First quarter of state Legislature a snoozer

The Legislature finished the 13th day of its 40-day session last week with little to show for lawmakers’ labors. Given, the House got a new Speaker and elected the first woman Speaker Pro Tem. And there has been a lot of chatter about ethics reform.

So far, however, it has been slow-going under the Gold Dome.

It could be that lawmakers are more consumed than usual with the state budget, which, by law, must be balanced ever year. That’s a real problem with revenues plummeting. The gravitas of the gloomy financial news could really hit home this week at the 2010 supplemental budget arrives on the House floor.

Tax relief on the horizon?

At least one major piece of legislation did get off the ground last week. Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) introduced a 47-page bill that features more than 40 changes in the current property tax system and would, according to Rogers, grant homeowners more power.

"The collection of taxes should be fair, transparent and easy to understand. Sadly, the property tax system in Georgia accomplishes none of these things, " Rogers said. "This legislation attempts to bring fairness to an unfair system."

Rogers added that changes are needed because of the recent downturn in the housing market. He said that while home values have dipped across the state, property tax assessments have remained artificially high. His bill, for example, proposes that homeowners can be taxed only for the price of their home.

The bill, SB 346, includes:

  • Year-round property appeals.
  • Making sure that every property receives an annual notice of assessment.
  • Statewide uniformity of assessment notices and appeal forms.
  • Allowing counties to accept payment plans for property taxes and discounts for early payments.
  • Establishing time limits for assessor action in response to appeals.
  • Requiring a unanimous vote by Board of Equalization members to increase assessed value.

In announcing his bill, Rogers acknowledged that some counties might bring in less money on appraisals --but added that as long as taxpayers were being taxed fairly, he could live with it.

Bad-tasting antifreeze

In 2008, 241 Georgians were poisoned by antifreeze, said state Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson), who has proposed legislation to require that a bitter-tasting chemical -- denatonium benzoate -- be added to antifreeze sold in the state beginning in 2011.

The Georgia House quickly approved Benton's proposal 142-25, sending House Bill 219 to the Senate. Ten states have passed similar laws.

A former teacher, Benton said he was moved to propose the legislation by a student, whose dogs had been poisoned, and by the case of Lynn Turner, who is serving two life sentences for using antifreeze to kill her Cobb County police officer husband and, several years later, her boyfriend, a Forsyth County firefighter.

Two Chips chipping away at microchips

The Senate voted to protect Georgians from evildoers, covert corporations and rogue doctors, seen and unseen, with the passage of a bill that would make it illegal to implant a microchip into someone without their permission.

The bill,  sponsored by Sen. Chip Pearson (R-Dawsonville) and Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, would make it a misdemeanor to implant individuals against their will with a microchip, sensor, transmitter or other tracking device. The Senate passed the bill 47-2.

Governor tries to restructure government.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, meanwhile, announced a major restructuring of state government that would make four constitutional offices appointed, rather than elected.

Perdue’s plan, which would require approval of voters in November, would allow future governors to appoint the state’s insurance, labor and agriculture commissioners, as well as the state school superintendent.

A new chief

Spiro Amburn, the legislative affairs director for the state Department of Juvenile Justice, has been tapped to be House Speaker David Ralston's chief of staff.

Amburn's political background includes a stint as deputy legislative affairs director for Gov. Sonny Perdue. He has his undergraduate degree from Kennesaw State University and his master's degree from the University of Georgia.

This week: The House reconvenes Monday at 1 p.m. and the Senate at noon.

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