“I am not superstitious, but I am a little stitious,” The Office’s Michael Scott once said. While the statement was intended to be comical, I sometimes sympathize with it. Indeed, when Georgia’s 2020 legislative session convened on Jan. 13 amid a torrential downpour, followed by a power outage at the Capitol, I became a “little stitious” and grew concerned.
Even so, I tried to remain cautiously optimistic, but not long after, matters got worse. Legislators temporarily got bogged down in heated budget negotiations, and the General Assembly ultimately suspended the 2020 session indefinitely due to coronavirus fears.
These portentous occurrences seemed to foreshadow a bleak conclusion to Georgia’s legislative session, but there’s good reason to believe otherwise. Before temporarily adjourning, lawmakers buckled down and advanced several pieces of meaningful legislation. And since they were able to do so before the crossover deadline, when they return, some promising bills await them. Here are a few that I am following:
· SB 288: This measure will allow some reformed, nonviolent individuals to more easily have their criminal records sealed, which would help them better integrate back into society, obtain gainful employment and likely would reduce recidivism rates.
· SB 316/HB 914: This legislation would establish an expedited process by which Georgia’s licensing boards would essentially recognize the out-of-state occupational licenses of military spouses who meet certain criteria. This is sorely needed, given that military spouses have a national unemployment rate of about 16 percent, in large part, because they relocate frequently due to military transfers. And, following each move, many must acquire a new, state-specific occupational license to work.
· SB 345: This bill would ease some of the burdens facing charities that wish to provide food for the needy. This comes in response to reports that the Health Department effectively halted MUST Ministries decades-old summer lunch program due to a technicality.
· SB 359/HB 888: Healthcare costs are the number one reason why Georgians declare bankruptcy, and surprise medical billing is a major contributing factor. Surprise billing normally happens when patients are treated, unbeknownst to them, by an out-of-network provider, and then receive an inflated bill. While there is no silver bullet to address this scourge and we have no way of knowing how SB 359/HB 888 may be amended, the bill sponsors at least took the noble steps of trying to better a broken system.
· HB 105: As of April 1, all for-hire transportation companies will be subject to the same sales tax. Parity is important, but this also means that parts of Georgia would have one of the country’s highest tax rates on ridesharing (8.9 percent in Atlanta!). So, HB 105 has been amended to change the for-hire transportation tax paradigm, and charge taxi, limo and rideshare users a flat $0.50 fee per ride or $0.25 fee for shared rides. This will help keep prices low and ensure that the services are financially within reach of those who need it most.
· HB 879: Home delivery of beer and wine is currently illegal in Georgia, but this bill would change that. Legalizing alcohol delivery would be a win for consumers and for public safety, given that it would dissuade people from driving after a couple drinks to go purchase more at the store. While this bill is great in concept, it needs to be tweaked on the Senate side because, as drafted, it excludes some current and future businesses from making deliveries. Without maximizing competition, consumers and the general public will not fully enjoy the measure’s potential benefits.
Considering that several lawmakers have already tested positive for the coronavirus, it’s unclear when the Legislature will return, but lawmakers will have their work cut out for them once they do. Given the unsure state of our economy, the budget and taxes will likely loom large. This will require legislators to make some difficult decisions, but as they sort through budgetary issues, these promising pieces of legislation deserve their attention.
Marc Hyden is the Director of State Government Affairs at the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.