Transit reform inches forward in Ga. General Assembly

Speaker David Ralston is backing a Republican transit reform package that would reshape transportation services throughout metropolitan Atlanta, signaling the much-anticipated measure should at least get a vote in the House.

The 77-page bill, introduced by Transportation Committee Chairman Kevin Tanner, would recast the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority as the Atlanta-region Transit Link, or ATL, and empower it to govern transit planning in 13 metro counties: Cherokee, Clayton, Coweta, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding and Rockdale.

The bill would provide financing for new transit projects through the creation of a handful of new taxes, including fees on goods sold at the airports in Atlanta and Savannah and one on taxi and ride-hailing fares.

A companion reform bill is under consideration by the Senate

Elsewhere under the Dome …

Religious conservatives in the Senate have introduced a measure to allow adoption agencies to turn away married same-sex couples, the latest religious liberty effort in the General Assembly. A mirror provision was attached to an adoption reform package last year, killing the bill in the eleventh hour. (An adoption reform bill was passed this year by both chambers after both the governor and speaker demanded a so-called clean bill.)

The House Public Safety Committee green lighted a bill to bring some state oversight to the controversial practice of vehicle booting. The measure now advances to the Rules Committee.

The House voted by near unanimous measure to approve a constitutional amendment to prevent the misappropriation of environmental fees for other purposes in the state budget. Each year, a large portion of revenues collected for the purpose of disposing tires or cleaning hazardous waste sites are leveraged for other expenses.

The Senate OK’d a supplemental spending bill for fiscal year 2018 last week, and the chamber’s slight adjustment to an earlier-passed version goes back to the House for a second time for final passage.

The House Education Committee advanced a proposal to increase funding for State Commission Charter Schools. The current state funding formula is based on the average spending of the five lowest-spending school districts, and the new bill would increase state spending to the average spending of all school districts.

Missouri momentum: tort reform, labor reform, and ed. reform

When the House and Senate return on March 27, there will be seven weeks left before the legislature adjourns for the year. In the first half of session, before spring break, there were 1,238 House Bills filed and 544 Senate Bills filed. Two House Bills, one relating to agriculture and one changing who can be certified as an expert witness in a jury trial have been sent to the Governor and are awaiting his signature. Additionally, one Senate Bill, Right to Work, has been sent to and signed by the Governor.

Traditionally, eighty percent or more of the bills that become law are sent to the Governor in the final two weeks of session. As such there is still time for legislative leaders to accomplish their priorities. Below is a recap of where the bills with the most momentum addressing those priorities currently stand.

Tort Reform

Several tort reform measures are moving through the process. As mentioned above, the first tort measure sent to the Governor was expert witness. Several others are moving through the process including:

Collateral Source, sponsored by Senator Ed Emery (R-Barton County), has been approved by the Senate and is currently awaiting a hearing in the House Committee on Special Litigation. This bill would allow parties involved in litigation to reveal the actual cost, rather than the actual value, of medical services rendered.

Time Limited Demand and Reservation of Rights, sponsored by Representative Bruce DeGroot (R-St. Louis County), has been approved by the House and is awaiting a vote in the Senate General Laws committee. This bill will ensure insurance providers have adequate time and information when making decisions about settling claims.

Venue and Joinder is a series of bills sponsored by Representative Glen Kolkmeyer (R-Lafayette County) that have been approved by the House and are awaiting a vote in the Senate. These bills attempt to prevent plaintiffs in a lawsuit from “venue shopping” and also require that some separate complaints against the same company not be allowed to join together in one lawsuit.

Labor Reform

The GOP majority has made no secret of its desire to enact wide ranging labor reform. As mentioned above, Right to Work was the first bill sent to and signed by the Governor. Republicans have tried for several years to pass right to work but were unable to come up with enough votes to over-ride a veto from former Governor Nixon. While Right to Work is perhaps the highest profile labor reform bill, there are several other labor reform bills moving through the legislature. Some of those include:

Paycheck Protection is sponsored by Representative Jered Taylor (R-Springfield) and being handled in the Senate by Senator Bob Onder (R-St. Charles). Representative Taylor’s bill has crossed chambers and has been debated on the Senate Floor for several hours though no compromise has been reached yet. The bill would change some reporting requirements for labor organizations and employees and change the way unions are certified and decertified.

Project Labor Agreements sponsored by Senator Onder (R-St. Charles) has passed the Senate and is awaiting a hearing in the House Economic Development Committee. This bill would change the law regarding how and when municipalities had to enter into project labor agreements.

Prevailing Wage is sponsored by Senator Dan Brown (R-Rolla) and is on the Senate informal calendar. It is widely expected that this will be the most contentious of the labor reform bills and it is likely that Senate leadership will tackle this priority after most other priorities have made it out of the Senate. There is also a House prevailing wage bill sponsored by Representative Warren Love (R-Osceola) that is on the House informal calendar with an amendment pending.

Education Reform

Charter expansion is sponsored by Rebecca Roeber (R-Lee’s Summitt) and has been approved by the House and is waiting to be referred to a Senate Committee. The version the House passed expands charter schools to all school districts that have one school building with an annual performance report of 60% or less and increases accountability requirements for charter schools.

Education Savings Accounts is sponsored by both Senator Ed Emery (R-Barton County) and Senator Andrew Koenig (R-Manchester). Both of these bills have been approved by committee and are on the Senate Calendar. Senator Emery’s bill provides an education savings account to any student in Missouri who has been enrolled in a public school for one semester in the previous twelve months. Senator Koenig’s bill provides an education savings account to any student who is in foster care or has special needs.

Economic Development

Several bills attempting to cut the state’s tax credit programs have been filed and received hearings. However, Governor Greitens has appointed a committee to study the state’s tax credits and make recommendations for the programs. As such, it is unclear whether any of the measures related to the state’s existing tax credit programs will advance.
Some of the other economic development ideas that are moving include:

Missouri Works and Missouri Works Job Training Program changes which was sponsored by Senator Jay Wasson (R-Christian County) and has been approved by the Senate and is waiting to be referred to a House Committee.

Tax Increment Finance Allocation Senator Wasson is also sponsoring a bill that is on the Senate calendar that would exclude any annual amount generated by a single plan or project which is estimated to create in excess of fifteen thousand new jobs with an average annual wage of more than $75,000 from the super TIF cap.

Budget

The Governor was forced to cut $580 million from the budget request he sent the legislature in February. As a result many existing programs saw the Governor’s request cut their line item completely out of the budget while other saw drastic cuts. There were also very few new budget items included in the Governor’s request.

When House Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) presented his changes to the Governor’s recommendations, he included several changes. The most notable change was that he used cost savings from a bill being considered now that would remove senior citizens who are renting from a tax credit program to fully fund the foundation formula. The budget must be completed by May 5, as such the expected timeline for the budget is as follows:

Week of March 27 – House Budget Committee makes changes and votes on each budget bill

Week of April 3- Budget is debated by the full House and sent to the Senate

Week of April 10- Senate Appropriations committee has hearings on the House budget

Week of April 17- Senate Appropriations committee makes final changes and votes on its version of the budget bills

Week of April 24- Full Senate debates Senate Committee version of each budget bill

Week of May 1- House and Senate appoint conferees and reconcile differences and vote to send final budget to Governor Eric Greitens