General Assembly looks forward to 'positive' session
by Matt Shinall
Jan 17, 2012 | 1395 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Georgia lawmakers gathered at the state capitol last week to begin the 2012 legislative session.

Local representatives spent the initial week in preparation for the 40 legislative days in which bills are introduced, issues are debated, budgets are formed and laws are made.

Legislators are off again this week as budget committees meet for hearings before both chambers reconvene on Jan. 23. Last week, formalities were held for the kickoff including the Eggs and Issues Breakfast and the governor's State of the State Address.

"It's just sort of a kickoff to see where we might go this session," said State Rep. Paul Battles, R-Cartersville. "It's the preliminary we do each year kind of getting arranged to our committees, not much business is done -- it's mostly reorganizing.

"Of course, we have just received a copy of the governor's budget proposal. A couple of positive things may come out of that."

Details from the proposed budget will continue to emerge as issues are hashed out, but Battles noted that one area he was proud to see was some funding returned to education.

State Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, was disappointed by the proposed spending increase but feels the areas chosen are worthy efforts.

"I would rather see us keep our spending levels where they were last year and continue to draw down on our spending. The new areas of spending are areas I think frankly areas that, if you're going to spend, they are areas worth spending in like deepening the Savannah Harbor or making sure we have adequate education," Coomer said. "I think the areas we're spending on are good, conservative values-based spending programs but I am still somewhat uncomfortable with the fact that we are increasing spending and I'm sure that's a discussion that we'll be hashing out in the coming week or two."

Battles expects statewide attention to be drawn to three areas this year: Education spending, prison system reform and transportation. Transportation will come to the forefront as the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax comes to a vote this year and prison reform has been addressed at the state level with regard to moving from incarceration to rehabilitation.

Both Bartow County representatives see the 2012 session as one to further conservative ideals.

"I think it's been determined that we're going to keep this to only things that really need to happen and not over-govern our people and one of the things we probably don't need is more laws on the books," Battles said. "I believe that this session is going to be a positive session with some good things come out of it."

Coomer elaborated on the possibility of tax reform legislation to be seen this year. He feels the repeal of state sales tax on energy use in manufacturing will be generally agreed upon across the aisle. The repeal, Coomer said, would increase competitive advantages in manufacturing.

Another issue in tax reform is the possibility of moving toward a consumption-based tax.

"Tennessee and Florida have both eliminated their state income tax and studies of state economic systems within the United States that have no income tax have shown a marked improvement in the economic performance in those states," Coomer said.

Personally, Coomer will introduce the American Laws for Georgia Courts Act to protect Georgians from foreign court action not pursuant to the U.S. Constitution. An example given by Coomer was an American citizen being sued by a foreign country.

Battles will be proposing changes to Joshua's Law regarding funding for driver's education courses. Enacted after the death of Cartersville teen Joshua Brown, Joshua's Law requires a 16 year old to pass a certified driver's education course before receiving their driver's license, or wait until they turn 17.

"When that was originally passed, the money was not allocated actually for drivers training and we're looking to go back and have, hopefully, a majority of those funds directed to drivers training -- for simulators and drivers ed. instructors in schools," Battles said.