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Action heats up as final day approaches
Hitchens Bill
Rep. Bill Hitchens

The 2015 General Assembly session has just two days left, and we are expected to adjourn sine die on Thursday. Consequently, a flurry of legislation will travel back and forth between the House of Representatives and the Senate. I will be fully ensconced in many of the debates on pending legislation.

One of the most important pieces of legislation is the transportation funding bill or House Bill 170. The Senate took what we passed in the House and made some fairly substantial modifications that led to the formation of a conference committee for this bill. The Senate would require the state Department of Transportation to submit annually a 10-year project-specific, strategic plan to the General Assembly for approval. It would create a new state tax credit for motor trucker carriers for local diesel taxes paid which are not credited under the International Fuel Tax Agreement.

The Senate version would eliminate the state sales tax holiday and institute a $5 per day tax on rental cars. Their legislation also reduces the 29.2-cent excise tax on gasoline and the 33-cent excise tax on diesel. The Senate has recommended a 24-cent excise tax but would allow local governments to continue their taxation capped at 1 percent of $3.39 a gallon. The Senate would eliminate the state sales tax exemption on aviation fuels and use that money exclusively for a state aviation program or airport-related purposes.

While the Senate version essentially lessens the excise tax burden on motorists buying gasoline, it eliminates a tax credit that makes Georgia a transportation hub for commercial and private aviation and creates a tax on tourists who rent cars. As I mentioned, these variations will be negotiated and the updated version will be brought to the respective bodies for final votes.

The House was also tasked with legislation that is beneficial for the overall good of the state. Senate Bill 101 provides a 25-foot buffer along coastal marshlands. This bill passed the Georgia House of Representatives unanimously and will now go to Governor Deal for signature.

This bill will protect 2,350 miles of marsh interface without wrested vegetation. At the same time, it also protects and respects private property rights of coastal landowners. SB 101 establishes a 25-foot buffer along coastal marshlands in an effort to reduce soil erosion and filter land-based pollutants. While this protects Georgia’s seacoast, this legislation benefits all of Georgia since many of us vacation on the coast or enjoy fresh Georgia shrimp and fish that inhabit the marshland.

The House passed Senate Resolution 287, legislation to allow the creation of an “opportunity school district” in the state of Georgia. SR 287, passed by a vote of 121-47. The resolution’s enabling legislation, Senate Bill 133, passed by a vote of 108-53. SR 287 would allow Georgians to vote next year on the creation of an opportunity school district to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools.

If approved by Georgia voters, this district would assume all operational and managerial responsibility for failing public elementary and secondary schools. The constitutional amendment would appear on the November 2016 general election ballot and would require support from a majority of voters. The opportunity school district will provide oversight to schools that are defined as persistently failing, or as scoring below 60 on the College and Career Performance Index, for three consecutive years. The CCRPI is the state Department of Education’s official measurement of accountability.

The jurisdiction of the school district would fall under the management of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, and the opportunity school district superintendent would be appointed by the governor and subject to Senate confirmation. The superintendent would be charged with developing operational procedures for the opportunity school district and providing an annual progress report to the General Assembly.

In order to ensure areas needing improvement are addressed appropriately, the OSD would only select 20 in any single academic year. The total number of selected schools would not exceed a total of 100 schools at any given time. Schools would remain a part of the OSD for at least five years, but not more than 10 years. The process for school selection would include parent and community feedback through public hearings, but final selection is at the sole discretion of the OSD superintendent. Before a school’s oversight is transferred to the OSD, the superintendent must meet with the administration to discuss the school’s evaluation and options for improvement.

As we continue in the final stages of this legislative session, please know that I am always available to listen to your thoughts and concerns. I can be reached at (404) 656-0178 or at