Sen. Fran Millar

I will summarize the major legislation of the 2016 session over the next two weeks:

Highlights for me were passage of the ABLE Act for children with disabilities; further consumer protection during the property tax appeal process; defeating the increased sales tax for MARTA in Fulton and DeKalb – time for the state and other counties to step up; and no college tuition increases (working with the Chancellor).

Lowlights were the House not allowing a vote to eliminate the DeKalb CEO position even with the Governor’s support; no property tax cap; and not implementing an alternative to Medicaid expansion:

House Bill 750 - Amends the Fiscal Year 2015 Appropriations

This bill adds $1.16 billion, or 6.3 percent, to the base FY 2016 budget, increasing it to $22.99 billion.

House Bill 751 - General Appropriations; 2017

This bill makes and provides appropriations for the operation of state government totaling $23.74 billion.

Senate Bill 355 - Student Protection Act

This bill makes state mandated tests optional for students: upon a parent or legal guardians’ written request if the child is diagnosed with a life-threatening or serious health condition; and a licensed therapist or physician’s order to excuse a child. A student who has not taken a mandated assessment due to parental refusal or medical or professional exemption must be offered an appeals process if grade retention is based solely on the fact that the student failed to take the assessment.

Senate Bill 364 - Performance Evaluations; Student Assessments

Currently, each school system and all charter schools evaluate teachers, assistant principals, and principals using multiple, rigorous, and transparent measures. Growth in student achievement accounts for at least 50 percent of the evaluations of teachers. Beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, student growth will account for 30 percent of the evaluation of teacher. An additional 20 percent will be based on professional growth, and 50 percent will be based on teacher evaluations and observations. Test scores must only include those of students in attendance at least 90 percent of the time period of the specific course.

House Bill 370 - Grace Period for Filing Required Reports by Local Candidates and Officials

This bill establishes a grace period for local officials and candidates to file campaign finance and personal financial disclosures that were due between 2010 and 2014 with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. There has been more than enough time to file. I voted NO.

House Resolution 1113 - Judicial Qualifications Commission

This resolution proposes an amendment to the Georgia Constitution abolishing the current Judicial Qualifications and instead creating authority in the General Assembly to reconstitute the commission.  It creates a new Judicial Qualifications Commission, provides for its membership and governance, and establishes provisions relating to confidentiality.

Senate Bill 258 - Tax Credit for Donations to Hospitals; Valuation of Property; Disabled Veteran Tax Benefits

MY BILL - This bill creates an income tax credit for contributions made to rural or critical access hospitals. Each hospital must submit to the Department of Community Health a five-year plan detailing the financial viability and stability of the organization, use any donations it receives to provide healthcare services, and report on the use of donated funds to the Department. Any individual that donates to these organizations will receive, as an income tax credit, 70 percent of what is donated, with a maximum of $2,500 for single or head of household filers and $5,000 for joint filers. Likewise, any corporation may receive a credit of 70 percent of what is donated, with a maximum equal to 75 percent of the corporation’s tax liability.

This bill also enacts a bar on increasing initial assessment values of property for a taxable year beyond the initial assessment value during an appeal of such valuation. Additionally, it also updates the terms on which the value of any property may be frozen or increased, for purposes of ad valorem taxation, following a the two year period after a successful appeal of a valuation of the property.  It also expands the definition of “disabled veterans” for purposes of qualifying for the homestead exemption, motor vehicle exemption, or free license plate program.

House Bill 768 - Georgia Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act

Initiated by me - This bill creates the Georgia ABLE program, which is modeled after the federal ABLE Act of 2014. Federal law allows those with significant disabilities to create interest-bearing accounts, modeled after 529 college savings accounts. Funds from these accounts may be used to pay for qualified disability expenses, and will not be considered when determining eligibility for Medicaid, Social Security, or other similar benefits. Federal law requires that this program be state-run.

Senate Bill 308 - Positive Alternatives for Pregnancy and Parenting Grant Program

This bill establishes within the Department of Health (DPH) the Positive Alternatives for Pregnancy Parenting Grant Program, which is to promote healthy pregnancies and childbirth by awarding grants to nonprofit organizations that provide pregnancy support.

Next week: The religious freedom bill and more.

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