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House meets Ralston’s challenges

When we began this year’s legislative session, David Ralston, Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, challenged the state House to pass four pieces of legislation that would improve the entire state of Georgia.  Each of these bills was aimed at addressing a particular problem currently affecting our entire state. The first of these four to pass the House was the Georgia Water Stewardship Act of 2010.  This legislation, which is ready to be signed into law, will help us responsibly manage our limited water resources.  The second was House Bill 948, the Fiscal Year 2011 state budget bill.  After much deliberation, the FY 2011 state budget passed the House last week.  It is now under consideration in the state Senate.  This week, the House passed the final two remaining bills of Speaker Ralston’s challenge, House Bill 277 and Senate Bill 17. 
House Bill 277 will finally give Georgians the opportunity to approve a Regional Transportation Sales Tax.  As you are probably aware, transportation funding has been a major issue in the General Assembly for the last several years.  Georgia has seen unprecedented growth and has swelled to a population of more than 10 million people, resulting in a need for additional transportation infrastructure improvements.
House Bill 277 creates 12 Special Tax Districts for Transportation based along Georgia’s Regional Commissions’ existing boundaries.  Each of the 12 districts will assemble a Regional Transportation Roundtable, which will be comprised of local government officials, such as county commissioners and city mayors.  During the Roundtable meetings, local officials from throughout the district will create and approve their districts’ transportation project list.  Once the Roundtable has approved a transportation project list, the list will be put on a referendum that Georgians within the district will be able to vote on.  If approved by the voters, the district would implement a sales tax similar to a TSPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) for the set list of projects.  A Citizen Review Panel will also be created in each district, which will monitor the ongoing process of projects in each county. This will ensure that the voter-approved projects are on time and within budget. We will discuss more specifics of HB 277 in later columns.
This week the House and Senate also addressed Speaker David Ralston’s ethics reform legislation, Senate Bill 17.  This measure will bring greater transparency and openness to Georgia’s ethics laws.  In a bipartisan vote, both chambers overwhelmingly approved the bill. Titled the “Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Act of 2010,” the legislation toughens the General Assembly’s ability to properly handle ethics matters.  It expands the state’s authority over campaign finance, lobbyists, and personal finance disclosures, and requires lobbyists to report their expenditures on public officials twice as often as currently required.
Further, Senate Bill 17 addresses the unfortunate, yet real situations where a public official uses the power of their office for coercion, retaliation, or punishment. It also brings local governments and the Department of Transportation Board under the same ethics requirements as the General Assembly, as well as other state level public officials.  The legislation also doubles the fines, fees, and other penalties for violations of the act. 
Finally, the House and Senate passed the final amended fiscal year 2010 budget.  This budget sets state spending through the end of June 2010. 
As we head toward the final two days of the 2010 legislative session, I encourage you to contact me with any questions or concerns that you might have regarding our state.  Thursday, April 29th, will be the final day of the current session.  Though the legislative session may be coming to an end, I still would like to know your opinion on the issues that concern you and your family.  You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-5116 or email me at jon.burns@house.ga.gov .  Thank you for your time.