LWVAF Report from the Capitol, Week Pre-9
The Georgia General Assembly is returning to the Capitol on Monday, June 15th. It recessed its session three months ago after Day 29 as the Coronavirus rushed into our midst. Before they left town there was CrossOver Day which effectively identifies which bills have a chance for passage this year. The House assigned the Senate bills it received to committees for deliberations. The Senate, though, placed all House bills in the Committee on Assignments for recommendations of the permanent committees to which they should be assigned. This was a first for this reporter.
Only four bills had completed their paths through the legislature before the suspension. They are:
HB 792, the amended FY20 budget which included $100 million for the governor to use to meet the costs of the pandemic. This was supposed to fund the government through June 30, 2020.
HB 244, which limits state funding for dual enrollment course for high school students and for the most part limits the funding to juniors and seniors. With other sources of funding, the student may take as many courses as they wish.
HB 276 requires all Georgia purchasers to pay sales tax for esales delivered to Georgia. Closes a loophole in the 2019 law enactment.
HR 164, a CA to require funds collected for a special purpose to be spent for that purpose. A fee on new tires to be used for disposal of old tires must be used for such; and super speeder fines are to be used for driver’s education and trauma care as designated. Will be on the November 2020 ballot.
The only bill that must be passed is the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The House had finished its version and sent it to the Senate just a day before the suspension of the session. But with the significant drop in revenues because of the economic shut down, the Senate will have to completely rewrite it. The instructions to the state agencies were to recommend cuts of 14%. They had already reworked their budgets for 6% cuts the governor originally instructed them to submit in January. After the April 2020 revenue numbers were available, the governor and Office of Planning and Budget reduced that request to 11%. Still, that translates to about $2.8+ Billion, about the same amount that is in the Revenue Shortfall Reserve create for such emergencies.
However, the General Assembly cannot and will not use all of the ‘rainy day fund’ for FY21 because a) there may not be that much available by July 1 because the revenues for the current year are not as high as was estimated, and the fund will be used to fill those holes; and b) no one knows how long this economic slowdown will last. FY22 for sure will be partially affected and some economists have suggested the hangover will last into FY23. Holding back some of those reserve funds is therefore prudent.
So, the proposed agency cuts are likely to become actual cuts. Much of the state government is people costs, 80% to 90%. It is impossible to escape personnel cuts. Furlough days and eliminating unfilled positions were frequent recommendations. There will be no raises for anyone. Projects and programs will be delayed or dropped. Contracts with vendors will be renegotiated. Marketing to and education of the state service offerings will be significantly reduced. Hours of service will be shortened. It will be grim.
Attempts will be made to increase revenues. Sin taxes such as alcohol and tobacco are frequently mentioned. And some rather high-ranking folk have suggested the recent cut to the income tax rate needs to be repealed.
What else will be done depends on how many of those 11 days will be taken to finish the session. There is some desire to pass the hate crimes bill now in the Senate, HB 426. Repeal of the citizens arrest and stand-your-ground laws has been mentioned. The governor has recommended changes to benefit foster children such as reducing parental age for adoption to 21 and increasing the tax credit to $6000/year, currently $2000. Required state tests in K-12 were reduced by five and the teacher evaluations based on those tests must change. Election law may be updated to reflect recent court decisions on acceptance and rejection of absentee ballots and references to the old DRE voting machines can be removed from the code. The current proposal also requires splitting precincts if voters have to stand in line for more than an hour, but given the challenges of finding places to locate precincts in this pandemic, that issue may be set aside for now.
Surprise hospital billings were high on the legislative to do list before the recess as was elder care protections. The visibility of the elder care protections has been highlighted by the corona virus. But not much noise during this health emergency about surprise billings. Perhaps that will be a later push.
Environmental issues in play include increasing dumping fees for coal ash to discourage other states from sending their refuse to GA, notice of ethylene oxide emissions, and banning the burning of railroad ties for energy production.
Any of these issues will take committee work and undoubtedly reconciliation of differing versions passed by the chambers. With the budget requiring such a huge paradigm shift and the rules for chamber debate being altered to meet social distancing requirements, leadership will be more selective about what is put on the calendar for debate and passage.
Stay tuned. We will continue to keep you informed.
Sally FitzGerald, Capitol Observer
sallyfitz [at] bellsouth.net
League of Women Voters – Atlanta/Fulton
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