Transportation bill to cost MARTA $2 million per year

  MARTA made gains during the legislative session, but the transportation spending bill will cost the Atlanta transit agency around $2 million a year. The revenue hit comes from House Bill 170’s tax increase on diesel fuel and the $300 fee on alternative-fuel vehicles, MARTA spokesman Lyle Harris told InsiderAdvantage Georgia. However, the transit agency will not be affected by the legislation’s fees on heavy vehicles, which city and county governments and school boards will have to pay. MARTA’s fiscal year 2015 budget is $415.6 million for operations and $470.1 million for capital programs. MARTA operates 158 full size “clean diesel” buses and 347 “clean fuel” compressed natural gas buses, according to a transit agency fact sheet. The CNG buses, which reduce carbon monoxide by 95 percent, are subject to the $300 per vehicle alternative fuel fee, which also targets electric vehicles. The fee is $200 for non-commercial vehicles. Other transit agencies running diesel buses will also have to pay more, along with school boards, whose fuel tax exemption will end when the legislation takes effect July 1. Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to sign the bill soon. HB 170 will combine the current 7.5 cent per gallon fuel excise tax and 4 percent sales tax into a single fuel excise tax, 26 cents for gasoline and 29 cents for diesel. Motorists paid 19.3 cents per gallon on gasoline and 21.3 cents per gallon for diesel in 2014, according to Wesley Tharpe, senior policy analyst for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, the bill’s author, and other legislative leaders expressed support...

Nunn brings fund-raising expertise to financially strapped CARE USA

  Michelle Nunn’s Washington connections and corporate fund-raising ties apparently made the difference in her appointment as Atlanta-based CARE’s new president and CEO. Nunn, a Democrat defeated by Republican David Perdue in Georgia’s 2014 U.S. Senate race, “has little experience in international development, one focus of CARE USA’s work,” The Wall Street Journal noted in its report on Nunn’s hiring. She will replace Dr. Helene Gayle, a pediatrician who had years of international experience when she came to CARE nine years ago. But Gayle, who will lead a new nonprofit venture of the management consulting company McKinsey & Co. beginning in July, saw CARE’s funding decline during her tenure, which included the recession. Nunn raised millions of dollars for her Senate campaign, including fund-raisers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington. The daughter of former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn also has ties to both political parties through her leadership of the Points of Light Foundation, which has links to former President George H.W. Bush. CARE USA reported $489.5 million in operating support and revenue in fiscal year 2013, down from $707.8 million in 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing regulatory filings. That included cuts in U.S. government support to $139.6 million in 2013 from $267 million in 2008. The organization originally known for its CARE packages sent to World War II-devastated Europe said it conducted an international search for Gayle’s replacement, choosing Nunn from a pool of “many terrific candidates,” Paul Jansen, chair of CARE USA’s board, said. While the Journal said the board was impressed with “her ability to forge coalitions” and  develop partnerships with local indigenous...

Majority leader candidates blend conservative values, Internet age economic outlook

  The Republican race for House majority leader reveals how the new high-tech economy has gained prominence in state politics. The three candidates to fill the position vacated by Rep. Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire, all were connected to legislation involving non-traditional businesses. While staunchly holding traditional conservative values, they displayed an engagement with emerging industries associated with young “millennials” who espouse more liberal, urban-oriented views. Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta and Rep. Jon Burns, R-Newington announced last week they will seek the House majority leader’s post after O’Neal resigned to accept the judgeship of the state tax tribunal. Peake gained widespread media attention this past legislative session with his much admired sponsorship of medical marijuana legislation, which Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law last week. As Peake frequently said, he doesn’t see his bill allowing possession of a small amount of cannabis oil for medical use as the first step in a “slippery slope” toward legalization of marijuana in Georgia. Deal in backing the legislation also firmly stated he doesn’t want Georgia to follow Colorado in allowing recreational pot use. Still, as Deal noted at the signing ceremony, the bill’s overwhelming passage reflected an evolution in values. When Peake began sponsoring his legislation in the 2014  session, many saw possession of even small amounts of cannabis oil with low levels of the intoxicant THC as equivalent to possessing marijuana. The suffering of children wracked by frequent seizures overcame opposition by conservative legislators, law enforcement agencies and religious organizations. “With kids who are suffering all of those seizures, it’s hard to vote against the bill and feel good...

Black legislators celebrate gains in General Assembly session

  Democrats in the Georgia Legislature last week celebrated their influence in passing two of the most significant bills of the 2015 session. Rep. Gloria Frazier, D-Hephzibah, cited her efforts to include sickle cell anemia in the medical marijuana bill signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal. On the same day, Senate Democrats praised increased opportunities for minority contractors, resulting from Democratic support for the transportation spending bill. Black House members led by Frazier, D-Hephzibah, overwhelmingly backed the medical marijuana legislation after author Allen Peake, R-Macon, agreed to include sickle cell anemia among diseases approved for treatment with cannabis oil. Georgia is the only state that allows medical use of cannabis oil for sickle cell, a hereditary condition that mainly affects blacks. “The battle to get to this point for many sickle cell patients has been a lengthy one, and I am pleased that this bill is finally a law,” Frazier said in a statement after Deal signed the legislation last week. “The sickle cell communities in Georgia now have an additional option to combat the pain brought on by the disease without the debilitating side effects. While medical marijuana is not a cure for any of these diseases, it offers a treatment option that will make the lives of patients easier.” Sickle cell affects approximately 7,800 Georgians each year, almost all of them African-Americans, Frazier said in a release distributed by the House Democratic Caucus. The disease affects one in every 500 African-Americans, according to the CDC. Margaret Kaiser , D-Atlanta, also played significant role in the legislation’s passage as the bill’s sole Democratic co-author and a member...

Deal signs medical marijuana bill into law, with commission to study Georgia distribution

  With medical use of cannabis oil now legal in Georgia, the next stage will be making the substance available in the state for all of those authorized to use it. Gov. Nathan Deal Thursday morning signed House Bill 1 allowing possession of up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil for medical treatment. Along with children’s seizure disorders, the legislation covers cancer, ALS, MS, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s disease and sickle cell disease. But many of the approximately 500,000 eligible Georgians still will not have easy access to cannabis oil without traveling out of state and possibly violating federal law, Deal and legislation sponsor Allen Peake, R-Macon, acknowledged at the bill signing ceremony at the Capitol. Peake said that a Colorado manufacturer has agreed to ship cannabis oil containing .3 THC to Georgia. That THC level is enough for children with seizure disorders, but adults with conditions such as ALS might require cannabis oil with 5 percent THC, as allowed by the law. A 17-member state commission formed by the law will make recommendations to next year’s Legislature on setting up a Georgia distribution system. The commission’s report will determine how extensive the system will be. Deal wants strict regulation of cannabis oil, which could involve marijuana cultivation here. In developing a distribution system, “we want to try to do it the right way,” Deal said . The legislation also continues clinical trials carried out by the Georgia Regents University. The governor said that the Composite Medical Board and the Department of Public Health are near completing documentation procedures for patients authorized to possess cannabis oil. A doctor’s...

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