John Douglas - Tax cut for elderly, library funding among year's gains

The two-year 2007-2008 session of the Georgia General Assembly ended April 4 at midnight when both the House and Senate declared, "Sine Die," the Latin phrase meaning adjournment without a day to return. This was a session of accomplishments for both Newton and Rockdale counties and I was proud to sponsor many of the initiatives in the Senate.

Newton County senior citizens with an income of less than $25,000 per year will see a significant reduction in their property taxes. I sponsored a bill to lower school taxes that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in February. Soon afterwards, the Newton County Board of Commissioners approved a similar reduction in their portion of property taxes. The net result is that lower income senior citizens in Newton County will soon see lower tax bills in their mailboxes.

Citizens in Newton County will also enjoy a new library in the next few years because of $2 million in the 2007 state budget. We were able to secure funding for the new Oak Hill library branch and hope that the community will receive great benefits from having a library for the first time in unincorporated portions of the county. Additionally, Porterdale will receive $200,000 to be used for gymnasium rebuilding.

A new Superior Court judgeship for the Alcovy Circuit of Newton and Walton counties was created by the Legislature. Both counties have grown so large in population, we initially wanted to split the circuit between the counties, but when that didn't happen, we were able to create the new position. I hope it will help relieve some of the burden on the court system that has resulted from the increased population.

Rockdale County will also benefit from the legislative session. The Nancy Guinn Library will receive $2 million for upgrades and renovations. We are very pleased to have convinced our budget writers to include that money this year. The library is used heavily by citizens of the county and this expenditure will ensure the facilities remain first class for many more years.

The Sheriff's Office under the able leadership of Jeff Wigington will receive $20,000 for a new auto theft detection system. Several days ago, the Senate recognized and honored the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office and its employees for their work and efforts in tornado relief in Atlanta. I arranged for the Senate to pass a resolution in their honor, and it was great to have them visit us to receive it.

Others items of state-wide interest that passed this year include $50 million in new education funding to repay austerity cuts to public education. When coupled with $53 million from the fiscal year 2008 amended budget, this means more than $100 million in additional funding for education this year.

The Water Conservation and Drought Relief Act (SB 342) allows communities to apply for state funding to enlarge existing reservoirs and obtain permits to construct new ones.

HB 89 is a consolidated concealed weapons bill that will allow Georgians more latitude to protect themselves and their families in these dangerous times we live in.

Now the capitol is quiet again and legislators have spread out across Georgia as we return home. Most of us will be candidates for reelection later this year in an effort to return to Atlanta in January. Serving these past four years as your senator has been a great honor and privilege for me. I will be a candidate for reelection and hope you will call on me any time I can be of assistance.

State Sen. John Douglas represents the 17th Senate District, which includes Newton County and portions of Henry, Rockdale, Spalding and Walton counties. He may be reached by phone at 404-656-0503 or by e-mail at john.douglas@senate.ga.gov.