As the 2009 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly continues, our budget challenges seem to be getting larger and impacting more constituencies in our state.
This week we began hearing that January revenues would be down again, making our work on the budget more complicated. But we are moving forward in other areas. There is a new transportation plan on the table and this week the House took steps to protect portions of the HOPE scholarship for students and increase access to life insurance.
Last week the House voted overwhelmingly in support House Bill 157 to protect students’ book allowance under the HOPE scholarship. Students now receive a $300 book allowance but a provision in current law could see that benefit reduced as early as 2011.
But with healthy reserves in the state lottery program, I see no reason to allow these cuts to take effect. House Bill 157, heard in committee early in the week before being approved by the full House, changes the circumstances that trigger the cuts so that they would go into effect if the lottery program ever experienced a true funding emergency. This bill now moves to the state senate for consideration.
In today’s economy, we must always be looking for ways to help workers provide life insurance to protect their families in the event of a tragedy. Last week, the House passed House Bill 80. If enacted, this bill will lower from 100 employees to two employees the threshold requirement to purchase corporate-owned life insurance. Lowering the threshold will make life insurance more accessible to employees of small businesses. HB 80 must now be approved by the State Senate.
Transportation is a hot issue again this session. You may recall that last session the House passed a transportation bill that would have allowed regions of our state to come together and adopt a one-cent sales tax to pay for regional transportation projects but the measure died in the State Senate.
Transportation Chairman Vance Smith has re-introduced an improved version of that bill this year. This year’s proposal calls for a statewide one-cent sales tax and includes a list of specific projects that must be funded with the tax revenue collected. One reason I co-sponsored this legislation is because it will generate several billion dollars for local governments to pave and re-surface local roads.
It also has money included for local airports. The truth is Georgia is growing and we must ease congestion and improve all modes of transportation if we want to keep up.
As you probably continue to hear, peanut safety concerns remain a prominent news item. At last count there were 1,555 items on the recall list. I do want to reassure you that this is a manufacturing and processing problem and not a farm product problem. Remember that most peanut products are safe but to be sure you don’t have recalled items, check either foodsafety.gov or the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores web page at www.gacs.com At this site, even specific UPC numbers can be checked.
I will continue to keep you up to date on our actions as the legislative session progresses. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at your Capitol office at (404) 656-5115.
Rep. Tom McCall (R), Elberton, is the District 30 member of the Georgia House of Representatives, which includes the southern half of Madison County, all of Elbert County and the eastern portion of Jackson County.