

Separately, the legislation I personally work on primarily reflects several passions I have for the great state of Georgia. I will continue to focus on:

1. Transforming education, which forms the cornerstone for broad economic development and opportunity for the individual. No state issue outweighs the need to focus like a laser on significantly increasing Georgia's graduation rate. Nothing else the state could do would change more lives, spur more job creation and wealth, and affect every other facet of state government. It will require bold change over time.

As Zig Ziglar said, "If you keep on doing what you're doing, you'll keep on getting what you're getting." We can't settle for getting what we're getting.

2. Restraining government's reach into people's wallets and lives by limiting taxes and relentlessly questioning what government's role should be - and not be.

3. Bringing government closer to the people so citizens are its master and government is their servant. Georgians are both government's taxpaying owners AND customers, and I evaluate every state issue with that in mind.

I look forward to working on legislation in the off-season in preparation for next year. In particular, I'll work on:

- Public charter school reform
- Statewide tax reform on the House Ways and Means Committee
- Advance preparation for next year's budget process as a Vice Chair of Appropriations
- A comprehensive study of the proposed re-creation of Milton County through a $400,000 state grant to GA State University and UGA. Additionally, I was appointed by the Speaker to serve on a separate study committee to evaluate Fulton County governance.

This concludes my update series on the 2007 legislative session. Thank you for the opportunity to serve District 46 and Georgia. If I can be of service, please call on me.

Best-

Jan Jones
State Representative - District 46
(Serving northwest Fulton, including Milton, Roswell, Alpharetta and Mountain Park)

LEGISLATION INTRODUCED AND STILL KICKING AROUND FOR 2008

Freeze property tax reassessments through a homestead exemption - HR 3

Would freeze property tax reassessments for property owners claiming a homestead exemption. Would allow property taxes (calculated from reassessments) to increase up to 3 percent or the rate of inflation (Consumer Price Index), whichever is lower, as long as a homeowner owns his home. Would apply to property taxes collected by counties, cities and school boards. Some counties, including Fulton and Chatham Counties, already have the freeze in place. Only one city does, Sandy Springs; The freeze was passed as local legislation and approved by a local referendum (required for homestead exemptions) one year after Sandy Springs was created. Bill requires a two-thirds vote in the Assembly and a statewide vote to amend the state constitution.

Allow historically-merged counties to be re-created - HR 12 (Authored by Rep. Jan Jones)

Milton County and/or Campbell County could be re-created through a local referendum. Both were merged into Fulton County in 1932. They are the only remaining historically-merged counties in Georgia. If re-created, Milton County would rank fifth in Georgia county population. Campbell County would rank 13th and Fulton County would drop from 1st to 4th. (out of 159 current counties). A major university study will be conducted in 2007 to evaluate it. Requires a two-thirds vote by the Assembly and a statewide vote to amend the state constitution.

Restrict red light cameras - HB 77
HB 883, HB 890, HB 892


Would reduce the revenue cities collect from red light camera violations. The intent is to lessen the financial incentives to install red light cameras for reasons other than public safety. For example, Marietta collected $1.6 million at one intersection in one year. Over 70 percent of the House voted either to approve the bill or approve an amendment outlawing red light cameras outright. Bill sits in the Senate after passing the House. Three additional red light camera bills were introduced before session ended assuring this issue will be debated again next year.

Senior citizens state income tax exemption - HB 195

Extend the 6 percent state income tax exemption to all retirement and unearned income for seniors aged 65 and older. Currently, the senior state income tax exemption kicks in at age 62 for the first $30,000 of income and will increase to $35,000 in 2008. The bill would ratchet up the amount excluded each year until 2013 when all retirement and unearned income for seniors aged 65 and older would be exempt.

Limit when special elections and referendums could take place - HB 296

Special elections, including sales tax referendums, would be restricted to fewer dates when more voters participate in elections. Currently, special elections can take place four times per year. The allowable dates would be November (at the time of municipal elections) in odd years; and three times in even years at the time of the presidential preference, primary and general elections. Would not apply to recall or special federal and statewide elections.

Award extra credit for high school honors classes in calculating HOPE eligibility
This surfaced through an amendment to a bill that did not make it through the legislative process, but had wide support.

Change PeachCare qualifications - HB 340

Modify the qualifications for means-tested taxpayer-provided healthcare for children to bring it more in line with other states, Medicaid and the state health insurance plan. Would reduce the eligibility threshold from 235 percent of the federal poverty rate to between 125 and 200 percent of the rate. Would give consideration to requiring co-payments. Would charge $25 per visit for non-emergency room visits. Would increase utilization of generic drugs. Would include vision and dental care services for a premium not to exceed $15 per participant per year. Would not eliminate families currently receiving PeachCare services.

Allow counties to impose a regional one cent sales tax - HB 434

Multiple adjoining counties could choose to collectively levy a dedicated one cent sales tax for regional transportation improvements. The projects would be decided in advance of a local referendum to decide if the tax would be approved.

Referendum on a one cent sales tax dedicated to transportation - HB 442 and HR 509

This is an alternative proposal to HB 434 to increase transportation funding for improvements.

A statewide referendum would determine if Georgia would increase the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent with the additional penny dedicated to transportation improvements. Currently, the state Department of Transportation funds road and bridge maintenance and improvements through a 3 cent sales tax on gasoline and 7.5 cents per gallon tax. Since the current funding structure is based ultimately on the number of miles driven per gallon of fuel, funding per mile driven has fallen. As automobile gasoline efficiencies have increased, the per-mile driven revenue to fund maintenance and improvements has declined

Change Certificate of Need process and requirements for hospitals and independent surgery centers - HB 581

Studied in 2006 by the Georgia General Assembly. Closely watched by doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers. Numerous changes are expected.

Eliminate ad valorem tax on automobiles - HB 585

Phase out ad valorem taxes and replace funding to local governments with state dollars. The bill would eliminate the "birthday tax" on vehicles.

Charter School Reform - HB 881 (Authored by Rep. Jan Jones)

Would assure local and state dollars follow students to charter public schools. Would create a state board with autonomy to approve and have accountability for charter schools. Patterned after legislation enacted in Florida last year. Introduced the last day of session in the House. Will be studied by the House Education Charter School Subcommittee as part of an overall evaluation of Georgia charter policies prior to next session.

State tax reform eliminating property taxes - HR 900

Would eliminate all state and local ad valorum taxes on homes, property and vehicles. To fund the elimination of the property tax, HR 900 would implement a state sales tax on services and eliminate most state sales tax exemptions, including on food. Would reduce the state income tax rate from 6 percent to 4 percent. The state sales tax would remain at 4 percent. The proposal is projected to be revenue neutral. Bill sits in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Taxpayer Protection Act - HR 956 and SR 20

Would require increases in state tax revenues (after adjusting for inflation and population increases) to be spent in the following order and manner: 1. fund increases in public school enrollment and, 2. add to the state reserve fund up to 10 percent of the budget and, 3. reduce state debt or, 3. refund to taxpayers. Constitutionally dedicated funds such as lottery and gasoline tax revenues would be excluded. The bills are similar to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights legislation enacted earlier in Colorado, although modified, for example, to accommodate for increases in public school enrollment.

Sunday retail sales of beer and wine - SB 26

Would allow Sunday retail sales of beer and wine by local referendum. Georgia currently allows Sunday sales of beer, wine and alcohol in restaurants by local referendum. An amendment to the bill adding liquor may be considered. Bill passed the Senate and sits in the House.

Dunwoody incorporation - SB 82

Would incorporate 40,000 north Dekalb residents. The charter calls for a legislative council government with a weak mayor and districted council members. Bill passed the Senate and sits in the House.

Allow the creation of townships - SB 89

Unincorporated communities would have the option of creating a township by local referendum, instead of incorporating as a city or remaining unincorporated. The legislation calls for an unpaid citizens' town council with a restricted ability to tax and levy fines (maximum of one-half mill). Townships would primarily manage growth and development decisions. Municipal citizens of some of Georgia's 550 cities could decide by referendum to eliminate their current city status and be reconstituted as a township.

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