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Big issues awaiting action
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Jan. 24 marked the beginning of the third week of the 2011 legislative session. Traditionally the third week is a time when committees begin to meet to review and discuss legislation. It is required that each bill be read on the House floor before it passes through the committee process with hopes of returning to the House floor for final deliberation.

Despite the slow start caused by the snow and ice that covered much of Georgia over two weeks ago, we were able to begin the committee process in earnest this week.

While passing a balanced state budget is always our number one priority, other vital issues remain at the forefront of this year’s legislative session. Every day new legislation addressing those issues is drafted, introduced and assigned to the various committees in the House for review. Among these are legislation addressing issues such as illegal immigration, tax reform and health insurance.

With that in mind, I would like to make you aware of some important matters that will arise in the next few weeks of session.

Taxes and illegal immigration are always sensitive issues. However, the effects of the national economic recession helped bring to light the need for both immigration reform and tax reform in Georgia. That is why the General Assembly created the Special Committee on Immigration Reform and the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians during last year’s legislative session.

Even though immigration reform is a federal responsibility, we need to make sure Georgians’ rights are protected. Co-chaired by Representative Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City), the Special Committee on Immigration Reform worked throughout the summer and fall to study the economic impact of illegal immigration in Georgia. Currently, there are an estimated 400,000 plus illegal immigrants in our state. Though illegal immigrants do not pay state income taxes, they do utilize state resources that are funded by taxpayer dollars.  The current economic conditions make it clear that Georgia literally cannot afford to continue this drain on our already limited resources.  With this in mind, the study committee has sponsored House Bill 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011.

HB 87 strives to protect taxpayers from the unlawful burden of funding services for illegal immigrants.  It includes measures to expand the use of the E-Verify system to private employers, requires secure and verifiable identification for official purposes, and helps local law enforcement agencies handle the various issues associated with illegal immigration. It is important to note that this legislation will not affect the legal migrant workers who come to Georgia through federal work programs.

The Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians was a non-partisan committee made up of business leaders and economic experts. The members of this tax council volunteered months of hard work reviewing Georgia’s tax structure. They traveled all over Georgia, listening to the interests and concerns of people from throughout the state. The council concluded its work and released a report recommending numerous changes to our current tax system shortly before the current legislative session began. Those recommendations are now under review by the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure. This bipartisan joint committee will now determine how to move forward with the recommendations of the tax council. We are still reviewing the Council’s proposal, I think it is important that we consider these recommendations in their entirety.  It’s only when we look at the whole picture that we can see how the recommendations would benefit Georgia taxpayers and create a fairer tax system. Extensive work remains on the issues before a bill is proposed to the House.

Health care also will receive a great deal of attention throughout this year’s legislative session. House Bill 47 would allow insurance companies licensed in Georgia to sell health insurance products that are approved for sale in other states. By doing this, Georgia would create a more open insurance market with greater competition, which would ultimately result in less expensive health insurance for Georgians. Competition by the free market system is the key, not government mandated coverage.

As these and other pieces of legislation begin to make their way through the legislative process, I will continue to send weekly updates to keep you apprised of the major legislation being considered at the state Capitol. In return, I hope that you will alert me to any questions or concerns you may have about any issue that affects your family or community.

You can reach me at my Capitol office at (404) 656-5099.  Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.