Saturday, March 17, 2012

Criminal Justice and Tax Reforms Moving On

The Georgia House of Representatives voted to approve a wide-ranging package of changes to the state's tax code. Included in HB 386, which emerged from the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure, are the following revisions:

Elimination of the sales tax and ad valorem taxes paid by the owners of motor vehicles, who instead will pay a one-time title fee when they purchase a car. The fee would be 6.5 percent of the vehicle's fair market value in 2013, 6.75 percent in 2014 and 7 percent in 2015 and beyond.

Collection of a state sales tax on products sold online by companies with a physical presence in Georgia.

Elimination of the sales tax on energy used for manufacturing, agriculture and mining purposes over a four-year phase-out period. Local governments would be allowed to keep their 3 percent portion of that sales tax by re-adopting it as an excise tax.

An increase in the income tax exemption for married couples from $5,400 to $7,400 to eliminate the "marriage penalty."
A cap on the exemption on unearned income for retirees at the current level of $65,000.

More limitations on the conservation easement that lowers taxes for some property owners.

A 30 percent tax credit but elimination of a sales tax exemption for film productions in Georgia.

A sales tax exemption for new business projects with a "regionally significant impact." The state's commissioner of economic development will decide which projects get the tax break.

Reinstatement of the sales tax holiday periods for the purchase of back-to-school materials (Aug. 10-11 this year) and energy-efficient appliances (Oct. 5-7).

Continuation of the sales tax exemption on jet fuel purchases, which primarily benefits Delta Air Lines, for at least two more years.

HB 386 is now under consideration in the Senate.

Criminal Justice Reform: Also this week, House members approved HB 1176, a bipartisan proposal that seeks to find a balance between ensuring public safety and reducing Georgia's prison system costs, which have risen dramatically along with the inmate population, which has more than doubled in the past 20 years. The state spends more than $1 billion a year to incarcerate more than 56,000 inmates.

Included in the measure are provisions that would give judges more sentencing discretion for nonviolent offenses; raise the threshold for suspects charged with certain felonies; revise sentencing guidelines for burglary, shoplifting, forgery, marijuana possession and other offenses; and expand the use of drug and mental health courts, which offer alternative sentencing for certain offenders, and add more community-based treatment centers for low-level offenders.

HB 1176 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

Gov. Nathan Deal explained the reasoning behind handling nonviolent offenders differently from hardened criminals this way: "We have to decide who we're scare of and who we're just mad at. This is not a 'get out of jail free' card. If you commit a violent crime in Georgia, you're going to prison, and we have more cells to keep you there for as long as needed."

Supplemental Budget: The House and Senate also gave final approval to HB 741, the amended budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2012, which ends June 30. Totaling $18.5 billion, the plan now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

Final Passage: The House also agreed with Senate changes on two measures, sending those bills to the governor's desk. They include HB 48, which would change certain provisions regarding the Freeport exemption process, and HB 477, which would change the license renewal period for insurance agents from every year to every two years.

Other Senate bills approved by the House and sent to the governor include:
SB 300, which would require proper labeling for bottles containing sugar cane or sorghum syrup.

SB 309, which would grant special hunting permits for big game or alligators to terminally ill children under the age of 21. The measure would waive some rules on weapons, antler restrictions and hunter education requirements, although the young person would have to be supervised by a licensed adult hunter.

SB 343, which would designate the state accounting officer as the official comptroller general of Georgia, a position previously held by the state insurance commissioner.

Monday, March 26, will be the 38th legislative day of the 2012 session of the Georgia General Assembly, which is scheduled to conclude on Thursday, March 29.

Report provided by Rep. Pedro Marin


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