The Georgia General Assembly recently wrapped up its latest legislative session. It was, according to observers such as Mark Woodall, director of legislative and governmental affairs for the Georgia Branch, Associated General Contractors, "a legislative session high on drama, but in the end, short on results."
"Partisan bickering wasn’t to blame for major legislation not passing." Woodall says; instead, the problem stemmed from "inner-party squabbling among the governor’s office, the speaker and the lieutenant governor."
"Of the ‘big three’ issues – water, transportation funding and tax reform – only water made it to the finish line with the passage of the Statewide Water Plan," Woodall notes.
In fact, noted Woodall, the new Statewide Water Plan was "overwhelmingly adopted early in the session" and has already been signed into law.
Another water bill, HB 1281, also met with success and is now in front of the governor. The amended version of HB 1281 includes a 2010 sunset provision and creates one statewide standard for water restrictions during times of drought while preventing local governments from adopting water use restrictions more strict than those of the state, unless approved by the director of the state EPD.
Additionally, HB 1226 – the last piece of legislation passed minutes before Sine Die on Friday, April 4 – helps create a finance mechanism and expedited permit process for state reservoir construction.
Several pieces of transportation-related legislation were introduced this year, Woodall notes, adding that many actually made it through the House and Senate and are thus eligible for consideration by the governor.
But at the last minute, he adds, the Transportation Funding bill, SR 845, failed to pass in the Senate. This legislation would have created a constitutional amendment to allow voters to vote on a penny sales tax to help fund regional transportation projects. Even though this legislation received enough votes very early in the session, Woodall says, "The General Assembly never reached an agreement on final language." A Senate vote minutes before the end of the session fell three votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to get a proposed Constitutional amendment on the ballot.
Woodall adds, "This was probably the biggest disappointment of the Session because of the absolute funding need and the amount of time and effort spent on the issue. It’s certain the General Assembly will address this issue next year." He adds, "It is imperative a positive outcome is reached since we cannot afford to maintain the status quo."
The House passed HR 1246, which would eliminate the annual car tax while providing a cap on assessments for residential and nonresidential properties. However, Woodall explains, the Senate stripped the car tax language and added legislation to provide a 10-percent income tax reduction over five years.
Eventually, he adds, "The House restored much of the original House tax plan, including the elimination of property tax on cars and the assessment limits on residential and commercial property. In a separate vote, the House approved a bill to cut the state income tax by 10 percent."
But he notes that the House delayed the income tax cut until 2011, and it will only be implemented if voters approve the car tax cut during the November 2008 election.
"The Senate never considered this new amended version of tax reform," Woodall says, "and now both Chambers are blaming the other for failure to pass meaningful tax reform."
According to Woodall, several other legislative issues are worthy of note. These include the following:
- Passage of SB 374, which he says helps "clean up" Georgia’s lien law.
- HB 1217 and SB 485, companion bills that create a state licensing requirement for private home inspectors. HB 1217 is now before the governor.
- SB 452, SB 464, and HB 1401, which impact the new State Residential and General Contractor Licensing Law were introduced, though none received a committee hearing.
- The proposed Tax Allocation Districts Constitutional Amendment (SR 996) and HB 978, which addressed seizure of illegal immigrants’ vehicles for traffic violations or accidents.
- The Georgia Bona Fide Large Forest Conservation Use Act of 2008 (HB 1211 and HR 1276), which allows forestland owners to enter their land into a strict 15-year covenant taxing their property at its current use instead of fair market value. If signed by the governor, voters will decide in November whether the legislation becomes a constitutional amendment.
- HB 1200, which addresses local development authorities’ exemption from public works construction law. The bill was held in committee until substitute language was developed to only allow the exemption if project funding is private rather than public. Although HB 1200 moved out of committee, it didn’t reach the House floor for consideration, nor did it surface as an amendment on other legislation.
- Finally, a revised version of HB 1225 – the Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Construction Act of 2008 – was added to SB 130 as an amendment to remove the requirement for major state projects to be designed and constructed to meet certain energy-efficient provisions, making the decision discretionary. It’s now before the governor.
For more information about legislation outlined in this report, contact Mark Woodall at (678) 298-4116.