Rep. Pat Gardner Position Statement On MARTA Funding

Representative Pat Gardner put four years of experience on the House Transportation Committee and appointment to the Metro Region Transit Governance Committee to work in protecting MARTA, its riders, and its workers.

When MARTA faced the likelihood of drastic cutbacks when money was short, Pat Gardner worked to release three years’ of funding normally reserved for new lines and equipment. These extra operating funds would have kept MARTA running, kept fares from sky-rocketing, and saved workers from mass lay-offs.

Pat Gardner voted to protect MARTA when others wanted to make it a political football. That’s the bottom line: protecting MARTA. Keeping MARTA afloat matters more than politics.

“I’m proud that I voted with MARTA to keep fares down and workers on the job. My priority was to protect the riders and to protect the employees,” says Pat.

Rep. Pat Gardner Position Statement On Milton County Bill

Rep. Pat Gardner, in conversations with her colleagues, worked the floor of the House to ensure that Jan Jones’ Milton County Bill died without a vote and she was successful in accomplishing that goal. Rep. Gardner phrased her opposition on the floor by asking those from other counties in Georgia, “Please don’t do to my county what you would not want me to do to your county.”

Rep. Gardner appealed to the many legislators, like herself, that understand that the Golden Rule is a basic value for all.

Legislative Action – 2012 Session of the General Assembly

The 2012 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly convened Jan. 9 and adjourned March 29. Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate approved sweeping revisions to the state’s tax code, comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation and a $19.3 billion state budget plan, along with addressing a number of other high-profile issues.

Meanwhile, there were several proposals that attracted a lot of attention but failed to win the necessary approval by both houses to become law. See the article below for a wrap-up of this year’s session.

Tax Code Revisions:  HB 386, which emerged from the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure, has been signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal. It will eliminate the sales tax and annual ad valorem taxes on automobiles, replaced by a one-time title fee of 6.5 percent next year, going up to 7 percent by 2015; set up collection of a state sales tax on products sold online by companies with a physical presence in Georgia; eliminate the sales tax on energy used for manufacturing, agriculture and mining; increase the income tax exemption for married couples from $5,400 to $7,400 to eliminate the “marriage penalty”; cap the exemption on unearned income for retirees at the current level of $65,000; reinstate the sales tax holiday periods for the purchase of back-to-school materials (Aug. 10-11 this year) and energy-efficient appliances (Oct. 5-7); and continue the sales tax exemption on jet fuel purchases, which primarily benefits Delta Air Lines.

Criminal Justice Reform: To address the problems caused by Georgia’s prison population doubling over the past two decades, HB 1176, which awaits the governor’s signature, would implement recommendations of the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform. The bill would concentrate prison space on violent and career criminals by enhancing penalties for some serious offenders and more effectively punishing low-level drug users and property offenders.  It also creates tougher, more effective probation supervision; improves community-based sentencing options, such as accountability courts, that reduce recidivism; and holds agencies accountable for better results through data collection and performance measurement systems.  This bill will NOT reduce the sentences for any serious violent felonies or decriminalize or legalize any controlled substance.  The changes are expected to save taxpayers an estimated $264 million by averting projected growth in prison costs over the next five years.

State Budget: The $19.3 billion plan reflects an increase of about $800 million over the current year’s state budget. The new budget would fund 214 additional medical residency slots, three new Federally Qualified Community Health Centers in underserved areas of the state and an increased gas allowance for state troopers to account for recent increases in gas prices.  Some noteworthy funding increases in education include financial support for a reading mentor program, the school nurse program, and 170 days of instruction and operating costs in our Georgia Pre-K program, as well as fully funding K-12 enrollment growth. The budget legislation (HB 742) now goes to Gov. Deal for his signature. The governor also has the authority to veto specific line-item appropriations in the budget.

In other action, the following legislation PASSED both the House and Senate, and has been signed into law or is awaiting the governor’s signature:

HB 100, signed into law, will create a special tax court to hear disputes between taxpayers and the Georgia Department of Revenue.

HB 347, in its amended form, would reduce the payment of unemployment benefits in Georgia from the current maximum of 26 weeks to a period ranging from 14 to 20 weeks.

HB 397, signed into law, will increase penalties for government officials who break Georgia’s “sunshine” laws and clarify the definition of open meetings and what activities are allowed in closed meetings. The bill also allows the state Department of Economic Development to withhold information on incentives the state offers to attract large development projects until after the company commits to locating in Georgia.

HB 477 will allow insurance agents to have their state licenses renewed every two years rather than every year. The legislation has already been signed into law.

HB 636, already signed into law, authorizes a July 31 referendum in a section of DeKalb County to decide whether to establish a new city of Brookhaven.

HB 675 corrects a provision in the state’s licensing laws that prevented military nurses from obtaining state licenses. The governor has already signed the bill.

HB 685 would strengthen Georgia’s dangerous dog laws.

HB 706, signed into law, will delete obsolete or unused public school regulations and funding requirements.

HB 711, signed into law, eliminates the spousal privilege against testifying in domestic abuse cases.

HB 785, signed into law, will prohibit the state from requiring physicians and dentists to accept insurance such as Medicare or Medicaid as a condition of being licensed by the state.

HB 824, signed into law, revises the state formula for determining equalization grants to school systems and reduces the money allocated for those grants by more than $400 million.

HB 861, signed into law, requires drug screening tests for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Family benefits.

HB 868 would provide more funding for job tax credits to businesses that increase the number of employees on their payroll.

HB 872, signed into law, strengthens enforcement against metal theft by increasing the penalties for such crimes and increasing regulatory standards for metal recycling companies.

HB 898 establishes a new category of banking entity in Georgia, authorizing companies that validate credit and debit card transactions to set up what are called “merchant acquirer limited purpose banks” that can charge higher fees for debit cards. The bill has already been signed into law.

HB 954 would criminalize abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy in most cases. The bill was amended to include an exception for “medically futile” cases when conditions are “incompatible with sustaining life after birth.”

HB 1114 would make it a felony to assist someone in committing suicide.

HB 1166 would require Georgia health insurers to offer children’s health insurance coverage, providing an option for families that do not qualify for Medicaid or PeachCare coverage.

HR 1162 will put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this November that asks voters to decide whether to authorize the state to set up charter schools that have been rejected by their local school boards.

SB 302 would increase the revenues bond cap for the Georgia Higher Education Facilities Authority from $300 million to $500 million, enabling construction of more dormitories, parking decks and student centers on the campuses of Georgia’s colleges and universities.

SB 346 would provide more protections for persons who obtain prescription drugs by mail.

SB 402, signed into law, authorizes the Employees Retirement System to invest upto 5 percent of its assets in such alternative investments as leveraged buyout funds, venture capital investments, mezzanine debt investments, distressed debt and derivatives. The bill exempts the Teachers Retirement System.

The governor vetoed HB 456, which would have set up a legislative committee to review all state agencies and programs and could recommend abolishing those the committee finds outdated, redundant or otherwise unnecessary.

Proposed legislation that FAILED to pass both houses includes:

HB 641 would have comprehensively revised the juvenile justice code in Georgia.

HB 679 would have allowed a gun owner to carry that firearm without having to obtain a permit from a local probate judge.
HB 730
would have prohibited state and local government agencies from requiring that bidders for a public works project have union workers on the payroll.

HB 798 and SB 391 would have put a $100 limit on lobbyists’ gifts to and entertainment of legislators.

HB 811 would have ended the legislative practice of diverting fees collected for specific purposes, such as the disposal of discarded tires, and using the revenues for other purposes.

HB 875, in its amended form, would have allowed the state ethics commission to keep information regarding some ethics complaints against elected officials sealed from public disclosure.

HB 972 would have given the Georgia Composite Medical Board the authority to license and regulate pain management clinics, part of the state’s efforts to crack down on the operation of “pill mills.”

HB 981 would have expanded the locations where concealed weapons can be legally carried to include the State Capitol, schools, polling places and bars.

HB 1052 would have relaxed the state provision that requires MARTA to spend 50 percent of its sales tax revenues on capital improvements rather than operations.

SB 87 would have authorized tax-paid vouchers for students to attend private schools.

SB 269 would have reduced the penalties for water pollution by allowing the Environmental Protection Division to authorize a voluntary response to problems.

SB 288 would have authorized pharmacists to administer certain vaccines without a doctor’s prescription.

SB 301 would have allowed hunting with silencers.

SB 312 would have required food stamp recipients to take high school courses or “self-development classes.”

SB 362 would have authorized the retrieval and sale of “deadhead logs” that have been submerged in South Georgia’s rivers for more than 100 years.

SB 401 would have paved the way for more widespread use of solar energy panels for the generation of electricity by homeowners and small businesses.

SB 438 would have prohibited the State Health Benefits Plan from providing insurance coverage for abortions.

SB 448 would have enabled developers to avoid having to pay off loans they personally guaranteed if those loans were sold by the bank to a successor creditor.

SB 458 would have prohibited undocumented students from attending the state’s public colleges.

SB 460 would have exempted “religious employers” from being required to include contraceptive prescriptions in the healthcare coverage they provide to employees.

SB 469 would have prohibited mass picketing near private residences and would have required workers to provide written authorization every year for union dues to be deducted from their paychecks.

SR 20 would have amended the Constitution to put a cap on state government spending.

Legislative Issues – 2011 Session of the General Assembly

State Budget: An $18.3 billion state budget plan was approved for fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1. HB 78 reduces Medicaid reimbursement rates for physicians by 0.5 percent and incorporates a 20 percent increase in health insurance premiums for educators and other state employees in response to a $273 million deficit in the State Health Benefits Plan.  HB 78 now goes to the Governor, who can sign or veto the entire budget or individual line-item appropriations. Lawmakers also agreed on HB 77, the midyear adjustment to the $18 billion state budget for fiscal year 2011, which ends June 30. The budget amendment reflects an overall reduction of about $300 million in state spending.

Zero-Based Budgeting Fails: The House and Senate approved different versions of legislation that would implement a “zero-based” method of drafting the annual state budget but could not reach agreement before the end of the session. SB 33 would change the current budgeting process, under which more than 90 percent of the expenditures are rolled over automatically from year to year into a “continuation” budget. Zero-based budgeting would require that all appropriations be examined by legislative budget writers over a four-year period. The House had approved similar legislation earlier in the session. SB 33 will be pending when the 2012 session convenes. Also failing to pass was SR 20, a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit future budget increases based on inflation and population growth.

Tax Reform Fails: Legislation that would have implemented only a few of the recommendations submitted by a special tax reform council appointed last year failed to reach either the House of Representatives or Senate floor for a vote before the end of the session. HB 388 is being held over for further analysis before the 2012 session to determine whether the bill would actually be a tax increase or a tax decrease for most Georgians, as well as its impact on overall revenues. In the version of the measure that came out of the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure, the state income tax rate would have been reduced from 6 percent to 4.6 percent in fiscal year 2012 and to 4.55 percent in fiscal year 2013. Sales tax would have been exempted on the energy costs of manufacturing firms, but new taxes would have been imposed on auto repair service, person-to-person vehicle and boat sales and telecommunications services, including satellite TV subscriptions.

Sales Tax Exemptions: Agreement was reached on two sales tax exemptions for the air travel industry. HB 234 would renew a sales tax exemption on the purchase of aircraft parts for Savannah-based Gulfstream Aerospace and Columbus-based Pratt & Whitney. That bill was amended to also allow developers of amusement parks, resorts and other tourism destinations to recoup 25 percent of construction costs out of the sales taxes generated by the tourist attraction. HB 322 would extend for two years a sales tax exemption on the purchase of jet fuel for Atlanta-based Delta Airlines. Both bills now go to the Governor for his signature.

HOPE Scholarship Changes: The Governor has already signed into law changes to the HOPE Scholarship program to help offset its financial deficit caused by college tuition increasing faster than Lottery revenues. Most HOPE recipients will see their benefits reduced to 90 percent of their tuition costs under HB 326. That percentage would increase or decrease in future years based on the rise or fall of Lottery proceeds. Students who come out of high school with a 3.7 grade point average (GPA) and at least a 1,200 Scholastic Aptitude Test score and are able to maintain a 3.3 GPA in college will retain a full HOPE Scholarship for tuition. Other changes include a low-interest loan program for students who need more financial aid, reduced sales commissions for Lottery retailers and limits on salary bonuses for Lottery employees and the extension of full HOPE Scholarships for the top two graduates from each high school in the state.

Full-day Pre-K: Responding to the voices of educators, parents and lawmakers from across the state, Gov. Deal reversed course on his proposal to reduce the instruction day for Georgia’s pre-kindergarten program from 6.5 hours to 4 hours. His new proposal, which became part of the 2012 state budget bill, restores the full-day program and instead shortens the Pre-K year from 180 days to 160. He also cut back on his original proposal to add 5,000 slots to Pre-K enrollment, instead recommending 2,000 new slots.

K-12 Education: HB 192, which would create a study committee to review the funding of public education in Georgia, was approved. Failing to pass were SB 184, which would require local school boards to consider teacher performance rather than experience when making decisions to lay off educators; and SB 87, which would have expanded the use of taxpayer funds for private school vouchers.

Immigration Issues: If signed into law by Gov. Deal,  HB 87  would require all businesses with at least 10 employees to use the federal government’s E-Verify system to determine the work eligibility of all new hires. Similar to an Arizona law enacted last year, local and state police would be empowered to detain people while their immigration status is checked. The bill would also increase the penalty for using fake identification to get a job to 15 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. People who, while committing another offense, knowingly transport, harbor or encourage illegal immigrants to come to Georgia could face 12 months in prison and a $1,000 fine. Supporters said the measure is necessary for the state to deal with a growing population of illegal immigrants that is overburdening schools, hospitals and other public services. Opponents said enactment of HB 87 would lead to more ethnic profiling of legal citizens, impose an unfunded mandate on local law enforcement agencies, bog down many small businesses with red tape and hurt Georgia’s economy, especially the agriculture and tourism industries. Failing to pass were HB 59, which would prohibit illegal immigrants from attending Georgia’s public colleges and universities; HB 72, which would require Georgia driver’s license examinations to be administered only in English; and SB 162, which would make driving under the influence a felony offense if the driver is an illegal immigrant.

Sunday Sales: Majorities in both houses approved legislation that would authorize the Sunday package sale of alcoholic beverages in communities where voters approve such sales in a referendum. Under SB 10, referendums on Sunday package sales of beer, wine or liquor could be held in cities and counties where those products are legally sold the rest of the week. Under the bill, Sunday sales would be limited to the hours of 12:30 to 11:30 p.m. County commissioners or city council members in each community would have to take action to call for the referendum, the date for which would be set by the Election Superintendent in accordance with current law. SB 10 awaits the Governor’s signature.

Health Care: Lawmakers voted to authorize insurers to sell health insurance policies in Georgia that have been approved in other states by passing HB 47. Also passing were HB 117, which would generate $115 million for the state’s Medicaid program by drawing down matching federal funds; HB 147, which would give patients the right to inquire as to whether a physician carries medical malpractice insurance; HB 303, which would authorize physician assistants to sign off on certain documents relating to health care currently requiring a physician’s signature, except for death certificates and assigning the percentage of disability ratings for workers’ compensation; and HB 461, which authorizes Georgia to join with other states in a health care compact. Failing to pass were SB 210, which would make it easier for lawsuits to be filed against physicians who perform abortions, and HB 476, which would establish a state-operated health insurance exchange as part of implementing the federal Affordable Care Act.

Ethics Disclosures: Lawmakers agreed on legislation that would close a loophole in the state’s ethics laws to require lobbyists to report spending on entertaining legislative staff members. The measure was an amendment to SB 160, a bill that would allow utilities to contribute directly to the campaigns of political candidates. The House also passed SB 163, which would require persons making third-party expenditures for or against political candidates to identify themselves on any campaign materials they finance. Both SB 160 and SB 163 are now on the Governor’s desk.

Election Year Changes: Lawmakers passed HB 92, which would reduce the early voting period for Georgia elections to 21 days prior to Election Day, down from the current 45-day period for in-person absentee voting and establish one Saturday for early voting prior to each election. HB 302, which would set the 2012 general primary election date for July 31. The candidate qualifying period would begin May 23 at 9 a.m. and end May 25 at noon. HB 158 would change Georgia’s nonpartisan elections, including judicial races, back to being contested in conjunction with primaries rather than the November general election.

Governmental Affairs: The House and Senate approved legislation that has been signed into law, giving the Governor power to remove and replace members of the Atlanta Board of Education if city schools lose their accreditation later this year. The amended version of SB 79 also reduces the number of members on the DeKalb County Board of Education from nine to seven. Also passing were SB 86, which would remove the current requirement for local governments to submit comprehensive plans for land use to the state government; HB 240, which would establish a procedure for local governments to modify projects approved in special purpose local option sales tax referendums that become infeasible to complete; and HB 500, which would fix a discrepancy between state and federal law to enable Georgia to receive $175 million in federal funding to keep 22,000 Georgians from losing their unemployment benefits in June.

Water and the Environment: Approved were  HB 274, which would allow lawn clippings to be put in limited defined landfills and renewing the $1 per tire disposal fee; SB 122, which would allow private developers to build reservoirs and other water infrastructure projects for local governments and water utilities; and HB 179, which would allow the removal of trees adjacent to billboards on state rights-of-way along Georgia roads. Both houses also passed resolutions urging the state Department of Natural Resources and other entities to conduct a feasibility study for the withdrawal, storage and distribution of water from the Tennessee River Basin to enhance Georgia’s water supply. Failing to pass were proposals (HB 111 and HB 134) to regulate inter-basin water transfers.

Public Safety: Lawmakers approved legislation that would establish an electronic database to monitor the dispensing of prescription pain killers that include controlled substances. SB 36 targets “pill mills” that provide prescriptions for some widely abused drugs, providing a system to prevent illegal activity. Also passing were HB 40, which would require engine coolant or antifreeze sold in Georgia and containing more than 10 percent ethylene glycol to include denatonium benzoate as a bitter tasting agent to make it unpalatable; SB 88, which would require the use of a child booster seat up to age 8, with an exemption for children who are taller than 4 feet, 9 inches ; and HB 199, which would add certain chemicals used to manufacture bath salts to the state’s list of controlled substances. Failing to pass was SB 102, which would allow guns to be carried into churches and some areas of airports, practices that are currently prohibited.

Law and Order: Lawmakers approved legislation that would increase criminal penalties for those guilty of trafficking young women for sex. HB 200 proposes a minimum prison sentence of 10 to 20 years and/or a fine of up to $100,000. If the victim is under 18 years old and is found to have been coerced or deceived into being trafficked, the prison sentence would be increased to between 25 and 50 years. Gov. Deal has already signed legislation to create the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians. This council will study criminal justice reform during the interim and make legislative recommendations to a joint legislative committee before the 2012 session.  The intent of this bill, HB 265, is to find solutions that will allow the state to ensure public safety while decreasing the cost of our corrections system.

Court System: HB 24 would overhaul the rules of evidence used in Georgia’s courts, the first major revision to the code since 1863. HB 238 would change the makeup of the Public Defenders Standards Council. HB 415 would create a statewide, computer-based juror list to replace lists compiled and kept by individual counties.  SB 30 would require that all future Municipal Court judges to be attorneys.

Sports and Recreation: Agreement was reached on legislation that would change Georgia’s hunting laws and remove the prohibition against feeding or baiting when hunting deer or feral hogs. HB 277 would enhance the management of game in Georgia, attempts to control the feral hog population and provides for both economic development and public safety. Failing to pass was HR 186, a proposed constitutional amendment to allow pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing to promote tourism in Georgia and boost state revenues.

Reapportionment: As it does every decade, the state will redraw its district boundaries for the state House and Senate as well as our seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, based on the population data reported by the 2010 Census. Georgia will pick up one additional congressional seat for a total of 14. The new legislative and congressional districts will be finalized during a special session, which the Governor has announced will begin Aug. 15, and will be in place for the 2012 election.