From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones
Legislative Update Week 8, March 6, 2015 - The $1 Billion Transportation Bill, a Tax Increase
We returned to the Capitol and our Legislative duties on Monday, March 2 for the 24th day and start of the 8th week of the 2015 legislative session. Like many State Reps, being in Atlanta is only part of the job. I usually stay busy with legislative activities pretty much all weekend, whether it’s making phone calls, answering correspondence, attending community events, and attending meetings – all of which are part of the job.
This week, we spent a few more hours “in session”, and attending committee and sub-committee hearings as legislators present their bills for consideration. This step occurs before bills move to the rules committee and a final decision on whether a bill will come before the full house for a vote. These are time consuming but vitally important steps in the legislative process as bills work their way through the General Assembly.
Transportation Bill (HB170)
Probably the most significant bill of the 2015 session, at least in terms of the dollars involved, came before the House and was passed by a vote of 123 for and 46 against. I voted NO on the Transportation Bill.
In my view, the Transportation Bill - as passed - is bad for Georgia taxpayers, bad for Georgia consumers, bad for our local communities (counties and cities) and bad for our local school system. It is purely and simply a tax increase of major proportions.
We all agree that we must fund transportation infrastructure needs. We all know and agree on that basic premise. What we disagree on is how to pay for it.
In my opinion, the Transportation Committee proposed absolutely no fresh, new, out-of-the-box ideas on solving our funding problem. The choice we were given to vote on – raise taxes.
Transportation Bill –Official Version from the House Communications Office
Transportation improvements have long struggled to match Georgia’s rapid economic progress, resulting in too many roads and bridges that are now in need of critical maintenance. HB170, or the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, is a comprehensive package of measures to address the critical and urgent need for funding for Georgia’s transportation infrastructure needs. HB170 seeks to raise just under a billion dollars for maintenance and repair of our state’s bridges and roadways, many of which have been deemed functionally obsolete and structurally deficient; therefore, these funds are crucial to guarantee that our roads and infrastructures are safe for Georgia drivers. Well-maintained roads and bridges will enhance safety and quality of life for our citizens, but these road improvements will also continue to attract new businesses to our state and create jobs for Georgians.
HB 170 provides this funding through a variety of measures, including the conversion of the state sales tax on motor fuel to a straight excise tax that will be dedicated to transportation. This excise tax will initially be set at 29.2 cents per gallon, which approximates the sales tax rate that has been imposed on gasoline using a weighted average of the price of gasoline over the previous four years. Unlike the current gas tax, which is a 4% sales tax that varies with the cost of gas, the flat excise tax will provide a more stable alternative. This tax conversion will provide a dedicated, predictable and steady funding source and a long term solution to our state’s transportation funding issues. Not only will the excise tax conversion provide the necessary funding for transportation maintenance and improvement, but it also will help ensure gas taxes remain constant between counties and through periods of high spikes in gas prices.
Additional revenue for our transportation needs will come from a significant bond package that will go towards funding for the 128 transit systems across Georgia. Funding for our transit systems will enable more communities across our state to take advantage of public transportation options. This bond package is a practical way to provide more immediate funding for our transportation needs, while leveraging the state’s high credit, AAA bond rating to borrow at little cost to the state.
Other funding sources in the Transportation Funding Act include the establishment of a user fee for alternative fueled vehicles of $200 for non-commercial and $300 for commercial vehicles each year. As these vehicles do not use gasoline, their owners do not currently pay their share of taxes devoted to the maintenance of the roads they use. This fee will provide equity among those who drive on our roads and ensure everyone pays their fair share. HB170 will also eliminate the state tax credit for the purchase of alternative fueled vehicles, as well as the state tax credit on jet fuel, which was established several years ago in a struggling economy, where companies were in jeopardy of bankruptcy. Furthermore, the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank will allow for preference for loans to be given to tier 1 and tier 2 counties, as well as to eligible projects with local financial assistance.
Overall, HB170 ensures that Georgia remains an attractive place for businesses and families by making our roadways safe for all drivers. I look forward to seeing the impact that this legislation will have in our district and communities, and I am proud that our body sees the value in transportation. HB170 is now in the Senate’s hands for consideration.
(Now back to my stuff)
Uber and Other Private Transportation Companies (HB190)
The House also passed another piece of legislation intended to ensure that passengers riding in private transportation services, such as Uber and Lyft, are covered with sufficient insurance for the protection of their passengers. Some would argue that passage of this bill is intended to stifle free-enterprise and entrepreneurship by forcing this new, alternative form of transportation to buy insurance. I disagreed with that opinion and voted in favor of HB190.
Currently, many of these drivers are offering ride-share services to the public with their personal vehicles, counting on their personal auto policy, to provide insurance coverage. In fact, personal auto coverage does not cover commercial activity when the vehicle is being used for hire. HB190 addresses this lack of insurance coverage by requiring the transportation network company or the driver to purchase a commercial motor vehicle insurance policy that maintains $1 million in insurance coverage for drivers anytime they are logged into the company system, regardless if any passengers are onboard. The legislation also requires at least $300,000 in coverage for bodily injury or death and $50,000 for property damage. HB190 takes the necessary steps to protect the many Georgians who drive or ride with companies like UBER and LYFT.
Seat Belts Now Required for 15 Passenger Vans (HB325)
You may be surprised to learn that 15 passenger vans, used by many child care centers, churches and others, are among the most dangerous vehicles in which to be a passenger because they are so long and are very top-heavy, causing then to easily roll over. House Bill 325, which passed this week, requires passengers in vans that have 15-passenger capacities to wear seat belts. Under current law, safety belts only required for vans that carry 10 passengers or fewer. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study, approximately 1,111 fatalities occurred between 1990 and 2002 as a result of crashes involving 15 passenger vans, and the study found that 80 percent of those who died were not wearing seat belts.
State ID Card Holders Can Elect to be Automatic Organ Donors (HB210)
Another potentially life-saving bill passed this week was House Bill 210, which allows Georgia citizens to designate that they wish to be an organ donor by so designating on their state issued I.D. cards. Currently, organ donor status is listed on drivers’ licenses, but not on state issued I.D. cards. Interestingly, changes such as this require legislation to make them happen.
Asthma Treatment for Children While at School (HB362)
In addition to passing several measures related to our state’s transportation system, the House also passed a bill to improve the health and safety of our children. House Bill 362 ensures that schools are well equipped to treat students with asthma by allowing schools to obtain and stock levalbuterol sulfate, a medication commonly used to treat asthma. Under HB362, any school employee who is trained in recognizing symptoms of respiratory distress could administer the medication to students. Asthma has become a common and growing illness and schools should be prepared to help our children handle these types of emergencies.
Read Across Georgia Month – a Sandra and Governor Deal Reading Initiative
In a continued effort to combat illiteracy, Governor Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal this week announced Read Across Georgia Month, a campaign to make reading more fun for Georgia’s children. As a part of the launch of this new initiative, First Lady Sandra Deal visited the House and introduced a new Pre-K book, TJ’s Discovery, written by teachers at the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy at the Atlanta Speech School. This book will be given as a gift to every student in Georgia’s Pre-K program and helps teach parents and caregivers how to make reading come alive to the children in their lives. I commend our First Lady for her diligent efforts to help Georgia’s children develop a lifelong love of reading.
On a Lighter Note
Finally, this week we took some time to recognize John Smoltz, a former pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and honoree in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition to being named an eight-time All Star, Smoltz is the only pitcher in major league history to top both 200 wins and 150 saves. Smoltz was honored before the Georgia House of Representatives with House Resolution 343 for his accomplishments both on and off the field. I’m proud that such an outstanding athlete and citizen claims Georgia as his home state.
Looking Ahead to Week 9
Next week will be an extremely busy week. On Friday, March 13, we are scheduled to complete the 30th legislative day, which is also known as “Crossover Day.” Crossover Day is the last date in which a piece of legislation must pass at least one of the General Assembly’s two chambers. With this deadline in mind, we will work longer hours every day to pass whatever remaining legislation is out there to get it through the House chamber.
Communicating with Constituents
I hope that you will contact me during this crucial week, so that I can address any concerns you might have. You can visit me or call my office at the State Capitol, the number is 404-656-0126. Please also encourage your friends, neighbors and co-workers to sign up for these email updates on our website: www.VoteJeffJones.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for your prayers and your continued support.
Brunswick, GA 31525
From the Desk of Representative Jeff Jones
On Monday, January 12, 2015, we began the 153rd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly. Since Monday marked the first day of the 2015-2016 term, all 180 members of the Georgia House of Representatives were sworn into office. We then promptly got to work on our first order of business: electing leaders to guide the Georgia House of Representatives through our next two years of public service. After hearing the nominations, Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton) were both reelected to their respective positions. Governor Nathan Deal also held his inauguration in the House Chamber that day.
This week, Gov. Deal also delivered his annual State of the State address in the House Chamber on Wednesday, January 14. This annual speech before a joint legislature, judiciary, special guests and the public gives the governor the opportunity to convey his assessment of the current condition of our state government and goals for continued progress and success in the New Year.
In his address, Gov. Deal began by detailing the exceptional progress Georgia has made. The creation of 319,000 jobs and a 643 percent increase in the state’s rainy day fund are just a few examples of Georgia’s many accomplishments over the last four years. Georgia’s future is expected to become even brighter in the years ahead, as companies like Mercedes-Benz USA and Porsche North America solidify plans to re-locate their headquarters to Georgia.
While there is plenty of good news on the state of our state, there are some existing needs that will be addressed by the General Assembly in the coming months. For example, Gov. Deal called for the establishment of an Education Reform Commission to continue to better our state’s education system. This commission, which will be composed of legislators, educators, and other key stakeholders, will study a number of questions regarding our education system, such as increasing access to Georgia’s early learning programs, recruiting and retaining high quality teachers, and expanding school options for Georgia’s families. A subset of the commission will also examine the most appropriate ways to modernize our Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding formula, which was created in the 1980's.
With education as a top priority, Gov. Deal also suggested a constitutional amendment that would create Opportunity School Districts. This model, which has been successful in other states, would authorize the state to step in to help rejuvenate failing public schools. Furthermore, Gov. Deal announced that the General Assembly will continue to invest in education. In fact, this year’s budget, coupled with his proposal for next year’s budget, represents an infusion of over one billion additional dollars for K-12 education.
As we work to improve education, it is also important that we examine policies that could improve quality of life for children across the state. Gov. Deal recommended additional funds for resources and support for the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) caseworkers and foster parents, who care for some of the most vulnerable children in our state.
The Governor also expressed his desire to help Georgia’s children, who have become “medical refugees” in states like Colorado. Gov. Deal voiced his support for the decriminalization of medical cannabis oil in Georgia for those that have obtained it legally in another state. This action would allow families who have moved to other states to receive this treatment, the opportunity to come back to their home state of Georgia without fear of prosecution.
Gov. Deal also declared the legislature’s need to address the state’s diminishing transportation funds. Now that Georgia is the 8th most populated state in the nation, adequate transportation, and maintaining our roadways and bridges, is as critical as ever. Unfortunately, the rise of fuel efficiency vehicles has drastically cut the state’s revenue from the excise tax, a per gallon flat fee on gasoline that is used to fund transportation projects. We will be working together with Gov. Deal over the next few months to create a plan to fill in the gaps in the state’s transportation budget and to ensure the state’s transportation system is prepared to handle our growing population.
After announcing his goals in the State of the State Address, Gov. Deal released his budget proposals on Friday, January 16. Just as the governor listed education as his top priority in his State of the State address, he also made education a top priority in the state’s budget. For the Amended Fiscal Year 2015 budget for the current fiscal year, Gov. Deal designated $8.3 million to go directly to local school systems and an additional $35 million in grants to help classrooms across the state gain greater access to broadband internet. In his Fiscal Year 2016 budget, which includes state spending from July 1 to June 30 of the following fiscal year, Gov. Deal set aside more than a half a billion dollars in new funding for Georgia’s education system, including $280 million that will specially help local school systems increase instructional days, eliminate furlough days, and enhance teachers’ salaries.
These are just a few highlights from Gov. Deal’s budget proposals. I hope to provide you with more information next week, once my colleagues and I carefully review the recommendations in our Joint Budget Hearings with the Senate. These hearings are available to watch online at www.house.ga.gov. You can also visit our website www.VoteJeffJones.com/news for frequent updates, news and events, and review current legislation that is under consideration.
This week, we also received our committee assignments for the 2015-2016 legislative term. I am happy to announce that Speaker Ralston and the Committee on Assignments appointed me to serve on the following house committees: Information and Audits, Interstate Cooperation, Motor Vehicles, and Natural Resources and Environment.
I welcome you to reach out to me and share your thoughts and opinions as we move throughout the legislative session this year. I can be reached via email at jeff@VoteJeffJones.com, or by phone at 912-386-0428.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.
Brunswick, GA 31525
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Congratulate Ga. State Senator William Ligon for attacking waste in Ga. State Gov..Rep Jeff Jones is also joining Sen Ligon and hope that many other legislators around the country will join Sen Ligon and Jeff Jones to attack gov waste at state and federal level.We all know there is great waste in gov at all levels that need to be attacked.Wake up taxpayers.
Friend and learn more about Joe on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joe.mccutchen.1
At a Chamber of Commerce press conference today a representative from Walmart announced that Sam's Wholesale is coming to Brunswick and will be open by the end of 2015 bringing over 140 full time jobs. Great news for Glynn County!
Water is Georgia's lifeblood. The State of GA is considering storing excess ground water in the Floridan aquifer. I urge extreme caution doing anything that may contaminate our pristine water supply. Be careful messing with Mother Nature!
Pictured: Diane Martin, incoming Chamber Board Chairperson, and Representative-Elect Jeff Jones.
Jeff attended the Darien-McIntosh County Chamber of Commerce Annual Chamber Dinner, Thursday, June 12, 2014 at the Sapelo Saltwater Fishing Club. The Keynote address was delivered by Greg Aloia, the new President of the College of Coastal Georgia.Read more
Pictured with Jeff are Lori Strande, Executive Director and Heath Slapikas, Chapter Board Chair.
Representative-Elect Jeff Jones welcomed as the special guest at the Red Cross Southeastern Coastal Chapter 97th annual meeting. The event was held at Southeast Georgia Health System Hospital, Brunswick, Georgia.
To donate to your local red cross chapter please visit this link: www.redcross.org