CONYERS -- A vote on a proposed transportation sales tax may not happen this year, but state legislators representing Rockdale County did pledge to speak with the local Board of Education about reducing its millage rate.
State Sen. Ronald Ramsey (D-Decatur) and state Reps. Pam Stephenson (D-Decatur), Dee Dawkins-Haigler (D-Lithonia), Pam Dickerson (D-Conyers) and Dar'shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia) attended a Rockdale delegation town hall meeting Wednesday night and gave an overview of the key pieces of legislation they were supporting this legislative session. State Sen. Rick Jeffares (R-Locust Grove) was unable to attend.
A vote on the proposed regional 1-percent sales tax for transportation projects may not come to fruition this year, according to state Sen. Ronald Ramsey.
"There is no governance written into the legislation and it is a very, very real possibility that there will be no viable transportation issue this year," he told a group of residents gathered at the Rockdale Career Academy for the town hall meeting.
Ramsey said there is no consensus on what entity would oversee the funds collected for transportation projects in the metro Atlanta region.
"You mean we are supposed to vote this summer on a T-SPLOST and authorize the collection of millions of dollars of taxpayer money and we have no way to know who will manage it?" asked Rockdale County Tax Commissioner Dan Ray.
The referendum on the 1-percent Transportation Special Project Local Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST, is to appear on the ballots for the general primary election in July. However, state Rep. Pam Stephenson (D-Decatur) said on Wednesday that the bill was passed without a governance structure included, and she and Ramsey agreed the referendum may not be included on the July 31 ballot. They said another town hall meeting will be scheduled to keep voters apprised.
-- BOE millage
Rockdale County resident Jim Roppo asked if the legislators would support allowing residents to vote on the maximum millage rate the Rockdale County Board of Education could assess. He said voters in 1965 approved allowing the local BOE to assess a higher millage rate than the state allows.[*]
Roppo pointed out the state maximum millage rate for schools is currently 20 mills, but the Rockdale County BOE recently raised its rate to 24.5 mills.
"What is to stop them from raising it to 30 mills next year?" Roppo asked.
"I think it's time to give the voters of Rockdale County another chance 47 years later to say yea or nay. Which one of you patriots are willing to say that?"
"I think each one of us patriots would support that we should talk with the school board about that," said Stephenson, adding that she would want to do research on the subject first.
Ramsey said he would be willing to call another town hall meeting and invite members of the BOE to attend to discuss the issue further.
-- Nonpartisan judges
Rockdale County Probate Court Judge Lillis Brown asked the legislators to support legislation that would make Probate Court judges nonpartisan, just like a bill that would remove partisan affiliations from Magistrate Court judges. She said county officials did not consult her when they submitted the legislation regarding Magistrate Court judges, so she has prepared a bill, which would be ready to drop on Monday.
"Once we get it, we will act," Stephenson said.
-- Horse betting
Sen. Ramsey has sponsored a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize gambling on horse racing, also known as pari-mutuel betting, and said he is hoping the Georgia International Horse Park can serve as the pilot site. He said the goal of Senate Resolution 1025 is to bring in more revenue for the HOPE Scholarship.
Gov. Nathan Deal has said he would not support any effort to expand gambling in Georgia. If SR 1025 passes with two-thirds vote of the Legislature, the measure can be placed on the ballot for public vote without the governor's signature.
-- Charter schools
The legislators spoke in opposition to House Resolution 1162, which would allow the state to create charter schools. The legislation passed the House on Wednesday and will now be taken up by the Senate. While the legislators noted that the town hall meeting was being held in one of the state's premier charter schools, Rockdale Career Academy, they said the current legislation would serve to undermine public education by taking away funding from local school systems.
The following is some of the legislation supported or sponsored by other members of the Rockdale County delegation:Ron Ramsey
-- He and Sen. Jeffares are co-sponsoring SB 462, which revises procedures for the appointment of the at-large member on the Rockdale County Board of Elections.
-- He has authored SB 311, the Metals Accountability in Disposal, or MAD, Act, that would restrict the sale of burial objects as scrap metal to only licensed funeral directors.
-- Ramsey has sponsored SB 290 that would create the Georgia Innocence Inquiry Commission, which would re-examine felony convictions of certain individuals.
-- Ramsey has authored SB 384, which would prohibit landscape companies from disposing of grass trimmings within 50 meters of a storm drain.
-- Dawkins-Haigler is co-sponsoring House Bill 945, which would allow struggling banks to issue dividends from sources other than retained earnings.
-- She is a co-sponsor of HB 946 that prohibits unlicensed individuals from participating in certain mortgage activities.
-- She is sponsoring HB 609 that allows insurance coverage for telemedicine for doctors to serve patients in rural areas.
-- Kendrick has introduced HB 781 that would require lenders to go through a judicial process prior to foreclosing on homes.
-- She has introduced legislation, HB 780 that would not allow employers to discriminate against job applicants with a bad credit history.
-- HB 782 would require animal shelters and animal control agencies to maintain a registry of rescue groups willing to accept animals that would otherwise be euthanized.
-- Dickerson is sponsoring HB 680 that would make "Photo shopping" a misdemeanor. This bill was prompted by Newton County resident Randy Upton, whose teenage daughter was the victim of a person who digitally altered her image to appear as pornography online.
-- She is also sponsoring HB 681 that would relieve certain food establishments from additional regulations if providing food for nonprofit organizations.
-- She has worked on HB 816, also known as the Georgia Buy American Act.
-- Stephenson said she is supportive of the Georgia Healthcare Relief Act, which would establish healthcare exchanges so that small businesses can pool resources to secure more favorable insurance rates.
-- Stephenson said she is continuing to work on re-writing the state's juvenile justice code.
Correction, Feb. 27, 2012: This story was revised. The story should have reported county schools in Georgia are limited to assess a maximum rate of 20 mills unless voters approve an increase. The original story stated incorrectly 20 mills was the state average. Rockdale County Public Schools can assess a millage rate of up to 30 mills. The Citizen regrets the error. Return to the revised paragraph here [*].