Shortly after midnight last Thursday, I was honored as Majority Leader to make the motion to adjourn the Georgia House of Representatives. I am proud of what we accomplished during our 40 legislative days at the State Capitol.
From passing a balanced budget to protecting religious freedom and Second Amendment Rights, we worked to advance legislation that will strengthen our economy and protect the future for Georgia families.
2016-17 fiscal budget
Our state continues to grow and is now the eighth largest state in the nation by population. As a result, there are critical budgetary issues that need to be addressed. Following a policy of fiscal conservatism, I am proud to report our state government spending levels have returned to 1998 levels on a per capita basis. This means we in the state legislature are making government work more efficiently for our citizens.
The $24.7 billion budget for fiscal year 2017 prioritizes K-12 and higher education while providing $655 million in new transportation funding and pay raises for educators, law enforcement officials and other state employees. We will look more in depth into the budget priorities in future articles.
Pipeline bill passes
Thanks to the hard work of Rep. Bill Hitchens and Sen. Jack Hill, House Bill 1036, which calls for a temporary moratorium on the use of eminent domain for petroleum pipelines by private companies, is heading to the governor’s desk for signature.
During the one-year moratorium, the Petroleum Pipeline Commission will meet to discuss statutory and regulatory changes to the current eminent domain process to ensure that property rights are respected, the environment is guarded, and energy resources are transported safely through our state.
This legislation is vitally important and will allow us to inject common sense into the process of building new energy infrastructure in Georgia.
Hospital aid legislation
On the final day of session, the Rural Healthcare Tax Credit bill (House Bill 919) passed the General Assembly. If signed by the governor, HB 919 would allow Georgia taxpayers and corporations to support rural health care by allocating up to 70 percent of their Georgia income tax liability to a qualifying rural hospital. Those contributions would be capped at $4 million per hospital.
On a statewide basis, those contributions would be capped at $50 million in 2017, $60 million in 2018, and $70 million in 2019. Other safeguards are included in the bill to ensure individuals have an opportunity to support the plan. This Rural Healthcare Tax Credit is a huge win for our citizens, our local hospitals and our communities.
Pursuing justice for rape victims act
Senate Bill 304, better known as the Rape Victims Act, passed unanimously in the House right before the end of the 2016 Legislative Session. This important bill requires law enforcement professionals in Georgia to find, tally and report untested sexual assault evidence to the proper authorities. SB 304 is a step in the right direction to ensure victims are put first in the criminal justice system. This bill was passed with strong bipartisan support.
Proposed changes to the GATE program included in House Bill 911 failed to pass, but $200,000 was included in the state budget to hire additional compliance inspectors. These inspectors will travel the state working with customers and retailers to make sure the program is being used correctly.
Thank you so much for your strong and steadfast support during the 2016 Legislative Session. I look forward to seeing you in the district soon!
Jon Burns represents District 159 in the Georgia General Assembly where he serves as the House Majority Leader.