CAMDEN ROUNDTABLE January 4, 2016

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1 CAMDEN ROUNDTABLE January 4, 2016 Dave Southern opened the meeting at 9:00 AM and introduced Rep. Jason Spencer and Rep. John Corbett. The session will start on 1/7 and go for 40 days and end in March. The budget will be the big item along with public education, casino gambling and restoration of religious rights. GA has a balanced budget requirement and can t go into debt. Education takes up about 54% of the budget. Most of the revenue comes through personal income tax and sales tax. The motor fuel tax increased the revenue stream for the state. Estimated revenues for the coming year is 21.7 Billion. It s likely that the House will take up a medical cannabis bill. Casino gambling will be taken up and it looks like the state will be divided up into districts with an allotment of casinos to each district. There is a proposal to reduce the state income tax to 4%. Raising sales tax and other taxes would be necessary to make up the difference because it s necessary to protect the state s bond rating. Water will be an issue because of the suit with FL and AL and a pending suit against TN because of access to the Tennessee River. There s also an issue with salt water intrusion into the fresh water supply, especially in the Savannah area. Another 1.1 Million was allotted in the 2016 budget to provide for classroom space for a technical college in Camden. The space is in the Coastal College of GA. It will be a mechanical engineering and cosmetology. A new campus is planned for Exit 3 in Kingsland and will have more courses, bookstore, library and classrooms Million is needed to complete construction of the full technical college facility. The location will be in the May Creek area and Rep. Spencer says it s necessary to get the land into the technical system. Ware County may be the site of a rare cancer cluster area. There were 4 cases of sarcoma in the area and that s the reason for the interest and the need to work with GA Dept of Public Health and CDC. If an exposure pathway is found to exist, the area may qualify as a cancer cluster area. The spaceport issue gave rise to HB 18 which was passed last year. It exempts aerospace engineers from license registration. GA is the only state with the exemption and Rep. Spencer feels that it s an advantage for GA. Tax credits are also important to create an incentive for aerospace companies to come to GA. GA is in the process of writing a space policy and the Governor s office is now supporting the spaceport project. An economic impact study is expected to be undertaken. Legislation is needed for liability and nuisance claims and local legislation that blocks space uses. Gross negligence and intentional acts will be exempted.

2 A sales tax would hurt GA citizens and Rep. Spencer opposes an increase in sales tax. Rep Spencer will work for money from the state for renovation to Exit 1. With respect to minimum wage, Rep. Corbett and Rep Spencer are opposed to an increase in the minimum wage because they feel it will depress part time employment. The Greenway project is likely to get support. There is likely to be approval for the medical use of marijuana but not for the cultivation of marijuana in GA. The legislature may look at giving communities outside of Atlanta relief on the $5 hotel tax but Rep Spencer doesn t see it being changed. Rep. Spencer hopes that the spaceport and seashore areas may increase clout to counter the propensity of the legislature to favor the Atlanta area over the non-atlanta area. An MLK celebration is planned for Jan 16 th at the aquatic park. Next meeting is Tuesday January 19 th and will be a presentation by Allen Burns of the Coastal Regional Commission. NOTE: On January 4 th, Representative Spencer released an blast about the upcoming session of the Legislature. The full text of his release is appended following this page.

3 Guest Editorial FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contact: Betsy Lynch Monday, January 4, 2016 (404) Legislative Preview By State Representative Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) The great American author and humorist Mark Twain once said, No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session. And so it begins. Georgians interests are once again piqued as the Georgia General Assembly embarks on its annual 40 day legislative session

4 beginning on Monday, January 11, Numerous issues always confront the General Assembly each year while we are in session, but our main priority is to set the state budget for Fiscal Year 2017, while maintaining a balanced budget. The state s entire budget sets spending for the entire year for K-12 education, transportation, postsecondary education, healthcare obligations and public safety. In Fiscal Year 2016, these aforementioned policy areas received the bulk of state spending, totaling approximately $17 billion, which is approximately 77% of all state spending. The remaining amount was then appropriated across other state agencies for a grand total of $21.8 billion. Last session, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed out of the state Senate, but failed to pass out of the House Judiciary Committee. This RFRA legislation would grant Georgians the same protection of their right of free exercise of religion that they currently enjoy from the federal government to practice their faith. Implementing a state RFRA would send a clear message that people with varying religious beliefs can expect that the state and our local governments will respect and honor those beliefs. While some have argued that RFRA will be used to discriminate, there are no cases at the federal level, or in the 30 state jurisdictions with RFRA in place, where a court has upheld or protected an act of discrimination. Casino gambling, and to some degree pari-mutuel betting on horseracing, is being pushed as a funding source for the HOPE scholarship program. Currently, the scholarship program is funded through state lottery funds, but the inflated cost of higher education presents a funding challenge despite the General Assembly s prior reforms to attempt to keep the HOPE program sustainable. There are serious societal consequences to consider regarding this policy, and this issue will be debated heavily this year. The Governor s Education Funding Reform Commission has released its list of recommendations to change Georgia s current K-12 education funding formula. Among numerous recommendations that will likely receive vigorous debate includes teacher merit pay and future public education funding. The recommendation in the report is to give current teachers an option to stay with the current pay schedule or be placed into a new system. Newly hired teachers will not have an option, but will be automatically be placed into the new system. Local school districts will have more control over how they set up their teacher merit pay system. The funding of public education could transition to a dollars earned model rather than an allocation model per student head count. Other issues include a movement to reduce the state income tax, as well as adopting a state policy to cultivate medical cannabis in Georgia. There is a current proposal to reduce the state income tax from 6% to 4 % and increase in the state sales tax rate from 4% to 5%. This plan would also apply consumption based taxes to downloadable services and phone applications such as Netflix and satellite TV services. Any change involving tax policy is sure to consume much of the General Assembly s time and effort this session. In addition, the General Assembly will likely debate whether or not to expand its recent, but limited, law to allow for the cultivation of medical marijuana in Georgia. The new state law only allows for eight specific diseases to be eligible for high concentration cannabidiol (CBD) oil.

5 However, due to the restrictions on cultivation in Georgia, eligible patients must obtain this type of medicine outside of the state, which poses a significant challenge. Finally, I will be introducing the Georgia Spaceflight Act (GSA), which begins the work of creating Georgia s space policy to become economically competitive with other space friendly states. This bill is necessary for the success of Spaceport Camden. The GSA is aimed at providing a limited liability shield to spaceflight operators and its suppliers. By doing so, Georgia will then remove a competitive economic disadvantage in order to compete with other space states such as Florida, Texas, Virginia, and New Mexico, who have similar laws. The aim of the GSA will be to make our law even more unique than those of our established competitors, thus making Georgia a leader in the commercial space industry. By offering distinct protections that will attract and retain this industry to our state, we will create high paying jobs, boost tourism and introduce new educational opportunities for our citizens. Hopefully, my colleagues and I in the General Assembly will not make too many decisions that are too painful and disruptive to your lives. The goal is to pass meaningful legislation that protects your rights, not undermine them. In the meantime, adhere to Mark Twain s advice for good measure. If you have any questions, or want to visit your capitol during the legislative session, please do not hesitate to contact my office in Atlanta at

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