Ga. Chamber tallies wins & losses in legislative aftermath

Wed, 04/09/2008 - 2:52pm
By: The Citizen

[The following article was provided by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. All opinions and viewpoints expressed in the article are those of the Ga. Chamber.]

Under a tornado watch, perhaps appropriately, the Georgia General Assembly adjourned its two-year legislative session as the clock struck midnight on Friday, April 4.

For the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the session ranks as one of our most successful and productive, far exceeding our hopes and expectations.

Soon we’ll read the political pundits’ and editorial writers’ annual compilation of the session’s “winners” and “losers.” No doubt, however, the agenda of the Georgia Chamber was advanced, even in a session with fierce policy disagreements. Key business objectives were met and critical state chamber-backed legislation passed.

Lost, unfortunately, in the storms of turmoil, was funding for a meaningful trauma care network and funding solutions for existing and future transportation needs.

Demonstrable Success for Business

• Numerous pro-business, pro-jobs tax bills were passed! - many on which the Georgia Chamber has been working for years ... including three critical tax priorities for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce:

HB 237, the “Integrated Plant Theory” bill - championed by the Georgia Traditional Manufacturers Association (GTMA), the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and many others - would exempt the sales tax on all machinery and equipment that is necessary and integral to the manufacturing process as well as all water-pollution eliminating machinery;

HB 272, to cap the tax on energy paid by manufacturers when energy prices soar; and

HB 1211 and HR 1276, “The Georgia Bona Fide Large Forest Conservation Use Act of 2008,” which bring fairness to a tax code that is currently a disincentive to our timber and forestry industries and large forest conservation.

In addition other priority Georgia Chamber tax legislation adopted included, HB 1129, “The Georgia Tourism Development Act,” the top priority of Georgia Chamber affiliate the Tourism Development Alliance of Georgia (TDAG) to provide tax incentives for companies making significant investments in Georgia by building destination/tourist attractions ...

... the traditional annual “back-to-school” sales tax holiday and the energy-efficient-products sales tax holiday (HB 948), which sets the state sales tax holiday on school supplies for July 31-August 3, 2008, and for energy-efficient products for October 2-5, 2008 ...

... House Bill 1100, an economic development tool that boosts the income tax credit for film, video, or digital productions in Georgia, so as to make our state more competitive as a location for these productions. Production companies and their affiliates that have not had over $30 million in expenditures in Georgia in 2002, 2003, and 2004 are eligible for this credit if their base investment in qualified production activities in Georgia is at least $500,000. This bill increases the credit from 9 percent of the base investment in Georgia up to 20 percent of the base investment. This bill also provides for an additional credit of 10 percent of the base investment if there is a qualified Georgia promotion.

HB 1244 to extend the time period in which companies can use tax credits for allowing employees to telework got bogged down in the disagreements between the House and Senate over elimination of the “car tag tax” and reduction of the personal income tax.

Neither Speaker Richardson’s GREAT Plan nor a proposal by the House to eliminate the personal vehicle ad valorem tax (“car tag tax”) nor the Senate’s proposal for a 10 percent reduction in the personal income tax passed.

• HB 89. What began as legislation to remove a business owner’s right to set policies pertaining to the introduction of firearms to the workplace was amended on the final day of the session to allow employers, whether they own the land on which they operate or lease it, to ban guns from their parking accommodations if they so choose.

As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution stated, HB 89, formerly the “bring your guns to work” legislation, now “allows employees to leave weapons in parking lots as long as it’s okay with the company.”

The final adopted bill also de-criminalizes the carry of guns by individuals with Georgia Firearms Licenses (GFLs) into certain restaurants that serve alcohol (the carrier may not drink), state parks, wildlife management areas and “historic sites,” and on local mass transit systems. The bill also speeds up the process for the renewal of gun permits.

• A statewide, comprehensive water plan, Senate Resolution 701 and House Resolution 1022, was adopted overwhelmingly early in the session, a plan that was developed in close cooperation with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and with the input of our members.

Legislation was passed to create one statewide standard for water restrictions during a time of drought, HB 1281, which avoids a patchwork maze of hundreds of different local government restrictions. A city, county or local water authority could petition the director of the state Environmental Protection Division for an exemption. The bill also would prohibit any restrictions on filling swimming pools unless there is not enough water for humans, farms or industries.

Georgia Chamber-supported legislation was also agreed to that gets Georgia’s reservoir building program jumpstarted.

And a bill was passed to place the Georgia Environment Protection Division (EPD) under the same legislative oversight process to which every other state agency and department is subject, SB 352; that is, the General Assembly may override any departmental regulation that isn’t promulgated in compliance with federal rules or regulations or law.

SB 426, SB 427, SB 428 and HB 548 and HB 1289 - Revitalization of Jekyll Island.

A number of Georgia Chamber members have expressed interest in several bills that would weaken the planned $341 million revitalization of Jekyll Island. The above-listed bills failed to pass. Combined, these measures would have prevented additional fulltime residences from being built on the state-owned island, restricted construction near the waterfront, and limited what new hotels could charge overnight guests, many provisions that are already addressed in the revitalization plan approved by the Jekyll Island State Park Authority.

Seventy-five percent of the island CANNOT, by law, be developed and the plan for improvements to Jekyll calls for development of less than that state-mandated ratio. The plan, supported by the Glynn County Commission, the Brunswick City Council and the Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce, calls for rebuilding the crumbling hotels on the island with the new properties charging daily rates as low as $105 and rebuilding the aging convention center.

Sadly, since 1990, traffic to beautiful, historic Jekyll Island is down by half, tours of the historic district are down 29 percent, golf rounds are down 32 percent and hotel stays on the island are down 24 percent.

• “The Corporate Good Samaritan Act,” to give businesses and non-profits some liability protection when performing “Good Samaritan” acts, in a time of an emergency or crisis, was passed, included in HB 89, mentioned above. A top priority for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the measure gives some protection for businesses that render aid in times of natural disasters, acts of terrorism, pandemic diseases or other emergencies and encourages non-profits and businesses to assist the state when called upon to respond quickly and effectively to emergencies with private as well as public resources.

• Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has announced the appointment of a Senate Study Committee on Employment Contracts to review current Georgia law pertaining to non-compete contracts in Georgia and to develop legislation to address the study committee’s finding. Sens. Judson Hill, Bill Cowsert, and David Adelman have been appointed to this committee.

HR 47 establishes a Legislative Study Committee on Judicial Election Reform.

• SB 359 was passed establishing a “Made in Georgia” marketing and labeling program to promote goods and products manufactured in Georgia; also, study committees were created in both the House and Senate to examine the future of manufacturing in Georgia, SR 1097 and a version of HR 1364 amended on the final day.

• Trauma care funding - $60-plus million was added to the 2008 budget for trauma care for the rest of this year. But the House and Senate failed to reach an agreement to provide a dedicated source of funding for a trauma care network to provide immediate, top-tier treatment for victims of serious car accidents, gun shots and other severe, life-threatening trauma cases.

• Budget victory: Medicaid reimbursements for health care providers will go up beginning in 2009, as the Governor, House and Senate found common ground to raise the average reimbursement rate from 80 cents per dollar of cost.

• Sadly, about the same time trauma care funding was lost, 130 employees at Telfair Regional Hospital in McRae, Georgia, were hit with the news that the county’s sixth-largest employer, was closing. Hospital officials say paying for indigent care was a large part of the financial burden that led to the hospital’s closing. In 2005, the hospital provided almost a million dollars in indigent care to the community. With the closing of Telfair Regional, the next nearest hospitals are 30 minutes away in Dodge, Wheeler and Jeff Davis counties. About 15,000 patients annually used the rural McRae hospital.

• CON compromise. The Georgia Hospital Association, the Alliance of Community Hospitals, the Medical Association of Georgia and other interested parties agreed late in the session to a compromise on Certificate of Need (CON) reform legislation.

• HB 977 to increase availability of health insurance for Georgians passed. The bill provides tax breaks for the use of high-deductible insurance policies coupled with health savings accounts. Under 977, small employers would get a $250 tax credit per enrolled worker and individuals would earn a tax deduction. The legislation’s goal is to help insure 500,000 of the state’s uninsured.

• Objective met: Slow the growing expansion of government regulation of health and property-casualty insurance. Two bills to vastly expand government regulation of free-market insurance products were defeated, and one to provide more market competition in automobile insurance was passed. HB 798 would have expanded the authority of the Department of Insurance to regulate Pharmacy Benefit Managers, potentially costing employers billions of dollars, and HB 923 would have given state regulators more power to regulate private market health insurance plans. SB 276 to give consumers more choice in auto insurance policies and to provide more competition among auto insurers passed.

• While on the topic of insurance, and health insurance in particular, our friends at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (GPPF) have an interesting article in their spring “Georgia Policy Review” newsletter, “What Health Care Crisis?” by Dr. Harold Brown, UGA professor emeritus, which makes a few points worth considering to keep the ever-repeated phrase “heath care crisis” in perspective:

“The percentage of Americans with health care insurance has hovered around 85 percent since 1987, when the Census Bureau first started asking the question.”

“Of those American families who paid any medical expenses in 2004, only 20 percent paid $1,000 or more out-of-pocket. For the average family, out-of-pocket health care expenses increased only $1,184 from 1990 to 2005. That’s a lot of money, but not out of line with other family expenses. During those years, families spent 91 cents on entertainment for every dollar spent on health care. In the meantime, housing expenditures went up five times as much as those for health care and [almost three times as much for] transportation.”

• The General Assembly approved a 5 percent pay raise for appellate judges and Superior Court judges, supported by the state chamber.

As presented in our 2008 Legislative Agenda at the annual Eggs & Issues breakfast in January - five key objectives were identified for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce this year:

• Protect tort reform ... and ensure a fair and impartial judicial system for all parties. Check;

• Promote the fairest, most pro-business, job-generating tax code in the country. Check;

• Protect the private property rights of all, including employers, and the “right to work” laws of Georgia. Check;

• Less government regulation and red tape ... no new mandates, eliminate unnecessary, costly regulatory hurdles. Check; and

• Focus on critical “quality of life” issues for all Georgians, especially those that impede economic development, including ... transportation; a job-ready, educated workforce; access to affordable healthcare and a statewide water management planthat balances the needs of a vibrant economy with the protection of our natural resources. [While the General Assembly failed to adopt transportation funding, the ball was moved down the field to the goal line just before time ran out, and we are optimistic that our elected leaders will work cooperatively to make this a top priority in 2009. It is too important an economic development issue, too important a quality-of-life issue for our state.]

Other Legislation Adopted

• SR 996. A proposed Constitutional amendment allowing voters to correct problems found by the Georgia Supreme Court with the tax allocation district (TAD) system of financing redevelopment projects passed this session. If the Constitutional amendment passes in November, SR 996 requires the General Assembly to create new laws during the 2009 session dictating how TADs may be used.

• SB 399. Reauthorizes the Scrap Tire Management Fee as the funding source for the Solid Waste Trust Fund, in order to aid state and local efforts to reduce solid waste, recycle, and clean up scrap tires. This issue was included in the 2008 Georgia Chamber Legislative Agenda.

Defeated or Held Off

• A mandate bill to require all diesel fuels sold inGeorgia containat least 2 percent biodiesel fuel by volume.

• Legislation that would have funded the Georgia Assignment Pool Underwriting Authority and provided health insurance for uninsurable Georgians with a tax on business, and only on those businesses that currently offer health insurance.

• Dismantling of Tort Reform. Legislation to weaken provisions from 2005’s Civil Justice Reform Act (SB 3) - by removing the section requiring plaintiffs’ attorneys to prove that emergency room doctors acted with gross negligence - was stalled, although the Georgia Trial Lawyers’ Association has already announced that this will be their top priority during the 2009 legislative session.

• Mandated employee leave. Legislation that would have mandated that employers with as few as four employees provide an additional 24 hours of leave time per year, which could be broken up into two-hour increments and used for 12 additional days, above and beyond personal days, sick days, vacation days and FMLA (for those employers not covered by the Family Medical Leave Act) failed to pass out of committee.

Noteworthy News

• Georgia-China economic development. Gov. Sonny Perdue and a delegation of Georgia Chamber and business and civic leaders recently returned from China, inaugurating the first daily, non-stop flight between Atlanta and Shanghai, on Delta Airlines. While in China, Gov. Perdue opened the doors to a new state trade office in Beijing. It is Georgia’s 11th overseas trade office. The governor reportedly hinted Georgia might consider opening a second economic development office in Shanghai to complement the state’s new office in Beijing.

During the trip, Perdue announced China-based PAX Technology will locate its U.S. headquarters in metro Atlanta as a result of the trip. “We have found that Georgia is a very friendly place for Chinese companies,” PAX Chairman and President Thomas Xu said. PAX provides secure-card electronic payment systems and sales software. Last year, three Chinese companies announced plans to open manufacturing operations in Georgia, General Protecht Group, Kingwasong LLC, and Sany Heavy Industry Co. Ltd.

• Advisory Panel to Study Local Board Governance. The State Board of Education has asked Georgia’s business leaders to work with the education community to study effective methods of school board governance. The State Board unanimously approved a resolution last week asking the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the Georgia Chamber affiliate Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (GPEE) and AdvancED to put together an advisory panel on the issue of local school board governance. This panel will work with education advocates and support groups to research best practices and policies for school board operations.

“The State Board of Education members thought it was an appropriate time to ask our business partners to work with us on this issue,” said Wanda Barrs, Chair of the State Board. “Businesses understand the clear link between strong boards and success. Many of those same principles can be applied to school board governance.” The state board is asking for a report within 90 days of when the advisory panel is formed.

State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox praised the state board’s decision to start a conversation about school board governance. “We want Georgia to be a model state for local school board governance, and I’m very pleased that our state’s business leaders have stepped up to the plate to offer their assistance and expertise,” she said. “Working together we can pull together proven strategies and effective policies from the business and education worlds that will best serve our students, our educators and the community at large.”

Unfinished Business/Preparing for 2009 Legislative Session

• Transportation Funding. Despite overwhelming Constitutional majority votes earlier in the session in the House and the Senate to address transportation reform and funding, the General Assembly failed to reach an agreement on final language. A Senate vote with just minutes left on the clock before the end of the session fell three votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to get a proposed Constitutional amendment on the ballot.

“How many people are missing a part of their family’s lives? How many people could be home with their family or at the ball game with their son, that are sitting in traffic?” - Speaker Glenn Richardson.

How long must we wait to address our lack of funding for maintenance, road improvements and new transportation projects?

• The House failed to take up SB 80, which passed the Georgia Senate last year, and would permit - but NOT require - public retirement systems to invest in private investment funds, such as venture capital funds - and does not include the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia specifically. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce supports this legislation to bring Georgia in line with a majority of other states to allow investments in venture capital funds in the state’s pension retirement funds.As one of the few states in our nation that denies state pensions from tapping private investments, we send a poor signal to potential investors in our state.

• Current law in Georgia requires drivers of automobiles to wear seat belts. Current law also prohibits the introduction of evidence in a trial of the failure of a driver to comply with state law and wear his or her seat belt. Which, of course, is absurd. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce will continue to press for passage of legislation that permits the admission into evidence of the failure to wear a seat belt as prima facie evidence of a contributory factor in considering the award of medical and compensatory damages.

• Sunday sales and Prohibition: Not since Georgia repealed its own Prohibition statutes in 1939 has there been a legislative session that liberalized Georgia’s alcoholic beverages law as much this one - ironic in this, the 100th anniversary of Georgia’s adoption of statewide “dry” laws in 1908 (Georgia adopted strong temperance laws well before the U.S. Congress adopted the Volstead Act). In 1885, the state allowed local counties to ban alcohol (by 1907 most counties had voted themselves dry.)

This session four major alcohol beverage laws were passed:

• SB 55, also known as the “Merlot To Go” bill, would allow restaurant patrons to have their wine bottles re-corked to take home, even on Sunday.

• HB 1280 allows the new stadium to be built in Gwinnett County for the relocated Atlanta Braves AAA farm team to sell and served alcohol on Sundays.

• SB 385 allows limo drivers to sell alcohol to customers, even on Sundays.

• HB 1061 allows online wine purchases to be bought and/or delivered, up to twelve cases, even on Sundays.

All of the above are fine and good, but the one bill which would give voters a say in the alcohol laws in their community - legislation to allow grocery and convenience stores to sell beer and wine on Sunday - died. Go figure. How our state perpetuates this discrimination against retailers is mind boggling.

• Georgia still needs to repeal the remaining parts of the state’s inventory ad valorem taxes!

• REMINDER: The Georgia Department of Insurance has promulgated Emergency Regulation 120-3-24-0.8, “Rules and Regulations for Loss Prevention Due to Combustible Dust Explosions and Fire,” which will be in effect for 120 days, until the adoption by regular rulemaking authority.

“Emergency Regulation Chapter 120-3-24-0.8 effective March 7, 2008, requires all new and existing facilities that have operations involving the manufacturing, processing, and/or handling combustible particulate solids including manufacturing processes that create combustible dust to register by electronic means with the Commissioner beginning July 1, 2008. This must be completed/updated annually.

Before a business license may be issued by the city and/or county jurisdiction to legally operate within the city and/or county jurisdiction after September 1, 2008, each industry is required to receive an annual “Certificate of Registration” from the office of the Safety Fire Commissioner.”

The 57-page regulation can be read at:

According to the Department of Insurance in its announcement of the new regulations: “All manufacturers in Georgia will be required to have a designated safety officer. Monthly reporting will ensure that emergency plans are in place and drills are conducted.” Questions or concerns should be directed to Fred Meyer, Administrative Procedure Attorney, Department of Insurance, at (404) 656-5875.

Open Seats and Retirements

• At least five Representatives and three Senators will not return to Atlanta for the 2009 legislative session: Reps. Ben Bridges, Bob Holmes, Jimmy Lord (all to retirement), Rep. Johnny Floyd, who becomes the newest member of the Department of Transportation board, and Rep. Barry Fleming, who is seeking the Republican nomination for Congress in Georgia’s 10th Congressional District. Fleming will be joined in that race by state Sen. Nancy Schaefer. Sen. Michael Meyer von Bremen has announced he will run for the Georgia Court of Appeals seated being vacated by retiring Judge John Ruffin.Sen. Stan Watson is running for DeKalb County CEO.

News and Notes

• Congratulations to Haydon Stanley (Fiveash-Stanley) and Kevin Curtin (AT&T), newly announced chairman and vice-chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Council (GAC). And special thanks to Skin Edge (GeorgiaLink) for five years of exceptional, self-sacrificial, voluntary service as GAC chair.

• Congratulations to Clint Austin, vice-chairman of the GAC’s Federal Affairs Committee, on the birth of his son, John Clinton “Jake” Austin II, 8 lbs, 7 ounces, 22 inches.

• Congratulations to the Georgia Chamber’s own Diana Lee, who was married to First Lt. Gabe Chavarria at the Cathedral of St. Philip, Atlanta, on Saturday, April 5.

• For local chambers of commerce and business/civic organizations:

The Georgia Chamber will be traveling the state for “Post Session Briefings” after adjournment. This is a great opportunity for your members to get an insider’s report on which bills passed or failed and what to expect in the future. We want to keep you informed and engaged.

Local chambers across Georgia are vital to our economic development efforts and helping to keep our state business friendly. The government affairs staff of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce is happy to and will be available to visit your chamber of commerce, Rotary Club, or other business-related organizations. If you would like to schedule a Post Session Briefing at your chamber, please contact Ginger Hathcock at or call her at (404) 223-2269.

Finally, sincere thanks to the government affairs staff at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce for all you do: Ginger Hathcock, Diana Lee Chavarria, Ryan Mahoney, Nick Pearson and Lauren Wilkes. And thanks to all the members of the GAC and the leadership of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce for a most successful year!

[The above article was provided by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. Opinions expressed in the article are those of the Ga. Chamber.]

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