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Committee OKs speaker's tax proposal
Legislative update
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The House Ways and Means Committee has favorably reported Speaker Glenn Richardson's tax plan, and the legislation is due for a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.
The current version of the speaker's proposal would eliminate ad valorem taxes on cars and trucks, along with the property taxes paid for local schools. The state would impose a broader four percent sales tax on goods and consumer services, including groceries, lottery tickets and many legal and professional services, not presently taxed. In turn, the state would divide those funds among local school boards to make up for the lost property tax revenue.
HR 1246 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would set the plan in motion. To be enacted, it must receive two-thirds approval from both the House and Senate and majority approval from Georgia voters in the November general election. HB 979 is the enabling legislation that would take effect if the constitutional amendment is ratified.
Many lawmakers are skeptical over the proposal because of the expansion of the sales tax to groceries and so many other services -- such as legal fees, gym memberships, haircuts, piano lessons and even wedding and funeral services. Also, there is the issue of local control as school boards would now be at the mercy of the state to meet revenue needs.
You can expect quite a debate when the speaker's proposal reaches the House floor. Whether it will receive the necessary 120 votes to move from the House to the Senate remains to be seen.
On another sales tax matter, the House Transportation Committee has favorably reported legislation that would establish a statewide, 1 percent sales tax for transportation. HR 1226, if approved by two-thirds of both the House and Senate, would go the voters for ratification this November.
The proposal addresses a serious revenue shortfall facing transportation projects across the state. If the new sales tax is implemented, the current 7.5 cents-per-gallon motor fuel tax for transportation would be eliminated.
On Wednesday, the House voted unanimously to require the Department of Transportation Commissioner to submit an annual report on the condition of Georgia's roads and bridges to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House. The report must also include an analysis of whether the inspections of bridges already performed by the DOT have been adequate. HB 1123 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
On Feb. 18, the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus held our annual Soul Food Dinner, with a record-breaking turnout. As chairman of the GLBC, I would like to thank all the residents of Liberty County who traveled to Atlanta for the event, Kenneth Howard for his inspiring Gullah presentation and the McIntosh County Shouters, who took us back and kept us in tune with our heritage.
Dr. Joseph Lowery, president emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and convener of the People's Agenda, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Atlanta), Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond and DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones were among the dignitaries in attendance. Also, we presented a special Heritage Award to longtime NAACP State President Walter Butler and to retired Turner Communications executive Xernona Clayton, founder of the Trumpet Awards.
Legislation that passed the House by a narrow margin Tuesday would combine the Children and Youth Coordinating Council and the Children's Trust Fund Commission into a new Governor's Office of Children and Families.
Some of the duties of the new agency, under HB 1054, would include serving as a statewide clearinghouse for child-related information and research; coordinating with all components of the children's service systems to develop legislative proposals and execute policy proposals related to child abuse injury prevention, treatment and juvenile justice systems; and reviewing and developing an integrated state plan for services provided to children and youth through state programs. The legislation also would create a 15-member advisory panel, appointed solely by the governor, to monitor the Office of Children and Families.
I voted against HB 1054 because these agencies should remain separate. Consolidating them would cause the governor to have too much political influence and control, which takes away from the goal of keeping the best interests of children at the forefront.
Also Tuesday, the House approved HB 1044, which would correct the overregulation of respite care services, which are programs for aging adults who can function in group settings, eat and use the restroom unassisted, but still require care. This proposal removes respite care services from the regulations governing adult day care centers.
Additionally, the bill requires respite care services by operated by a non-profit organization, provide a maximum of 25 hours of service per week, be staffed by volunteers and managed by a director approved by the state Department of Human Resources. HB 1044 now moves to the Senate for its consideration.
With the 2008 session now past the halfway point, lawmakers will reconvene Tuesday for the 23rd legislative day.

Williams (D-Midway) represents the 165th District (Liberty County) in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact him at 511 Coverdell Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; phone at (404) 656-6372, (404) 326-2964, 912-977-5600 or by e-mail at
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