Day 30: Assessment Caps Kaput
by Angela Palm on 3/26/2010

Taxpayers got their money's worth today -- the Senate spent ten hours going through their calendar, and House members faced four calendars and a fifteen hour day.  The clock finally ran out to end the marathon day.  

SB 515, the Educators' Salary Protection Act, passed the Senate 35-11 today.  Sen. Preston Smith said the bill seeks to evaluate whether a system has a large reserve not being used while furloughing teachers.  We would suggest a survey to acquire information instead of legislation.  He went on to say that opposing this on principle doesn't send a good message.  One would think that discussing the underlying principles of a bill sends a message of thoughtful consideration and debate which we could use more of not less.  Sen. Jim Butterworth stated the bill is already having an effect as systems are spending their reserves.  There are many reasons systems are spending reserves, but it is doubtful that this bill is one of them.  

The bill was amended so that if the state cuts funding during the year, the fund balance could be measured once again to determine whether teachers could be furloughed without risking QBE funding.  Senators Robert Brown, Bill Cowsert, Steve Henson, Lester Jackson, Emanuel Jones, Ronald Ramsey, Mitch Seabaugh, Freddie Sims, Doug Stoner, Curt Thompson, and Ross Tolleson voted against it; and we thank them.  

House Action Today

HR 1, a constitutional amendment capping the amount property assessments could rise, was on the calendar but was not called up.  Since opposition was bipartisan, it could not pass nor could the vote be used by one party against the other.

HB 517, enabling legislation for HR 1, was also not called up.

HB 927, the bullying bill, was placed on the calendar but not called for a vote.

HB 1121, making tampering with state assessments a misdemeanor, was placed on the calendar but not called up.

HR 1203, a constitutional amendment expanding the uses for a SPLOST, passed 141-19.  If you wanted this, celebrate; if you didn't, start talking to the Senate.

HB 1020, the enabling legislation for HR 1203 which also changes some procedures, passed 136-19.

HB 1405, creating a tax reform council whose recommendations would go straight to the House and Senate rather than through legislative committees, passed 111-55.  Democrats opposing the bill expressed concern that legislators were abdicating their responsibility to the council.  Additionally, there was concern that the heavy focus on business leaders on the council left the people unrepresented.

Two bills crucial to the plan to fill in some budget holes were also on today's calendar:  

  • HB 1055 is estimated to bring in over $90 million in increased user and license fees passed 100-57.  Opponents argued all these were backdoor tax increases, and they should be honest about what they are doing.  Some argued increasing the cigarette tax would be a better move.  Supporters said without this measure there would have to be more teacher furloughs.  Maybe teachers dodged one bullet anyway.  
  • HB 307, creating a hospital "bed tax," passed 141-23.   It is estimated to raise $169 million in state funds plus about $500 million in federal funds.

With passage of these bills House Appropriations Subcommittee meetings were announced for Tuesday, March 30th, to discuss the FY 2011 budget.  The meetings are scheduled for only 30 minutes, so it would seem the budget is ready to go.

And in the Senate...

SB 332, changing reporting requirements for  expulsion and other disciplinary actions for students bringing weapons to school, passed 43-0.

SB 521, providing for changes in enrollment counts in dual enrollment counts, passed 42-2.  It was amended to address funding for charter commission virtual schools.  When determining the funding calculation, the commission may reduce the amount by no more than 35 percent.

SB 426, prohibiting any compensation for school board members cited in a report of an accrediting agency when it is putting the district on probation or revoking accreditation, passed 47-0.

SB 518, requiring the study of the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States and Georgia flag be part of the curriculum, passed 44-0.

SB 496, creating a needs-based college scholarship from lottery funds, passed 45-4.  An amendment from President Pro Tem Tommie Williams would change HOPE eligibility so that students graduating from a high school accredited by an agency with any minimum salary requirements for school system administrators would be ineligible for HOPE. If that sentence sounds convoluted, try reading the amendment! The intent is to prevent any accrediting agency from requiring that principals be the highest paid employee in the school and superintendents the highest paid in the system.

The General Assembly is in recess until Tuesday, March 30th at 10 AM.