Georgia businesses don't get all they want from legislators

Saturday, March 23, 2013 12:15 PM
Last updated Monday, March 25, 2013 1:30 PM
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 Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Georgia Chamber of Commerce President Chris Clark.

ATLANTA – As eager as the Republicans who make up the General Assembly’s majority may be to appear business friendly, some of the legislation business groups have pushed the hardest this year are in danger of not passing.

That’s not to say that business groups aren’t on track to score some significant victories, but they won’t come away with everything they hope for.

Here’s the status of the major business bills.

HB 361 Unions

A bill by Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta, is among the most controversial of the session because it aims to change how labor unions operate. Although most aspects of organized labor are governed by federal laws, employer groups in conservative states are pushing similar legislation to weaken unions.

It would ensure that government building contracts won’t specify union contractors. It ensures workers will vote by secret ballots when deciding to be represented by a union and also makes it easier for workers to stop having dues taken out of their paychecks.

Georgia Chamber of Commerce President Chris Clark calls it a “simple bill.”

“It doesn’t take away anyone’s right to join a union,” he said.

But union representatives are fighting it, like Tony Tilley of the Communications Workers of America who says it will be a headache for employers.

“When you have folks jumping in and out, that creates payroll problems for the company and the union,” he said.

A bill with similar provisions was killed last year by Tea Party activists because it would have also made picketing illegal in residential areas. This year’s version has passed the House and is in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting a vote by the full Senate. It might have passed sooner, but it is being held as a bargaining chip to convince Lindsey, the House Republican whip, to put certain Senate bills up for a vote to avoid seeing his handiwork stall.

HB 128 Downtown Renaissance Act

A bill by Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, rose to the top of legislative agendas at most local chambers of commerce because it would have granted generous tax credits for rehabilitation of downtown properties. While most Republican leaders say they agree with the logic behind the bill, they held it in the House Ways and Means Committee over concerns that new tax breaks could damage the budget at a time when the economy remains weak.

HB 164 Sales-tax exemption for aircraft replacement parts

The House and Senate easily passed this bill by Rep. Alex Atwood, R-Brunswick, which renews a sales-tax exemption for parts used in repairing and upgrading aircraft registered to out-of-state owners. He said the owners can fly their planes for maintenance to any other state that offers the same tax break, so Georgia needs to renew it to keep customers for Gulfstream Aerospace’s Savannah and Brunswick operations and Standard Areo’s operation in Augusta.

Since it’s not a new tax credit, legislative leaders had no fears about extending it another two years.

HB 318 Stimulus for attractions and high-tech start-ups

A bill that started out correcting constitutional problems with a 2011 law has picked up amendments that broaden its scope. Originally, the bill was just to fix it so developers of large, tourist attractions could keep some of the sales tax they collect as a way to pay construction costs in the first 10 years.

That could draw some large projects to Georgia, according to House Economic Development & Tourism Chairman Ron Stephens, R-Savannah. He sponsored the original law.

“We’ve never had an economic-development package that was workable for tourism,” he said. “There are a lot of people down around Kingsland that would love to get some of the tourism traffic on I-95 to stop and shop.”

Even an Indian movie company that announced this week it is building a production studio in Effingham County could use the tourism incentives to create a theme park like Universal Studios has in Los Angeles, Stephens said.

The amendments create a $100 million fund to invest taxpayer money in start-up companies and to extend a tax break for private, “angel” investors in the same type of firms.

“It’s taken several years for even the angel community to ramp up and take advantage of it,” Cummiskey said. “It hit in the middle of a recession when you didn’t have much activity in that area. We were hearing from the venture community that they were beginning to use it.”

The House and Senate need to agree to the latest version of the bill and send it to the governor for his signature.

SB 141 Patient compensation panels

Replacing juries with a panel of doctors and employers to decide who gets compensation for medical malpractice proved to be too novel of an idea for consideration this first year of introduction. Instead, the Senate will create a temporary committee to study the issue and recommend next year whether the legislature should pass this proposal or anything like it, which would be the first in the country.

HB 176 Cell towers

Telephone companies lobbied hard for this bill to limit the ability of local governments to control erection of cellphone-antenna towers. Mayors, county commissioners and historic-preservation buffs raised enough fuss to keep it bottled up in the House Rules Committee, forcing it to start from scratch next year.

HB 402 Beach movies

Stephens sponsored this bill which would allow the Department of Natural Resources to quickly issue temporary permits for beach access to movie companies. It’s on its way to becoming law.

HB 517 downtown grocery stores

This bill being pushed by the entire Athens delegation would allow college towns to exempt grocery stores from the existing requirement to locate more than 200 yards from the campus if they want to sell packaged alcohol. Supporters say it’s the only way Athens will get a grocery store downtown.

The bill passed the House but is stuck in a Senate committee.

SB 113 service of company officials for court orders

A bill that seems pretty unimportant ranks high with business lobbyists. Sponsored by Democratic Sen. Emanuel Jones of McDonough, the bill would require anyone serving court papers on a company to give them to a company official rather than simply the first employee they encounter.

Companies say it will prevent them from inadvertently violating court orders for wage garnishment and child support because a low-level worker didn’t forward the documents to management.

SR 412, 415 tax caps

These constitutional amendments by Senate President Pro Tempore David Shafer would cap the income tax and prohibit hikes in the state sales tax unless the additional money is used to lower the income tax. He said they set up the mechanism for the state to eventually eliminate the income tax, something he argues would help lure more high-paying employers to the state.

They were introduced too late in the session for consideration this year, and they await committee action in 2014.


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