Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Perdue OKs guns bill, cuts tax credit for poor

Posted By on Tue, Jun 8, 2010 at 10:04 PM

click to enlarge 'This year I just put 'em all up on a cork board and started throwin' darts'
  • 'This year I just put 'em all up on a cork board and started throwin' darts'

Gov. Sonny Perdue today signed — and vetoed — a laundry list of bills that have managed to piss off conservatives, give gun nuts a rise in their Wranglers, and throw dirt in the faces of the state's poorest residents.

In what was one of the governor's final chances to leave a legacy, Perdue made some quirky choices. He most notably approved Senate Bill 308. Sponsored by state Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, the legislation allows licensed gun owners to carry their weapons in more places. He said "nein" to Senate Bill 1, state Sen. David Shafer's attempt to get the state to practice zero-based budgeting. (Conservatives, including Peach Punditeers and Americans for Prosperity, are having a helluva time over this legislation, which basically requires most state departments to show why they need their requested funding amounts each year.) Finally, Perdue OK'ed a tax-incentive measure that included language that eliminates a tax credit for the state's poorest residents. That Sonny, he's always keeping it classy.

And oh gawd, Perdue's veto statements were filled with drama:

  • On the guns-in-airports bill, one which U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called "worrisome": The governor said legislation he'd signed earlier today already clarified gun laws. "For this reason, and despite unwarranted intrusion into this state matter by ill-advised federal officials, I VETO SB 291." Snap, sir.
  • The governor called out the Medical Association of Georgia about its involvement in House Bill 321, saying the group "insisted (over the objections of many)" on inserting language into the bill that likely violates federal law.
  • The governor totally called out the sponsors of Senate Bill 415 — though not by name — for carrying some communications company's water. Or just not protecting the bill from being turned into a foul piece of legislation. "SB 415 essentially provides liability protection for one company that does business in the area of emergency communications. Although I strongly support tort reform, I believe it is inappropriate to do it one company at a time, and so I VETO SB 415." Everybody point at laugh!
  • Perdue killed the ridiculous "Legislative Economic Development Council," one of the questionable pieces of legislation soon-to-be-former state Sen. Chip Pearson introduced this year. Want more details about the Dawsonville Republican's bad bills? Might we point you to this story?

James Salzer and Maureen Downey of the AJC have some more details about some of the other bills, particularly one those impacting the children's edumacations. For the five people who actually care to read the governor's prose — honestly, some of his logic behind the veto decisions makes for good reading — we've pasted the full text after the jump. Enjoy!

General Legislation

Indemnification bills

HB 827 and SB 414 expand eligibility for state and local employees to be covered under the state indemnification program, and also broaden the categories of family members allowed to recover under the program. The indemnification program is not insurance, it is an additional and special benefit for state and local employees in particularly dangerous jobs that provides additional funds to the workers’ dependents when those employees are injured or killed. Most, if not all, of those workers are already provided life insurance and workers compensation. The original intent of the program was to provide some additional funds to the people truly dependent on the employees’ income when an injury or death interrupted the steady income stream. These bills substantially broaden the definition of “dependent”, which departs from the original intent of the program. More importantly, the bills undermine the long-term sustainability of the indemnification program by expanding the program without identifying additional funds. Accordingly, I VETO HB 827 and SB 414.

Miscellaneous

HB 321, the “prompt pay” bill, is a bill I would have liked the opportunity to sign. Unfortunately, the Medical Association of Georgia insisted (over the objections of many) on including language that likely violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), a federal law that preempts portions of HB 321 as written. Because the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution precludes state law from violating federal law, I will not sign a bill that contravenes ERISA. Accordingly, I VETO HB 321.

HB 417 attempted to clarify which version of documents related to insurance contracts control when multiple versions in different languages conflict. As written, I believe the consequences of such a change in policy could be quite detrimental, and so I VETO HB 417.

HB 907 was originally intended to allow additional flexibility for management of middle schools, which I support. During the legislative process, however, language from another bill was added which imposes onerous requirements on the Department of Education regarding the Special Needs Voucher, most significant of which was the unqualified requirement to pay such vouchers in four equal quarterly payments. In a budget environment as challenging as this one – an environment in which public schools are being forced to operate on smaller budgets – it is not appropriate to tie administrators’ hands and require them to fund vouchers fully as they seek budget flexibility elsewhere during these uncertain economic times. For these reasons, I VETO HB 907.

HB 990, sponsored by Rep. Alan Powell, began as the Georgia State Patrol’s Federal Motor Carrier Compliance legislation, which resolved issues of incompatibility and enforcement between state law and federal regulations. Unfortunately, the bill was amended during the legislative process with a Fleet Vehicle Registration Plan Amendment. This amendment causes significant operational hurdles and will cost the Department of Revenue nearly $1 million to implement, funds which were not appropriated for this purpose. Accordingly, I VETO HB 990.

HB 1023 contains various changes to tax policy, many of which may have merit but also have substantial impact on future state revenues. HB 1405, which I have signed, creates a Tax Reform Study Committee charged with the task of reviewing all our tax policies and proposing sweeping changes as needed to the General Assembly for its consideration next session. Because of the long-term fiscal implications of HB 1023, I believe the tax policy changes it contains are best considered by the Tax Reform Study Committee, rather than signing them all into law at this time. For this reason, I VETO HB 1023.

HB 1028 allows landowners that have placed their land in a conservation covenant to subdivide that land in a manner allowing them to avoid paying tax penalties. In 2008, I signed the Forest Land Protection Act, which provides a way for forest land owners to continue their ownership of these valuable resources by reducing the burden of property taxes on their forest land. The State and local governments have invested millions of dollars in this program, the purpose of which was to help owners maintain their land for conservation purposes. Property owners who make an agreement with the State to conserve their forest for the term of the conservation covenant – and accepts a financial benefit in return – is and should be responsible for any breach of that agreement. HB 1028 would allow owners who sell land they have agreed to keep as forest land to avoid penalties if the conservation covenant is broken. This does not promote the original intent of the Forest Land Protection Act to help owners conserve their forests, and so I VETO HB 1028.

HB 1082 creates a new kind of freeport exemption available to local governments. Currently, local governments are able to enact a freeport exemption that exempts warehouses, distributors, manufacturers, and the like from inventory taxes. HB 1082 creates a second kind of exemption that would apply to retailers. Because this expansion of the exemption would merely create competition between counties at the expense of the property tax base of each county, I VETO HB 1082.

HB 1236 requires all municipal court judges to be members of the State Bar of Georgia. Because I believe cities should be able to decide what qualifications their municipal judges should have, I VETO HB 1236.

HB 1251 allows for significant exemptions from sales taxes for future tourism projects. In previous years, I have supported state participation in tourism projects when considered on a case-by-case basis. I have signed legislation in the past to assist tourism developments and this year I supported bond funding for the College Football Hall of Fame. However, I cannot support legislation that funds up to 25 percent of the cost of a tourism project by allowing the developers to receive refunds on state sales taxes that are collected. The tourism industry is one of Georgia’s most important economic drivers, but funding developments through sales tax refunds has never been done in Georgia which sets precedent that I cannot support. As I have said repeatedly, the process used in previous years to consider projects with legislation on a case-by-case basis removes any unintended consequences of a bill such as this, and so I VETO HB 1251.

HB 1272 adds to state tax forms the opportunity for individual taxpayers to direct the Department of Revenue to send their state tax refund to research regarding lupus, kidney disease, and multiple sclerosis. Organizations seeking to cure such diseases and relieve the pain and suffering of those who have them are to be commended. This bill, however, is not an appropriate way in which to help such organizations. The cost to the State of administering such options decreases the amount of the contribution to the organizations, which benefit more if people instead donate directly to those organizations. Not only so, but the legislation does not identify which organizations should receive the funds – it leaves it to the discretion of the Department of Revenue to select. Moreover, state tax forms already include eight such options for other deserving causes. Adding more will confuse taxpayers. Since only laudable causes will receive the votes of the General Assembly, there will never be a stopping place everyone will agree upon. Therefore, I cannot sign a bill adding to an already over-crowded set of options, and accordingly I VETO HB 1272.

HB 1321 expands the permissible purposes for which 911 taxes currently imposed on phone bills may be used. The bill violates the original intent of those funds, which was to provide counties with a mechanism to support emergency 911 services – not for counties to use for other needs such as operable and interoperable radio equipment. Accordingly, I VETO HB 1321.

HB 1407 would require the Department of Community Health to contract with a single administrator to provide dental services to recipients of medical assistance and participants in the PeachCare for Kids program. In 2008, I signed HB 1234, which provided a balanced approach to addressing some health care providers’ concerns with Georgia’s managed Medicaid program, and which maintained the healthy tension between providers and the Care Management Organizations that have been so successful in reducing the growth of Georgia’s Medicaid budget. I said then that I would not support further legislative encroachment upon this very successful program, which has trimmed the annual growth rate of Medicaid spending from 12 to 14 percent a year to four to five percent a year. This is saving the state over $1 billion annually at a time where any budget savings are critical. For these reasons, and the unknown fiscal consequences associated with this legislation, I VETO HB 1407.

SB 239 ensures that families moving from one school district to another register their children for school in a timely manner. Unfortunately, the language of a floor amendment seeking to safeguard homeschooling families instead accomplished the opposite; as written, the bill would actually require homeschooling families to enroll their children in a public or private school upon moving to a new school district. Because of this unintended consequence, I VETO SB 239.

SB 291 changes a variety of provisions within Georgia law regarding firearms. Among others, this bill would allow firearms to be carried into unsecure areas of airports. I have already signed SB 308, which clarifies Georgia’s public gathering statute and preserves the rights of private property owners. I believe this language is sufficient and adequately clarifies the law for Georgia firearms license holders. For this reason, and despite unwarranted intrusion into this state matter by ill-advised federal officials, I VETO SB 291.

SB 373 mandates that private employers turn over employment history records to law enforcement agencies when law enforcement agencies are conducting background investigations on applications and officers eligible for certification and recertification. The state should not be mandating a private business to turn over records to a law enforcement agency or any public agency absent the due process provided through existing judicial and quasi-judicial processes. Moreover, the language limiting liability for private companies complying with the law is insufficient; it immunizes privates businesses for liability only when they provide “complete and accurate” information. Because the question of whether the information provided was complete and accurate will likely be a primary ground of litigation, this is an exception that will swallow the rule. For these reasons, I VETO SB 373.

SB 415 essentially provides liability protection for one company that does business in the area of emergency communications. Although I strongly support tort reform, I believe it is inappropriate to do it one company at a time, and so I VETO SB 415.

Separation of powers

The Constitution gives the General Assembly sweeping legislative powers, including the authority to create and eliminate state agencies, alter their powers, and determine their budgets. The Constitution gives the Executive Branch executive powers -- the responsibility to administer agencies, exercise such powers as are given by the General Assembly, and spend the amounts budgeted by the General Assembly. The Constitution requires the legislative and executive powers to remain separate: “The legislative, judicial, and executive powers shall forever remain separate and distinct, and no person discharging the duties of one shall at the same time exercise the functions of either of the others….” Ga. Const. Art . 1, Sec. 2, Para. 3. Often, during the last year of a Governor’s last term, it is assumed that the outgoing Governor will be less vigilant in ensuring that these powers remain separate. I believe it is necessary, however, carefully to maintain that separation regardless of who is Governor. Four bills passed this year – SB 1, SB 148, SB 374, and SB 480 – are, in my view, inconsistent with the separation of powers required by the Georgia Constitution.

SB 1 provides changes to Georgia’s budget act requiring a purported zero-based budgeting methodology to be applied to a fraction of all state programs annually and for all programs once every four years. Georgia first attempted this budget methodology in the 1970s under Governor Jimmy Carter and has abandoned it since that time. A survey of states finds that of the states that currently maintain this methodology in their statutes all have effectively abandoned the practice because of the additional bureaucratic process and overhead while producing few identifiable results. Additionally, SB 1 does not change the budget process employed by the General Assembly (which could employ zero-based budgeting in its budget process under current law if it so chose). Instead, SB 1 requires state agencies to administer dual budget processes concurrently, the new and the current budget process, to be implemented immediately for the upcoming budget cycle. It is not technically feasible to reprogram state information technology systems or to provide resources for this endeavor on the timeline stated in the bill. While SB 1 is motivated by an admirable goal, the realities of Georgia’s and other states’ experiences have demonstrated few results worth the overhead associated with this new process. Moreover, anyone familiar with the budget process I have employed during my eight years as Governor knows that I and my staff examine all facets of each agency’s budget each year. Because existing law provides sufficient flexibility to conduct a searching examination of each agency’s budget, and because SB 1 unnecessarily imposes new bureaucracy and restrictions on the Executive function of submitting budget requests, I VETO SB 1. I have already committed to work with supporters of the legislation to formalize Executive Branch policies that are consistent with the goals of this legislation.

SB 148 started in its original form as a bill I supported – it required regular analysis of regulatory boards within the Secretary of State’s office and recommendations to the General Assembly regarding elimination of boards that are no longer necessary. That language also passed in SB 149, which I have signed. Unfortunately, during the legislative process, the text of HB 236 was added to SB 148. This language creates a “Legislative Sunset Advisory Subcommittee” of the General Assembly, which would regularly review all statutory state agencies to determine if they should continue to operate. Any agency reviewed by this subcommittee would automatically be repealed the following July unless the General Assembly took action to continue the agency (although the legislation confusingly also provides that no agency would be repealed until all responsibilities, statutory, financial, or otherwise, were affirmatively transferred by the General Assembly to another agency). The General Assembly already has full authority to pass legislation eliminating any statutory state agency, and also has full authority to reduce the budget of any agency to zero. This bill is unnecessary and unworkable, and fraught with potential for unintended consequences. For instance, when any substantial agency was up for review and was determined to warrant retention, the bill continuing that agency would be a must-pass bill. Such bills tend to be inviting targets for unrelated amendments that could not pass on their own, leaving future governors with the unappealing choice of signing a bill containing terrible policy or vetoing it and eliminating a necessary agency. Moreover, the bill violates separation of powers by constraining the discretion of the Executive Branch in submitting future budget requests; appropriating funds in response to a budget request from an Executive Branch agency is a Legislative function, but making the requests is an Executive function. Although I strongly believe it is vital regularly to assess the value each part of state government provides taxpayers, and have supported the elimination of certain agencies throughout my terms as Governor, I do not believe that SB 148 actually accomplishes its goal and instead creates substantial risk for unintended consequences. Accordingly, I VETO SB 148. I have already committed to work with supporters of the legislation to formalize Executive Branch policies that are consistent with the goals of this legislation.

SB 374 creates a “Legislative Economic Development Council”, and grants to that council (composed of members of the General Assembly) certain powers Executive in nature over the State’s economic development activities. This violates the constitutionally required separation of powers. “[A] member of the General Assembly cannot discharge the duties or exercise the functions of an agency within the executive branch of state government.” 1988 Atty Gen. Op. Ga. 31. Accordingly, I VETO SB 374.

SB 480 creates a State Council of Economic Advisors that the Governor will be required to consult in preparing a revenue estimate for budgetary purposes. “[T]he Constitution clearly separates the respective functions of the executive and legislative branches of State Government with respect to appropriations. The language and structure of the Constitution leave no conclusion other than that it is the exclusive function of the executive branch to prepare a budget report, including therein the revenue estimate….” 1979 Op. Att’y Gen. Ga. 40 (1979). Although I have used a council of economic advisors to assist me in the preparation of my revenue estimate, and believe that this is a wise course of action, I also believe that future governors are entitled to determine for themselves from whom to seek counsel on such matters. Accordingly, I VETO SB 480.

Local Legislation

SB 539 modifies membership to the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority. The current structure of the MILRA is sound and any attempt to convert ex-officio members to voting members would only cause disruption to the dynamics of this working board. For this reason, I VETO SB 539.

SB 547 is local legislation applicable to the City of St. Mary’s in Camden County. A member of the City’s legislative delegation and local officials requested a veto because of the adverse effects that this bill will have on the City’s financial stability. In addition, the City was not consulted before this legislation was introduced. For these reasons, I VETO SB 547.

HB 1422 is local legislation applicable to Montgomery County. Due to technical errors in the legislation, the sponsor of the bill and the local officials requested that it be vetoed. I therefore VETO HB 1422.

HB 1465 is local legislation applicable to the City of College Park in Fulton County. This legislation creates a Water and Sewer Authority that would have the power to construct infrastructure and serve constituents both inside and outside the corporate limits of the City of College Park. The Constitution requires legislation with extra-local effect to be general legislation, not local. For this reason, I VETO HB 1465.

HB 1478 is local legislation applicable to the City of Dexter in Laurens County. This legislation annexes an unincorporated area of the County into the City. The Laurens County Commission requested this bill be vetoed because the County was not given notice of the annexation or consulted as to the implications of service delivery to the area in question. Further, the unincorporated area being annexed is not contiguous to the City of Dexter’s current corporate limits. For these reasons, I VETO HB 1478.

(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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