Monday, March 10, 2008

weekly update lunsford

Under the Gold Dome

State Representative John Lunsford's Weekly Capitol Update


March 10, 2008


The Georgia General Assembly has completed twenty-nine days of the 2008 Georgia General Assembly session and “Day 30” which is “Crossover Day” will be Tuesday, March 11.  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 hasn’t been passed by the House by this Day 30, then the bill effectively is considered “dead.” 


The big issue at the Capitol this 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 measure fell ten votes short of the 120 votes needed to put it on the ballot in November so you could vote on it.  Unfortunately, the majority of the House Democratic Caucus did not support the tax cuts.


For the past year, Speaker Richardson has led Georgians in a very healthy public debate about our state’s system of taxation. House Bill 979 and Senate Resolution 796 would have eliminated the hated ad valorem tax on all personal vehicles also known as the ‘tag tax’ or ‘birthday tax.’


The measures would have put an end to out-of-control growth of property taxes by freezing property tax assessments at the 2008 level and limiting the annual increase on residential values to 2 percent. The measures would have capped the growth of local government and said that if local governments or school boards

Wanted to raise local taxes, they must seek the approval of voters in the community. And finally, the bill would have provided funding for a statewide trauma care network. The final version of the bill contained NO NEW TAXES.


But none of these will happen, Unless we can generate 15 votes from the other side of the isle, we not need a statewide trauma network to fund hospitals like Grady that treat the most critically injured patients in our state Some members of the House have denied Georgians the right to decide for themselves if they want a tax cut and if they want to reform our current tax system. So on your birthday you will continue to pay the ‘birthday tax’ and your property values will continue to rise unchecked thereby increasing your property taxes. This is a good conservative, State and local tax cutting measure that I was happy to support. Moving forward, I will continue to support other tax cuts because I believe that we need lessen the tax burden on our citizens.  I proudly voted for it and believe that if it were placed on a ballot, you would overwhelmingly approve it.  The defeat of this resolution, S.R.796, denied you the right to vote for meaningful tax reforms.


The good news is we were able this week to ease your tax burden for two weekends. Every August, parents all over Georgia take their children shopping for back to school clothes and supplies. This is a big shopping weekend for our families and I was happy to again support a tax free shopping weekend to help them save a little money. The House approved House Bill 948 setting the weekend of July 31 through August 3 as the sales tax holiday weekend for school supplies, and October 2 through October 5 as the sales tax holiday weekend for energy efficient appliances.



We passed a very strict DUI bill this past week.  The bill sets punishment levels for a DUI of drivers who are 18 years and older.  The first offense would be a misdemeanor with a fine of $300-$1000; jail from ten days to one year (24 hours minimum); probation for 12 months less time served; completion of a risk reduction program; and community service hours.  The second offense would be a 24-month misdemeanor; fine of $750-$5000; jail time from 90 days - 24 months.  If the second DUI is within 5 years, 120 hour minimum jail time; and 30 days community service; probation for 24 months less jail time.  The third offense: 36-month misdemeanor; fine of $1000-$5000; and jail time of 12-36 months.  The fourth offense would constitute a felony with a fine of $1000-$5000 and 1-5 years in jail with 1 year minimum.  The bill, House Bill 336, passed 124-17.


We passed a bill that would require local municipalities and county governments who wish to make their water usage policies more restrictive than the state to apply to the state for that ability.  We also charged that the Environmental Protection Division of the state rule on those applications within three days of receiving the request.  We recognize that sometimes, local governments may become overly ambitious in allocating water use.  H.B. 1281 passed by a 124-38 margin of victory.


In an effort to help insure the integrity of our local elections, we passed H.B. 1098, which places the same reporting requirement to the Secretary of States 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 those handicapped individuals or those 75 years old or older to move to the front of the line to vote.  This bill, H.B. 993, also passed unanimously.


In education this week, House members voted in favor of House Bill 1209 introduced by Brooks Coleman, Chairman of the House Education Committee. This legislation provides greater flexibility and local control of our schools systems. Working with the State Department of Education and parents, the legislation would continue to 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. This legislation provides both and will help move our educational systems forward.


Transportation has been in the forefront of issues this year and we are still debating the best way to approach the challenges we face. This coming week we should see more legislation being debated and modified to utilize existing taxes for transportation as well as push by some for regional tax increases. I remain opposed to all tax increases and we will push for better efficiency standards as well as the requirement of all transportation agencies to implement cost benefit analysis and congestion relief standards for all

Projects placed on transportation plans.


One bill that I felt was very important for our children is H.B. 1286, legislation that would require our schools to close on November 11 of each year in honor of Veteran’s Day.  Many of our school children do not understand the sacrifices that our men and women of our Armed Services have made in defending freedom and by passing this bill we hope to encourage our schools and the parents to talk with their children about what our veterans have done.  This bill passed unanimously.


I will keep you informed through weekly updates. Your opinions and concerns are important to me and I consider it an honor to serve you at the state capitol and in our district. If you would like to reach me, please call me at (404) 656-7573 or write me at: State Rep. John Lunsford, 401, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA  30334 or e-mail me at




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