Politics & Government

LEGISLATIVE NOTEBOOK: No last-minute deal to increase Macon-Bibb hotel-motel tax

There was no last-minute deal Friday night to increase Macon and Bibb County’s hotel-motel tax to help fund the sports and music halls of fame downtown.

Legislation to add a penny to the sales tax and split it between the halls lacked only state Sen. Robert Brown’s signature to pass, but Brown would not concede, preferring a different plan that would fund local projects in Macon as well as the state-funded halls.

With the Legislature wrapping up its 2009 session late Friday night, the chance to pass the tax this year expired.

“No 11th-hour (deal),” said Brown, D-Macon. “No 99th minute. No reprieve.”

The two halls have taken significant budget cuts as legislative leaders try to wean them off state tax dollars, and Macon and Bibb leaders wanted to find a local funding source.

State Rep. Allen Peake, who favored the two-way split, said that if the state ends up moving the halls from Macon to Atlanta, Brown “should drive the moving truck.”

But Brown noted that there have been no serious proposals to actually move the halls, just a suggestion from a handful of lawmakers.

In fact, many lawmakers have noted that it would cost the state far more to move the halls than it would to keep them in existing buildings, which the state built, in downtown Macon.

State Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, has said repeatedly that it’s the state’s responsibility to fund the halls, and that local funding would set a bad precedent. Local Republicans haven’t disagreed with that but have said political realities will require local funding.

Another piece of local legislation, changing elected terms on the Macon Water Authority from six years to four, passed the General Assembly. Other suggested changes were not included in the legislation that passed.

TAX RULES FOR LEGISLATORS PASSES

New ethics legislation that would help crack down on legislators who don’t pay their taxes passed both the House and Senate.

Senate Bill 168, if signed by the governor, will require the state revenue commissioner to report legislators who haven’t filed an income tax return to the House and Senate ethics committees. Usually that information is private, even for legislators, until various appeals and investigations have run their course.

The new law was discussed this year after the revelation that 22 state legislators had failed to file a tax return for at least one of the past several years. Only a few of those legislators have been named because of existing privacy rules.

State Sen. Robert Brown, D-Macon, may or may not be on the list of 22 legislators. But he volunteered some information about his tax situation this session, saying he failed to file his return in at least one year. He told an Atlanta television station it was two years.

But Brown also said he got extensions, and he refused to answer most questions about the specifics of his situation, so it’s not clear whether he actually owes any back taxes.

State Rep. Willie Talton, R-Warner Robins, revealed to The Telegraph this session that he owes more than $30,000 in property taxes on Houston County rental properties he owns. He has said he’ll pay the taxes in the coming months.

Property tax debts would not be covered under the tax ethics rules approved by the House and Senate.

DHR REORGANIZATION PASSES

The Georgia Department of Resources would shrink and be reorganized under legislation that passed the Georgia General Assembly.

Mental health, addictive disease and disabilities programs would be taken out of DHR’s purviews. Instead, they would be managed by a new Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

The change should send a message that the state wants to focus on and solve problems in its mental health programs, said state Sen. Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville.

Other DHR programs, including the public health division and long-term care regulatory responsibilities, would move to the Department of Community Health. The DHR would continue to oversee local Department of Family and Children’s Services offices.

PEAKE’S ALZHEIMER’S BILL PASSES

Legislation meant to protect Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients passed the General Assembly in the waning moments of the session.The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, “simply provides protections for Alzheimer’s and dementia citizens both inside a nursing home and outside a nursing home.”

Peake pointed to a recent story about an Atlanta investment manager bilking a woman with Alzheimer’s disease out of her life savings.

“(We need) to make sure that scumbags like this do not prey on those that are weak,” Peake said. “This could have been your mom.”

ODDS AND ENDS

• Widows of disabled veterans would get to hold on to a super-sized homestead exemptions on their property taxes under a bill that passed the General Assembly.



House Bill 304 makes sure widows and surviving minor children can move to a smaller house but still keep the same tax break in communities that offer an extra exemption to disabled veterans. That includes Columbus-Muscogee, where Fort Benning is located, said state Rep. DuBose Porter.

• A new license plate honoring dolphins that provides revenue for the Georgia Aquarium also gained approval Friday. The aquarium is adding dolphins to its collection. The bill also extends an existing specialty plate program honoring the Atlanta Falcons. Proceeds from those plates would now go to the Atlanta Falcon Youth Foundation. This bill must still be signed by the governor to take effect.



• Legislation that would update the state board that oversees physicians passed the General Assembly on Friday.



House Bill 509 makes numerous changes, including allowing advanced practice registered nurse and physician’s assistants to pronounce death. The legislation also makes it clear that doctors can delegate other responsibilities to nurses, said state Rep. Sharon Cooper, who sponsored the measure.

The bill also changes the name of the Composite State Board of Medical Examiners, which oversees physicians in the state, to the Georgia Composite Medical Board and adds two new members, one new seat for doctors and one for consumers, said Cooper, R-Marrietta.

There will now be two consumers and 13 doctors, she said. There are other changes to the board’s rules as well. The bill must still be signed by the governor.

• All the state’s planes and helicopters would be managed by one new authority instead of individual departments under legislation that passed the General Assembly.



The governor’s Georgia Aviation Authority would consolidate control of aircraft now held by five agencies, including the Georgia State Patrol, the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

There are now five maintenance facilities for state aircraft, and that will be shrunk to one, said state Rep. Jimmy Pruett, an Eastman Republican and one of Perdue’s floor leaders in the House. Aircraft would be stored in 10 locations instead of the current 18, Pruett said.

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