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Carter: Transportation plans loom big
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To our readers: State Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) will be reporting each week during the Legislative Session. The session began Jan. 12.

Day 25 (March 3): We finally have a transportation bill to vote on today as we pass the Georgia 20/20 Transportation Act. This act consists of a constitutional amendment, HR 206 that will allow Georgians to vote in November 2010 to approve a 10-year, one-percent statewide transportation sales tax that, if approved by the voters, is expected to raise $25 billion for new transportation projects.  

An accompanying bill, HB 277, provides a list of the actual roads and bridges that would be built if the constitutional amendment is passed by the voters. Both HR 206 and HB 277 pass overwhelmingly.

Perhaps the most interesting bill to be debated today is HB 200 that would have provided that failure to wear a safety belt in the front seat of a passenger vehicle can be considered as evidence when deciding damages if the court makes certain findings. Currently, Georgia law does not allow to be entered into evidence whether someone who is not at fault in an accident is wearing a seatbelt. HB 200 would have allowed this fact to be entered into evidence and would have allowed a court to decrease the amount of damages awarded to the injured person because they were not wearing their seatbelt.  

Although the bill passed out of committee with a “do pass” recommendation, a lively debate on the House floor quickly led to the bill being defeated by a whopping148-15 margin and the current law remaining intact.    

Day 26 (March 4):  News on the economy continues to be bad as the governor announced yesterday that he has cut another $1.6 billion from the 2010 revenue estimates. This lowering means that the new fiscal year budget that begins in July is now set at $18.57 billion, an 8 percent cut from the original estimate and a staggering $2.63 billion less that the original $21.1 billion 2009 estimate only a year ago.  

One of the most controversial bills to be debated today is HB 45 that requires a person applying to register to vote must provide proof of U.S. citizenship prior to the acceptance of their registrations. A number of identifications are listed as acceptable including birth certificates, passports, driver’s licenses and tribal treaty card numbers. After a long and lively debate, the bill passes by a 102-63 vote.  

Although SB 83, a bill that would have increased the state homestead exemption for property taxes from $2,000 to $4,000, passes by a vote of 98-63, it fails to receive the necessary two-thirds majority needed for a constitutional amendment. As is allowed by House rules, a motion to reconsider is passed and the bill will be considered again tomorrow.       
Day 27 (March 5): As we near the all important Day 30, when all bills that originate in the House must be passed in order to be sent over to the Senate to be considered this session, the volume of bills on the debate calendar increases. SB 83, which was approved yesterday to be reconsidered today, again fails to garner the two-thirds majority needed to pass and is therefore dead for the session.  

Today we debate 26 bills including HB 56 that changes the laws governing the local option sales tax (LOST) that cities and counties use to subsidize general operations and that are used to reduce reliance on property taxes. The LOST revenue distribution is required to be renegotiated every 10 years after the census is conducted.

While serving as mayor of the city of Pooler in 2002, I participated in LOST negotiations with Chatham County and its other municipalities and found the process to be quite contentious. By approving this measure it now becomes more difficult for a city or county to opt out of the LOST and a process of deciding distribution of the tax revenues is set forth.  

Among the interesting news coming over from the Senate today is the passage of the amended 2009 budget. Although there are only a relatively few number of differences in the House and Senate versions of the budget, negotiations must still take place between the two bodies before an agreement can be reached and it can be sent to the governor.                                                 

Rep. Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building (CLOB) Room 508, Atlanta, GA 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-0213.