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Doug Holt: House OKs bill for proper handling of fees

Photo by Michael Buckelew

Photo by Michael Buckelew

The House of Representatives honored the members of all branches of the Georgia National Guard last Wednesday. We wanted to make it clear how much their service is appreciated, especially in the challenges and sacrifices of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who fell in these conflicts were specifically remembered and honored, along with their families. Many of those family members were present, to include Vernorida Fuller and Quintez Harris, the wife and son of Staff Sgt. Carl Fuller of Covington.

Legislative action picked up during the week, with the House voting on 28 bills and resolutions.

HB 786 is one of a number of bills intended to reduce non-essential red tape in government that we expect to see this session. In this case, the bill targets the office of the Consumer Insurance Advocate, which was created at the urging of a past governor who had differences with the insurance commissioner and wanted an insurance oversight agency he directly controlled. The Advocate's Office hasn't been funded or staffed for a long time, but insurance companies still have to submit paperwork to it because they are required to by law. The submissions literally are stacked in a room, and no one ever looks at them. This bill simply eliminates those submission requirements from the state code, and it passed unanimously.

HB 811 is a novel approach to an old problem in which fees and surcharges (for example, the $1 solid waste charge on new tires) intended for a certain purpose end up in the general fund, but are not appropriated to the purpose intended by law. This has remained an unsolved problem for many years because of the legal principle that a law passed by the Legislature in a given year can be changed in the future. Laws from the past don't bind the law-making body today. The only way to guarantee that funds collected get used for their intended purpose is to put language to that effect in the state constitution, via a referendum. This requires a two-thirds majority of both House and Senate, as well as a thumbs up from the voters -- two very high hurdles. So it is rarely attempted. All this being said, the author of HB 811 is approaching the problem from the revenue side rather than the appropriation side. The bill would direct that if the proper amount of money is not allocated to the stated purpose of a fee, then the fee would be proportionately reduced for the following year. In other words, if the money isn't handled properly, then revenue gets reduced. This will be binding until another bill is passed to remove the language -- which would get a lot more attention than details buried in the budget. It is still not a perfect solution to the problem, but worth a try. I supported the bill, and it passed by 151 to 5.

Two weeks ago, I discussed HR 1162, which failed passage by 10 votes, but received a successful reconsideration vote. Since that time, the resolution has been revised to address concerns voiced about possible diversion of local funds to charter schools authorized by the state. The language now would provide a guarantee that the state would provide funding for any charter schools it creates, and that the local system in which such a charter might reside will not see any reduction of state funding in response to creation of the charter school. If passed by the voters in November, this protection would be in the state constitution, which would make it superior to any normal law passed by the General Assembly. The measure saw about an hour of further discussion, and then we voted. I again supported the resolution, and it passed by a mildly bipartisan 123 to 48. Now it goes to the Senate, which will decide whether the voters get to weigh in on it in November.

On Wednesday, Dr. John Sieweke of Covington was at the Capitol for Georgia Dental Association Day, and we had a chance to discuss issues of concern. The following day, Jim and Sharon Stalvey, and Elton and Jean Wright came to Atlanta. Jim and Sharon were there to testify to the Small Business Development & Job Creation Committee, which has been tasked by Speaker David Ralston with finding ways to cut down on red tape that needlessly hampers small businesses. Their insights and experience had the committee members riveted for the better part of an hour. I really appreciate their contribution to this effort!

State Rep. Doug Hold can be reached at 404-656-0152. His email address is Doug@DougHolt.org.