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Efforts made to balance budget

The Georgia House  has spent much of the session looking at ways to reduce spending in order to help balance the state budget.  While cutting spending and prioritizing state programs is one of my top priorities, I am also determined to make sure everyone is paying their fare share of taxes and am looking at ways to reform our tax code, making it fair for all Georgians.  This is what honest, hardworking, tax paying Georgians deserve.  With that in mind, the House introduced legislation this week creating a blue ribbon committee to study tax reform and passed several bills to help the state catch tax cheats and to collect unpaid state revenue.  
The Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians, House Bill 1405, will be tasked with formulating ideas, giving critical analysis, and making recommendations for a modernized, fair tax system for Georgia.  The council will be made up of economists, two former governors, business leaders throughout the state and other experts appointed by the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor. Upon completion of their work, the council will submit their proposal to the General Assembly for consideration at the beginning of the 2011 legislative session.
House Bill 982 will help the Department of Revenue (DOR) collect taxes owed to the state by delinquent taxpayers.   This legislation waives court costs incurred by the DOR when garnishing the wages of delinquent taxpayers. The DOR currently pays $160 in court fees per garnishment.  The cost of court fees limits the number of garnishments the state files, thus inhibiting the state’s ability to collect taxes owed in this fashion.  For example, of a potential 20,000 garnishments in 2009, the DOR only had the resources to file 240 garnishments.   
House Bill 1188 authorizes Department of Revenue POST-certified law enforcement officers to tackle tax fraud and theft without assistance from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation or local law enforcement.  Just last year, this special POST-certified investigation team saved the state $30 million in fraudulent refund claims. 
House Bill 1093 ensures that businesses operating in Georgia are collecting and remitting sales tax as required by law. This legislation allows local governments currently levying an occupation tax or regulatory fee through the use of business licenses to send the information gathered in the business license application to the Department of Revenue.  The DOR will then cross reference this information with its own information to determine if the business is in compliance by submitting their state and local sales tax, if they are required to do so.
 I am confident that each of these bills will help the state in collecting taxes that have not been paid to the state of Georgia.  Finding these resources will ease the tax burden on honest, hardworking, citizens who responsibly pay their taxes each year.
This week, we also passed legislation that will protect the privacy of crime victims and their families with House Bill 1322.  The bill will prohibit the dissemination of graphic images of the genitalia, dismemberment or decapitation of a crime victim.  It requires the release of crime scene photos to be approved by the deceased victim’s next of kin or a ruling by a superior court judge to grant public disclosure. News media will be able to view photos under rules and regulations determined by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.   My colleagues and I felt compelled to pass this legislation after a pornographic magazine inappropriately requested graphic images of murder victim Meredith Emerson from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.  Unfortunately, this magazine exploited the Open Records Act by requesting these images.   Luckily, Speaker Ralston became aware of this request and urged the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to deny this despicable request.  The family of Meredith Emerson then filed a temporary restraining order barring the release of the requested crime scene photos, and the order was granted by DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Dan Coursey.  If passed by the Senate and signed by the Governor, House Bill 1322 will protect the integrity of crime victims and prevent any future occurrence.
On another note, the House took steps this week to protect animals from inhumane and unnecessary euthanasia. House Bill 1106 requires animal shelters to scan animals for identification microchips within 24 hours of an animal being brought to the shelter.  If a microchip is found, then the shelter must make a reasonable effort to contact the animal’s owner.  This legislation is intended to save the lives of lost pets and reunite them with their families.  Another bill, House Bill 788, was also passed and will prohibit animal shelters from using carbon monoxide gas chambers when euthanizing animals.  The obsolescent practice has been deemed inhumane and will be replaced by euthanization through injection.
Now that these bills have been passed by the House, they will go to the Senate for consideration.  I hope that my colleagues on the other side of the Capitol will follow our lead and pass these important pieces of legislation.
In addition to these and all other bills passed by the House this week, there was also some very interesting new legislation introduced.  Representative Michael Harden announced his filing of House Bill 1389, which will require recipients of unemployment benefits, state public assistance, and state administered federal assistance to submit to a random drug testing program.  The cost of the $25 drug test will be paid for by the recipient or deducted from their benefits.  Any recipient who refuses a drug test or who fails a drug test will be denied benefits.  The legislation also allows for treatment options and special consideration for children.  I think this is a commonsense piece of legislation that will help prepare those receiving government assistance for the all-too-common employment required drug tests and ensure our tax dollars are not being used to subsidize illegal drug use.
Another piece of legislation introduced this week was House Resolution 1590.  This resolution is a constitutional amendment that will move the Georgia 4-H program from the Board of Regents to the Department of Agriculture.  This move has become necessary due to a recent attempt by the University of Georgia to close all 4-H facilities across the state.   
As we discuss and vote on this new legislation, I want to know how you and your family feel about issues concerning the future of Georgia.  I am always eager to hear your thoughts and concerns.  Please feel free to call or email me with any questions or comments that you might have regarding our state.  You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-5116 or jon.burns@house.ga.gov.  Thank you for your time.