Legislative update column by State Senator William T. Ligon, Jr. (R – Brunswick). Senator Ligon represents Brantley, Camden, Charlton, Glynn, and McIntosh Counties in the Georgia State Senate.
Over the past week, we completed three legislative days, leaving us 11 days away from Sine Die. We heard a total of 72 bills and resolutions on the Senate floor this week, making it our most productive week yet. There were a number of measures that I believe will have a positive impact on our state, including one of the biggest pieces of legislation we will pass all session, updates to the state’s Internal Revenue Code (IRC).
The legislation detailing the changes to the IRC lay out an income tax percentage reduction in House Bill 918. Specifically, this legislation will reduce the current 6 percent individual and corporate income tax rate in Georgia to 5.75 percent in 2019 and 5.5 percent in 2020 – if approved by the Georgia General Assembly based on the economic outlook of our state in 2020. It will also double the standard deduction for filers of all statuses.
This is exciting news for everyone, as families of four whose household income is $50,000 per year could see a 16 percent decrease in their tax burden and families who earn a household income of $75,000 could see a 12.5 percent decrease in taxes. This is a true middle income tax reduction that will not harm our balanced budget and ensures that more of your hard earned dollars are staying in your pockets. This bill overall will foster more economic growth and business development in our state, and I look forward to it receiving the Governor’s signature in the coming weeks.
In addition to this legislation, we also heard several bills that would help improve the quality of life for veterans and active duty military members across the state. Senate Bill 82 would expand the eligibility for the HOPE scholarship to members of the Georgia National Guard and reservists in Georgia who meet certain residency criteria. Senate Bill 395 creates the Georgia Joint Defense Commission which would seek advice and prepare for any potential base realignments, in addition to making recommendations regarding the development of military in the state. I was happy to support both of these bills. We owe so much to our military community for all they do to keep us safe both at home and abroad.
I was happy to see Senate Bill 355, which would prevent utility companies from billing citizens for the financing costs on nuclear power plant construction projects, pass in the Senate. Plant Vogtle construction costs burdening taxpayers is something that should have never happened, and I’m glad to see legislation pass that would keep this from occurring in the future.
A bill I sponsored, Senate Bill 339, the Campus Free Speech Act, passed the Senate this week. As discussed in previous columns, this bill directs the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents to establish policies protecting freedom of speech on Georgia’s college and university campuses.
While our polling stations in and around our district close at 7p.m., polls in bigger cities do not. Senate Bill 309 would require all cities in Georgia to close primary and election polls at 7p.m., would eliminate special election run-offs for state or county elections and would call for special primaries to be held before special elections. There are many days of early voting and absentee voting for residents of big cities, and this bill helps reduce confusion by making every poll in the state close at the same time. It also helps reduce the time between the vacation and filling of a seat by eliminating special election run-offs.
There were also bills passed to help protect consumers and help the state better manage our tax exemptions. Senate Bill 376 would prevent credit reporting agencies from having the ability to charge for credit freezes, allowing consumers to freeze their credit as they please. Senate Bill 432 would require an economic analysis to be performed by the state auditor on existing income tax exemptions on a rotating basis, ensuring our tax exemptions are providing a positive return on investment for our state.
The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jesse Stone, had two bills passed on the Senate floor this week. Senate Bill 452 would require arresting officers to report to the prosecuting attorney if the individual in custody is an unlawful resident. This simple measure will help us ensure that our law enforcement officers are given the power to recognize and report illegal aliens, making the process of recognizing illegal aliens more efficient. Senate Resolution 774 would create a Joint Study Committee on Adoption Expenses, something that was discussed with the passage of the adoption bill several weeks ago. This study committee will look at ways to help pay the living expenses of birth mothers without compromising the integrity of adoption in Georgia.
These are just a few of the bills that have passed the Senate this week. If you have any questions about bills that passed either chamber, please do not hesitate to let me know. I would be more than happy to answer your questions or hear your concerns.