Last week the General Assembly reached what we call "crossover day," which is the last day that a bill or resolution may pass one chamber and still have a chance to be heard in the other.
We usually see a good deal of floor time spent working to move a fair percentage of the many bills that have come out of committee. This year was no exception, with the House considering 90 pieces of legislation during the week.
HB 397 is a comprehensive revision of the open meetings law. This is an area of statute that has seen a good deal of piecemeal legislating over the years, which has resulted in awkward, hard-to-read and sometime ambiguous language. The bill rewrites this material to make it more straightforward and easy to understand. It also contains updates to incorporate recent court decisions and to address areas where some individuals have abused their access to public records (for example, penalties for those who order large amounts of records, and then refuse to pay).
Additionally, the cost per page for copies is reduced from 25 cents per page to 10, and the bill also allows for greater use of electronic media, which will reduce costs even further. Attorney General Sam Olens was involved with the bill in an effort to maximize openness and create greater clarity. I voted in favor of it, and it passed by 154 to 5.
HB 742 contains the fiscal 2013 budget, which begins on July 1. Projected state revenue is $19.2 billion, which is roughly 5 percent above that for the previous budget, and reflects a still-slow economic recovery in Georgia. Though the numbers are now increasing, this will still be a rather austere budget, being $2 billion below the figure from the peak in 2008 and serving a half-million more citizens.
The vast bulk of the increased receipts will go to fund enrollment increases in education (both k-12 and the technical college/university system) and to meeting the state's obligations in health care. Cutting in some arms of the state government is still going on, which will result in a further reduction of some 500 state employees, or a bit over one half of a percent. This proposal reflects an ongoing fiscal responsibility by the state government, meeting our constitutional obligation to balance the budget, and doing so without debt or new taxes. I supported the measure, which passed by 151 to 21.
HB 822 proposes a "Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act," intended to combat fraudulent efforts to get money, property, services or other benefits from the state or local governments. The bill would empower the attorney general to investigate and prosecute, or to authorize local district attorneys to do so. It also contains whistleblower provisions for private citizens to pursue actions which, if successful, could receive a 15 to 30 percent share of a settlement. Other states have created similar fraud acts in recent years, and are recovering millions of dollars. I think creating a policing mechanism for Georgia's numerous programs is very appropriate. The bill passed unanimously.
HR 1150 would place a referendum on the November ballot concerning how education SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funds are distributed. The legislation addresses only situations where an independent school system resides within the territory of a county system (there are 21 independent systems in the state). To call for a SPLOST, both the county system and the independent system must approve the referendum. In the past, there have been situations where the independent system essentially held the vote hostage by withholding approval unless they received a disproportionate share of the resulting revenue. This referendum, if passed by the voters, would require that proceeds be distributed solely on the basis of student count. This is a basic fairness issue, and I highly approve. I voted in support, and the measure passed by 166 to 1.
Rep. Doug Holt represents District 112 in the state House. He can be reached at 404-656-0152 or by email at Doug@DougHolt.org.