The Georgia General Assembly reached the end of the 2012 legislative session, which adjourned Thursday, March 29.
On Tuesday of this week, the House of Representatives voted to approve a wide-ranging package of changes to the state’s tax code. Included in House Bill 386, which emerged from the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure, are the following revisions:
• Elimination of the sales tax and annual ad valorem taxes paid by the owners of motor vehicles, who instead will pay a one-time title fee when they purchase a car. The fee would be 6.5 percent of the vehicle’s fair market value in 2013, 6.75 percent in 2014 and 7 percent in 2015 and beyond.
• Collection of a state sales tax on products sold online by companies with a physical presence in Georgia.
• Elimination of the sales tax on energy used for manufacturing, agriculture and mining purposes over a four-year phase-out period. Local governments would be allowed to keep their 3 percent portion of that sales tax by re-adopting it as an excise tax.
• An increase in the income-tax exemption for married couples from $5,400 to $7,400 to eliminate the “marriage penalty.”
• A cap on the exemption on unearned income for retirees at the current level of $65,000.
• More limitations on the conservation easement that lowers taxes for some property owners.
• A 30 percent tax credit but elimination of a sales-tax exemption for film productions in Georgia.
• A sales-tax exemption for new business projects with a “regionally significant impact.” The state’s commissioner of economic development will decide which projects get the tax break.
• Reinstatement of the sales-tax holiday periods for the purchase of back-to-school materials (Aug. 10-11) and energy-efficient appliances (Oct. 5-7).
• Continuation of the sales-tax exemption on jet fuel purchases, which primarily benefits Delta Air Lines, for at least two more years.
HB 386 was approved unanimously by the Senate last Thursday, sending the measure to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.
Criminal justice reform: Also last week, House members approved HB 1176, a bipartisan proposal that seeks to find a balance between ensuring public safety and reducing Georgia’s prison-system costs. The costs have risen dramatically along with the inmate population, which has more than doubled in the past 20 years. The state spends more than $1 billion a year to incarcerate more than 56,000 inmates.
Included in the measure are provisions that would:
• give judges more sentencing discretion for nonviolent offenses
• raise the threshold for suspects charged with certain felonies
• revise sentencing guidelines for burglary, shoplifting, forgery, marijuana possession and other offenses
• provide probation and parole agencies with more resources to supervise offenders in the community
• and expand the use of drug and mental health courts, which offer alternative sentencing for certain offenders, and add more community-based treatment centers for low-level offenders.
HB 1176 went to the Senate for its consideration.
Other House action: The following legislation was amended by the House and sent back to the Senate:
• Senate Bill 351 would require the same training for all municipal court judges.
• SB 366 would revise restrictions on the possession of contraband at juvenile detention centers.
• SB 372 would set up policies for the disposition of the cremated remains of deceased veterans.
Final approval: Also last week, the House approved a number of Senate bills, including:
• SB 101 would establish the Student Teen Election Participant program for poll officers.
• SB 227, the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, is aimed at making it easier for children of military families to enroll in Georgia schools when their parents are transferred.
• SB 338 would provide special licenses for dentists and dental hygienists who are licensed in other states.
• SB 473 would make current members of the armed services eligible for the license plate tax exemption for Purple Heart awardees already offered to Purple Heart veterans.
• SB 489 would require the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission to report annually to the legislature on its expenditures and results.
House members gave final approval to two measures that had been amended by the Senate: HB 110, which would establish a registry of vacant properties, and HB 868, which would provide income-tax credits to business enterprises located in less-developed areas of the state.
Legislation urging the U.S. Department of Labor to withdraw its proposed policies that would restrict young people from working on farms also earned House approval.
Williams, D-Midway, represents District 165 in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact him at 511 Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; by phone at 404-656-6372; or by email at email@example.com.