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Finish line is now in sight
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“Day 30,” which is “Crossover Day,” was Tuesday. As I discussed last week, Crossover Day is the last day that the House or Senate will consider their own legislation and pass it over to the other body for consideration. If a bill that originates in the House of Representatives has not been passed by the House by this Day 30, then the bill effectively is considered “dead.”  

The big issue at the Capitol last week was the GREAT tax plan debate. Based on feedback from members, we decided that the best hope for a significant tax decrease for the citizens of Georgia was to vote on Senate Resolution 796. The resolution would put an end to out-of-control growth of property taxes on homesteads by freezing assessments at 2008 levels and limiting the annual increase to no more than 2 percent.

We also wanted to eliminate the dreaded “tag tax” or “birthday tax.” This is the ad valorem tax you must pay on your personal automobiles that is due every year on your birthday.

The bill would also have provided for a $10 fee on every vehicle registered in Georgia to fund a statewide trauma care network. The measure fell 10 votes short of the 120 votes needed to put it on the ballot in November so you could vote on it. The defeat of this resolution, S.R. 796, denied you the right to vote for this version of statewide property tax reform.

We did pass legislation that will cut taxes for two weekends this year. Back to school time is always a big shopping weekend for our families and I was happy to again support a tax-free shopping weekend to help save money. The House approved House Bill 948 setting the weekend of July 31 through Aug. 3 as the sales tax holiday weekend for school supplies, and Oct. 2-5 as the sales tax holiday weekend for energy efficient appliances.

In education this week, House members voted in favor of House Bill 1209 that provides greater flexibility and local control of our school systems. Working with the state Department of Education and parents, the legislation would require school systems to develop a five-year strategic plan.

Upon approval of the plan, each school system may choose to enter into a five-year contract with the state Department of Education that will provide flexibility, accountability and consequences for poor school performance. School systems would have greater flexibility with respect to class sizes, curriculum, teacher certification, salary structure and other state standardized areas.

Accountability would be dependent upon standardized test scores, graduation rates, SAT scores and other performance standards. If a school does not meet the accountability standards of the contract, the legislation sets forth consequences that could include conversion of a school to a charter school or a change in the controlling entity of a failing school.

Our schools need flexibility and as parents, we deserve greater accountability. This legislation provides both and will help move our educational systems forward.

In an effort to help insure the integrity of our local elections, we passed House Bill 1098, which places the same reporting requirement to the Secretary of State’s office on municipal elections as on all other state elections. It also requires that municipal election officials be certified. The bill passed unanimously.

We also passed a bill that would allow handicapped individuals or those 75 years old or older to move to the front of the line to vote. This bill, House Bill 993, passed unanimously.

I will continue to keep you up to date on our actions as the legislative session progresses.