2018 Legislative Session – Week 7 Update

On February 22nd, day 25 of session, the House recognized NASCAR Driver David Ragan.

The House reconvened last week on February 20th for the 7th week of the 2018 legislative session. We worked long hours in order to pass bills and hear legislation before the Crossover Day deadline. In this blog post, I want to share with you some details on bills concerning Georgia’s Tax Code, updates for Georgia’s rural areas, The State of the Judiciary address, and more.

House Bill 918 – Updating Georgia’s Tax Code

Governor Deal and several other members of the House and Senate held a press conference to introduce House Bill 918. This passed overwhelmingly and would update Georgia’s tax code which has not been updated in decades. HB 918 would:

-decrease the tax burden on citizens by cutting individual and corporate state income taxes,
-double the state standard deduction for Georgia taxpayers for all filing statuses, effective Jan. 1, 2018,
-reduce the income tax rate for individuals and businesses from 6% to 5.75% beginning on Jan. 1, 2019,
-further reduce the tax rate to 5.5% Jan. 1, 2020, but would require approval of the General Assembly and signature of the governor,
-eliminate the sales tax on jet fuel to make GA more competitive and to encourage airlines to fly additional direct flights from Georgia,
-and addresses the state revenue projections resulting from the recent Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

House Bill 918 will benefit all citizens by helping them keep more of the money they work so hard for.

House Bill 769 – Health Care & Rural Georgia

House Bill 769 is the first RDC- related measure to pass in the House this session. The RDC was previously tasked with helping to bring up the rural areas of Georgia. HB 769 would allow a Georgia licensed pharmacist located in the US to remotely place pharmacy drug order for hospital patients as long as the order is reviewed by a pharmacist who is physically in the hospital within 24 hours or by the next business day. HB 769 would also:

– direct the Department of Community Health to research ways to streamline the credentialing and billing process for state medical plans.
– create a Rural Center for Healthcare Innovation and Sustainability through the existing Office of Rural Health,
-allow for the creation of micro-hospitals without requiring a new certificate of need when a hospital is closing or has recently closed and is purchased by a neighboring county,
-and it would create a grant program within the Georgia Board of Physician Workforce to provide financial assistance for some rural physicians who establish or operate a practice in an undeserved area.

House Bill 735 and 876 – Infrastructure & Rural Georgia 

House Bill 735 would create an income tax credit for the track maintenance expenditures on owned or leased short line railroads. This measure would serve to incentivize investment in rail infrastructure, create jobs in rural Georgia, and keep these areas connected to the rest of the state. HB 876 would prohibit counties and municipalities from banning the use of wood products in construction as long as the products meet the state minimum standard codes and the Georgia State Fire Code. This bill addresses the banning of wood products throughout Metro Atlanta in the construction of buildings over three stories high even though the Atlanta area is a crucial lumber market for GA tree farmers. HB 876 will boost business for Georgia’s 97 sawmills which are mostly found in our rural areas. These bills are a result of the RDC’s efforts to bring up our state’s rural areas.

House Bill 853 – Quality Basic Education Act

House Bill 853 would allow public school students who are admitted under a physician’s order into a licensed psychiatric residential treatment center to be exempt from paying tuition or fees to a local school system. Currently, students receiving treatment in medical hospitals are exempt, but students referred to psychiatric treatment are left out. Approximately 300-500 students are treated in psychiatric facilities throughout our state annually. This bill would allow for these students to get the treatment they need and still successfully continue their education.

House Bill 732 – Prosecuting Sex Trafficking Offenders 

House Bill 732 would expand the definition of sex trafficking to include anyone who patronizes sexually explicit conduct from a victim of sex trafficking. Offenders would be charged with a felony and would serve a sentence of 5-20 years. This bill is crucial to stopping this horrendous crime by ensuring that all those who knowingly engage, not just traffickers, are prosecuted.

House Bill 840 – Military Members Combat Zone Exemption

House Bill 840  would exempt active-duty military members serving in a combat Zone from penalty fees associated with unintentionally unpaid special, occupational or sales taxes and license, regulatory or administrative fees incurred while they are in a combat zone. This bill gives members 60 days from their return date to make the payment in full without penalty if they show proof of their time in a combat zone. It is not uncommon for active-duty military members to be unable to renew licenses during service, so we want to protect these men and women from unfair late fees.

State of the Judiciary Address

On Thursday, February 22nd, Chief Justice Hines delivered the annual State of the Judiciary to the House and Senate. Hines spoke on the future of the judiciary including the election of a new state Supreme Court justice and Gov. Deals fifth appointment to Georgia’s highest court. The Chief Justice also spoke on the Court Reform Council’s recommendation to create a statewide business court to handle complex financial cases. It was inspiring to hear how much Georgia has accomplished in criminal justice reform and I look forward to the future.

The House is presently working through week 8 of this year’s legislative session. Crossover Day will be the busiest day so far as my colleagues and I work to pass meaningful legislation.

You are always welcome to come and visit me at my capitol office located at 601-C Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg. Atlanta, GA 30334. You can view my committee assignments for legislative term here. Please feel free to contact me by phone at 404.656.0254, or by email at dale.rutledge@house.ga.gov. Don’t hesitate to reach out throughout the legislative session with any opinions or questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you!