Politics

Hot Issues at the General Assembly

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(credit: photo courtesy of Jean Ross WAOK-AM)

(credit: photo courtesy of Jean Ross WAOK-AM)

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Legislators showed up at the state capital today ready to get to work on the 2012 general assembly session. Lawmakers have their work cut out for them over the next 40 days . According to the AJC, here are some of the issues that will surely be on the agenda this year.

Remaking Parts of the State Code

Lawmakers spent much of the 2011 session trying to build consensus on a major overhaul of the tax code, but were unable to negotiate a deal in the closing hours of the session. The effort faced difficulties, in part because it was based on a plan created by a super committee of business leaders and academics the General Assembly formed the year before.  Also, the 2011 effort was launched before Gov. Nathan Deal was elected, giving him little reason to buy into the effort. That will change this year. The governor this week will unveil his own plans for tax reform and Republican leaders are sure to have their own ideas, ranging from eliminating the sales tax manufacturers pay on energy to raising the state sales tax to adding sales tax to groceries.

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Criminal justice reform

Georgia now spends more than $1 billion a year on state prisons and has seen its inmate population double in the past 20 years. A special council of legislators, judges and other officials determined the state can save money by removing some nonviolent offenders from prison. It has recommended changes in sentencing for some low-level offenders and beefing up alternatives to prisons, such as drug, mental health and veterans’ courts.

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State insurance exchanges

A key provision of the federal health care law allows states to set up insurance marketplaces — called exchanges — where small businesses and individuals who don’t get insurance at work could shop for health plans. If the state doesn’t set up its own exchange, the feds will do it. Deal opposes the federal health care law, but believes a Georgia-run exchange would be better than one run by the feds. Many experts say Georgia should pass legislation this year if it wants to meet federal deadlines.

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Moving the date of the regional transportation referendums

Voters across the state are set to decide in July whether to levy an additional 1 percent sales tax to fund transportation improvements in their regions. But concern over low turnout for primary elections caused many supporters of the referendums to call for the vote to be moved to the November general election. With no high-profile races on the primary ballot, supporters hope that a presidential election would bring out more Democrats, whom they believe more likely to support the transportation tax.

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Capping the amount lobbyists can spend on lawmakers

When lawmakers in 2010 passed ethics reform, many watchdog groups and some Democrats were disappointed they didn’t include a cap on the value of lobbyist gifts to legislators.  Ralston opted instead for increased reporting by lobbyists as well as sharp increases in fines for lobbyists and legislators who break the law. While the bill was largely cheered as a good step, the voices calling for gift limits continued. Common Cause Georgia and the Georgia Tea Party Patriots have since formed an alliance with other groups to push for further reform.

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Dealing with illegal immigrants

House Bill 296 would require the State Board of Education to tally the expenditures, by school district, for illegal immigrants in public schools. It would also require hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities to report how many of their patients are illegal immigrants, what treatment they received, the cost of treatment and whether they paid for their care. State Rep. Josh Clark, R-Buford, introduced the bill last year and plans to push it again, saying it could help determine how much illegal immigration is costing Georgia taxpayers.

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Drug-test parents applying for welfare

Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, has said state taxpayers should not have to subsidize “drug addiction” among applicants to the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. TANF provides temporary financial help to low-income families with children who cannot meet basic needs.  Spencer’s bill, HB 668, would require the state Human Services Department to oversee the drug tests before applicants were approved.

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Legalize gambling on horse racing

Rep. Harry Geisinger, R-Roswell, is pushing to legalize gambling on the sport in Georgia, saying it would bring in new revenue for popular programs — such as the state’s HOPE college scholarship program, pre-k classes and trauma care — without raising taxes.

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Listen to the Mo Ivory Show every day on WAOK from 10 am until 1 pm for a break down of the issues lawmakers will be discussing this General Assembly session.

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