by Mike Klein
Georgia General Assembly sessions usually move at NASCAR speed into the final few days but some of the highest profile pieces are finished before next week’s final three days.
Thursday afternoon the Senate unanimously approved tax reform and the House passed criminal justice reform. The tax reform bill is ready for Governor Nathan Deal’s signature. The Senate must vote on criminal justice and that is expected on Monday.
The Senate approved tax reform 54-0. The House approved criminal justice reform 164-1 but the single no vote later was changed to yes. Tax reform is one of two big dominoes that fell this week. Monday afternoon the Senate passed the controversial charter schools constitutional amendment resolution with a more than 40-vote two-thirds majority supplied by all 36 Republicans joined by four Democrats.
Thursday afternoon’s tax and criminal justice floor debate in both legislative chambers could best be described as courteous and gentle. There was nothing rancorous heard in either chamber. A few soft blows were landed but there never was any doubt that both bills were headed toward huge approval votes.
Supporters describe tax reform legislation as pro-business and pro-family. It creates a sales tax exemption on energy used in manufacturing. Other tax changes would replace vehicle sales and the annual ad valorem taxes with a one-time only title fee; provide some tax relief to agriculture, reduce sales tax paid on jet fuel sales by one-fourth; and, modernize the tax code for small businesses.
Tax schedules would change to ensure that married couples are not penalized by filing a joint return instead of filing individually. Retirees will continue to be allowed to exempt their first $65,000 in earnings from state income tax; the exemption level was scheduled to increase but now it will be frozen. School supplies sales tax holidays were reinstated for this year and next year. And, the state would begin to require the collection of sales tax on most internet sales.
Click here to read tax reform analysis published today by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation President Kelly McCutchen.
Criminal justice reform is intended to save the state some $264 million over the next four years by emphasizing alternative treatment programs to incarceration for non-violent offenders. Reforms emphasize alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders who are not considered a threat to public safety. Simple possession drug users could be eligible for treatment programs but the legislation makes a distinction between users and drug traffickers. Drug and mental health courts are big components of the new model, relying public and private community programs to provide treatment.
The General Assembly is not in session on Friday and no committee meetings are scheduled. Floor sessions will be held Monday and Tuesday. There will be no floor session Wednesday. The 40th and final day is scheduled next Thursday.