Our final week of the legislative session saw the normal surge of legislating. We considered 42 bills and resolutions, and also worked to resolve many minor differences between bills and vote on conference committee reports that hashed out those major differences between House and Senate versions of bills.
· Senate Bill 30 deals with a problem in which gasoline suppliers (read "big oil") won't allow distributors to mix ethanol with base gasoline stock. They bring in ethanol from their own sources, and thus control the price. Allowing ethanol produced in Georgia to be used would expand the amount of ethanol on the market and put a downward pressure on prices - so the suppliers have an incentive to shut out in-state ethanol. Helping local ethanol break into the market would also increase availability of higher-percentage ethanol blends.
This bill would allow both distributors and suppliers to blend fuel stocks, thus leveling the playing field, opening the doors for higher ethanol blends, and allowing savings to be passed on to end consumers. I voted "yes," and the bill passed by 137-30.
· SB 55 would expand the range of criteria a local tax assessor must consider when determining fair market value. Of the additional criteria, the most important is consideration of foreclosed properties in reaching a valuation. Previously, foreclosed properties could be excluded in calculating a value. The bill passed unanimously.
· SB 168 deals with a problem very much in the news. Much has been made of the fact that there are at least 22 state legislators who have not filed personal income tax returns (this representative is not one of them). SB 168 would authorize the commissioner of the Department of Revenue to inform the chairmen of the House and Senate Ethics committees on an official basis, which would allow those committees to investigate and act on such breaches. I'd like to tell you this passed unanimously, but there was one dissenting vote - again, not mine.
· SB 200 is the transportation restructuring bill I've discussed previously. The version we voted on leaves the state Department of Transportation board largely intact, but adds a Director of Planning position that would be directly appointed by the governor, subject to legislative confirmation. Otherwise, it contains the provisions of the previous version that would rationalize our statewide transportation planning process, which I strongly support. The bill saw a lengthy debate and then obtained the minimum 91 votes needed for passage, including mine. There was an immediate motion to reconsider, but this failed by a 7-vote margin. The Senate later agreed to our version of the bill. I think this is one of the major accomplishments of the session.
· SB 240 creates a new binding arbitration process for which taxpayers can opt when appealing an ad valorem assessment by a local board of assessors. The idea is to give taxpayers an option short of going to court. The process is a streamlined approach in that it directs the arbitrator to choose either the assessor's valuation or one offered by the taxpayer. In order to avoid frivolous arbitrations, the loser is required to pay the arbitration fee. Having an option other than going to court could be worthwhile, so I voted for the bill and it passed 161-2.
Now for my customary session wrap-up: Since Jan. 12, I've read over 440 bills, resolutions, etc., and voted on about 280. I received 6,326 contacts (phone calls, visits, mail and e-mail), of which over 15 percent were from within the district (I continue to make responding to all in-district contacts my first priority). E-mail made up about 84 percent of my in-district contacts, and 93 percent of all contacts. "Spam" e-mail accounted for 26 percent of the out-of-district contacts. These numbers are a bit lower than last year's, primarily due to reduced quantities of spam.
My office phone is 404-656-0152, and e-mail address is Doug@DougHolt.org.