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Legislature takes a look at Uber-like services
Hitchens Bill
Rep. Bill Hitchens

The General Assembly has completed 27 legislative days and many bills have been sent to the Senate for their review. This is significant because bills that do not go to the Senate after day 30 or “crossover day” will not become law this legislative session.

The biggest bill considered this week is House Bill 170 or the transportation funding bill. First, in a revenue-neutral move, we restructured the motor fuels tax. We currently pay a 7.5-cent excise tax plus sales taxes of up to 8 percent, of which only 3 percent goes to repairing our roads and bridges. This is based on the average motor fuel tax Georgians have paid over the past four years. By shifting to an excise tax the state will collect an additional $60 million from long-haul truckers who only pay excise taxes on the miles driven in Georgia.

Counties and cities will have the ability to add a local referendum and tax themselves an additional three cents per gallon for local transportation projects. This would require a vote by the appropriate county or city government to approve the referendum along with a vote from local citizens. Any money raised from this self-imposed tax could only be used for transportation projects. Because the state has maintained fiscal responsibility with our budget, we have a high bond rating which allows us to borrow money at a very inexpensive rate.

In other legislative action, we took a hard look at non-traditional taxi services like Uber, which have become a phenomenon in bigger cities. This service functions similar to a taxi service except it allows people to arrange transportation through an app on their smart phone from individuals who rent their vehicles. The service is usually cheaper than a taxi service and viewed by many as a safer way to travel. While I have no problem with a service like Uber, many of us felt it was important that these rented vehicles should have a certain level of insurance in case of an accident, more so than the policy carried by the driver.

We want these drivers to have a minimum of $300,000 for bodily injuries or death of all persons in any one accident with a maximum of $100,000 for bodily injuries to or death of one person and $50,000 for loss of or damage to property of others. It is good to see technology and responsibility combined to make the lives of Georgians easier, whether traveling for business or pleasure.

In health news, we passed HB 362, legislation that will allow trained health professionals at public and private schools to administer a levalbuterol sulfate prescription for children who are suffering from an asthma attack. This legislation protects the school professional from any liability related to administering the drug. We also passed HB 504, requiring college students who live in campus housing, or sorority or fraternity houses, to be vaccinated for meningococcal disease at least five years prior to admittance. This legislation is based in accordance with the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This bill is also a sound way to protect our students especially since Georgia’s exemplary higher learning institutions draw foreign-born students where vaccines are not as prevalent as in the United States.

On the legal front, we passed HB 207, a bill that requires judges and other appointed court presiding officers to have more than three degrees of separation from those appearing in courts. This essentially requires judges to recuse themselves if they have a familial relationship with those appearing.

Because of its natural beauty, wonderful climate, and creative diversity, Georgia has become an attractive place for high-tech businesses. With this in mind, HB 339 was passed which expands the tax credits for qualified interactive entertainment production companies. These credits will not exceed $12.5 million for each taxable year with the legislation sun setting on Jan. 1, 2019. This is a great way to recruit business to the state and will be a benefit to our economy, creating more jobs and opportunities for Georgians.

The St. Patrick’s Day celebration is quickly approaching and each year this means thousands of tourists for the tri-county area surrounding Savannah. I co-sponsored HB 340 allowing the Sunday sale of alcohol during the festival. This means that establishments could sell alcohol on the Sunday prior to and after St. Patrick’s Day but limited to five consecutive days which must include March 17.

As we are more than halfway through this legislative session, I will continue to report about legislative issues that could affect you and your family. Thank you for allowing me to represent you! Please know that your concerns and thoughts are important to me. I can be reached at (404) 656-0178 or at