ATLANTA -- Many of the headlines coming out of the legislative session this year about Obamacare, Common Core, guns and “medical marijuana” might give a false impression that job-creation bills are nonexistent.
Part of the reason is because, unlike the last three years, there was no blue-ribbon commission holding meetings across the state to make recommendations beforehand. Those resulted in tax-cutting packages that sparked highly publicized debates.
Instead, this year there are plenty of bills but less media attention devoted to them.
Chris Clark, CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said his lobbyists were keeping track of more than 200 bills.
Topping the list is the budget. And topping the spending priorities is funding for deepening the Savannah River. It contains the final $35 million installment for the state’s share of the $652 million project.
There has been no vocal opposition to the state’s funding. The delays have been on the federal level, and last week he announced he would begin even without federal approval.
Deal also put $25 million into the budget for the Department of Economic Development to recruit employers.
“We will seek investments in all parts of our state and not just more jobs for a few big cities,” he said in January.
The budget that the General Assembly will formally approve Thursday also includes extra money for technical-college students, seen as a critical to added employment. It sweetens the HOPE Grant many use to pay part of their tuition, and it provides a completely free education for those pursuing the high-demand fields of diesel mechanic, healthcare technology, welding and information technology.
“It doesn’t have to be a young person because, as you know, many of the technical college students are people going back to school,” Deal said.
One of the most contentious jobs-related issues was the Democrats’ push to raise the state’s minimum wage, which is lower than the federal minimum that national Democrats are also trying to boost.
“We want to make sure the working families can be comfortable,” said Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta.
Many Republican legislators are also small-business owners who see rising wages as limiting the number of jobs they can afford to offer. As a result, the GOP majority squelched it.
“It’s difficult when you have to pay a 16-year-old high school student what you would be glad to pay an adult,” Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville.
Conservatives lost one of their own initiatives, one they didn’t anticipate becoming a jobs issue, the so-called religious freedom bills. Companion House and Senate bills sought to extent to state law the same protections of personal conscience found in federal law.
Liberals said the bills would allow businesses to discriminate against homosexuals and other minorities, but what quickly stopped consideration of both bills was when Delta Air Lines, Home Depot and Coca-Cola lobbied against them as job killers.
Here are a few other business-related bills of this session:
- A permanent sales-tax exemption for parts used to repair out-of-state airplanes. The latest extension expires in July, jeopardizing jobs in Augusta, Savannah and Brunswick, according to supporters. Recommended by multiple job-creation task forces, the measure is awaiting reconciliation between the House and Senate versions.
- The BILD Act, which streamlines local-government procedures for approving cellphone towers. Local governments kept it from passing last year, but negotiations before this session yielded agreement that led to passage two weeks ago.
- Solar-panel financing. A bill that would allow companies to install and operate solar panels on private property in exchange for supplying electricity failed to make the Crossover Day deadline and died, but it is expected to return next year.
- Electronic records in lawsuits. A top priority of the Chamber of Commerce, the measure would lessen the recordkeeping requirements of businesses facing lawsuits. It has passed the House and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.
- Ending unemployment benefits for employees of school contractors. Bus drivers and cafeteria workers employed by private companies contracting with schools and universities would no longer be able to collect unemployment benefits during summers and Christmas holidays. The bill is described as saving other employers by lowering costs to the Unemployment Trust Fund they all pay into. It has passed the House and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.
- Entertainment tax credits. Headed to the governor for his signature, the measure enhances tax breaks for the film, video and music industries. It also extends a sales-tax exemption on construction materials used to build large tourist attractions.
- Disaster-relief workers exemption. Passed by the House and awaiting a vote by the full Senate, the measure exempts from state income taxes linemen and other crews temporarily deployed in Georgia to restore utilities after major storms.