Posts Tagged ‘Hamrick Reports from the Capitol’

Hamrick Reports from the Capitol

By Bill Hamrick

(more…)

Hamrick Reports from the Capitol

By Bill Hamrick

We have less than ten legislative days left in this year’s session, which means it’s crunch time. All of the bills that will get a slot on the General Calendar must be passed out of committee by the end of next week. This means we are quickly but carefully vetting all the House bills to make sure they are perfect and ready for a vote by the full Senate.

We are especially busy in the Judiciary Committee, which I chair. One of the biggest bills that we hope to see passed this year is the re-write of Georgia’s laws regarding evidence used in court. We’ve been working since 2008 to modernize the code and bring it in line with 42 other states. Our current evidence code was created in 1863. We’ve made a few select changes in the past 146 years, but a true overhaul of the code is necessary. When the original code was written, the telephone hadn’t been invented yet. Needless to say, we had to take circumstances like advanced technology into account with this significant undertaking. These new laws will offer consistency, cost-savings and fairness.

Another major initiative in the General Assembly took a significant step this week when the Joint Special Committee on Tax Reform announced its long-awaited plans to reform Georgia’s tax code as a way to attract jobs and encourage investment in Georgia. The revenue-neutral proposal flattens the personal income tax rate from 6 percent to at least 4.5 percent while broadening consumption taxes. The bill does not levy taxes on groceries or common consumer services, but rather establishes an across the board 7 percent tax on telecommunications. It also eliminates the sales tax on energy while imposing a tax on auto repairs services and person-to-person sales of motor vehicles, boats, and planes. The Council developed the legislation based on recommendations prepared by the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness, a panel of business and economic leaders that studied Georgia’s tax system last year before recommending changes to the legislature. This legislation will go before the House for a vote before facing a floor debate in the Senate.

One of the top agenda items every legislative session is the budget, and this year is no exception. The amended FY 2011 budget was passed and signed by the governor. We have since turned our attention to the FY 2012 budget. The appropriations subcommittees have been meeting the last couple of weeks to detail funding for government agencies and special projects.  We expect the budget to be voted out of the full committee very soon and then it will head to the full Senate for a vote.

As always, it’s an honor to serve you, the 30th Senate District. If you have any questions on current legislation in the General Assembly, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Sen. Bill Hamrick serves as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He represents the 30th Senate District which includes portions of Carroll, Douglas, and Paulding counties.  He may be reached at 404.656.0036 or via e-mail at bill.hamrick@senate.ga.gov.

COLUMN
For Immediate Release:
March 25, 2011
For Information Contact:
Kallarin Richards, Deputy Director
Katie Wright, Communications Manager
Katie.Wright@senate.ga.gov
404.656.0028

Hamrick Reports from the Capitol

By Bill Hamrick

(more…)

Hamrick Reports from the Capitol

By Bill Hamrick

State lawmakers are working hard under the Gold Dome to author and pass legislation that makes Georgia a better place to live and work. Our goal throughout countless committee meetings, floor debates and meetings with interested stakeholders is to craft common sense, fiscally conservative policies.  This is exactly what we have done.

The amended FY 2011 budget cleared its last hurdle before going to the governor’s desk to be signed and enacted. The $18.1 billion budget included an average 4 percent cut to all agencies. The shortfall was due mostly to K-12 enrollment growth and less-than-anticipated federal matching for Medicaid expenses. We had to make tough choices to ensure that our budget is balanced as the state Constitution mandates.

We will soon begin grappling with the FY 20 12 budget, which will not be any easier to balance. The FY 2012 revenue estimate, including tax revenue, agency collections and other state general funds, is 12.75 percent above actual FY 2010 revenues. Tax revenues are expected to grow $908 million or 6 percent during FY 2012. This proves that we are slowly growing but we are still dealing with the preceding months of low revenues. I’m confident that we will balance the budget with the same fiscally conservative principles that have guided us thus far.

Another agenda item we have approached with common sense is the impending health care mandates handed down from the federal government. I supported a Senate Resolution providing a Constitutional Amendment that, if approved, would state that government can not compel individuals to purchase a particular health care plan and they can not be penalized for choosing not to have health care. Every Georgian has the right to determine whether or not he or she needs to purchase a health care program.

Other updates from the Capitol include the movement of the HOPE reform bill through the legislative process. The Senate Higher Education Committee vetted the bill and made few alterations. During debate in the full Senate, the bill was amended to allow all valedictorians and salutatorians from all Georgia schools to be eligible for the Zell Miller Scholarship and establishes a low interest loan program that will help students presently covered under HOPE to bridge the gap between actual tuition cost and costs covered by HOPE once the bill is enacted. This generous program was facing imminent bankruptcy so we had to take action. This legislation presents a sustainable solution, ensuring our children and grandchildren will be able to benefit from the HOPE scholarship program.  The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.

As always, it’s an honor to serve you, the 30th Senate District. If you have any questions on current legislation in the General Assembly, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Sen. Bill Hamrick serves as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He represents the 30th Senate District which includes portions of Carroll, Douglas, and Paulding counties.  He may be reached at 404.656.0036 or via e-mail at bill.hamrick@senate.ga.gov.

COLUMN
For Immediate Release:
March 11, 2011
For Information Contact:
Kallarin Richards, Deputy Director
Katie Wright, Communications Manager
Katie.Wright@senate.ga.gov
404.656.0028

Hamrick Reports from the Capitol

By Bill Hamrick

As legislators, we are faced with difficult decisions everyday. During the past couple of sessions, these tough choices have mostly been financial. Facing huge revenue gaps, we’ve had to reduce and sometimes cut government programs. But with this pain, comes an opportunity that we must not overlook. Now is the time to get the size of government under control. By increasing efficiency and reducing wasteful spending, we can ensure that each tax dollar spent is only used for essential programs.

The Senate passed the Taxpayer Protection Act of 2011 this week, which proposes a Constitutional Amendment that would limit growth in state Government. The resolution had overwhelming bi-partisan support. You have a right to say ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to state spending. If approved, the resolution will restrict the state from spending any money in excess of the previous year budget, adjusted for inflation and population. Any additional revenue beyond the spending limitations would be required to go into the Rainy Day fund until it reaches a point of 15 percent of the previous year spending. Once the rainy day fund is at 15 percent, we will reduce debts and start making cuts to the state income tax. If it is approved by the House of Representatives and Gov. Deal, the Constitutional Amendment will be on the next General Election ballot in 2012

We passed the amended FY 2011 budget, which lays out the state’s spending plan through the rest of the fiscal year ending June 30. The main strategy in balancing this budget was to share reductions between the Amended FY 2011 budget and the FY 2012 budget. This will ensure that vital programs aren’t completely cut in either year, but will face a smaller budget for both years. We are creating a baseline that we can grow from in the future.

Even though January was our eighth straight month of revenue growth, we had to be cautious because we are still facing big revenue gaps from over a year of low collections. The shortfall totaled $400 million in the amended budget. K-12 enrollment growth and less-than-anticipated federal matching for Medicaid expenses were the biggest contributors to the shortfall. We also began paying our settlement with the Department of Justice for mental health improvements in the state. The gap was filled with an average of 4 percent cuts to all agencies. Education, because it’s a firm priority in Georgia, was not hit as hard. The final amended budget totaled $18 billion.

In addition to producing a balanced spending plan for the state, another of our top priorities this session is to overhaul the HOPE scholarship program to ensure its sustainability for future generations.  If we do nothing, HOPE will be unable to meet its obligations in just two years.  The governor introduced legislation this week that maintains the current merit-based scholarship for students with a 3.0 GPA, but adjusts the amount annually based on lottery revenues. Providing more than $5 billion to more than 1.2 million students, this program is one of the most generous in the nation and continues to be a model for other states.

The bill also creates the Zell Miller Scholarship program to reward Georgia’s best and brightest students with full tuition coverage. It will be awarded to students with a 3.7 GPA or higher and who received at least a 1200 SAT score or at least a 26 ACT score.

The Pre-K program is a successful universal program to help ready 4-year-olds for school. Under the proposed legislation, 5,000 slots are added to address the lengthy waiting list. $4.2 million is included to increase quality for the programs. We’re proposing a move from a six hour day to a four hour day but by reducing time for routines, rest and meals, the decrease in instructional time will be minimized. Georgia’s program is one of the largest and most comprehensive Pre-K programs in the nation and it continues to be a model for other states. The tough choices we have to make are balanced by increasing efficiency.

Sen. Bill Hamrick serves as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He represents the 30th Senate District which includes portions of Carroll, Douglas, and Paulding counties.  He may be reached at 404.656.0036 or via e-mail at bill.hamrick@senate.ga.gov.

COLUMN
For Immediate Release:
February 25, 2011
For Information Contact:
Kallarin Richards, Deputy Director
Katie Wright, Communications Manager
katie.wright@senate.ga.gov
404.656.0028