Day 40 at the Georgia General Assembly is a busy one for lawmakers.
Known as Sine Die, the last day of the legislative session, state senators and representatives have historically worked frantically until the midnight hour to pass the last legislation of the season.
Except for the House being a little more structured than in previous years, District 26 state Rep. Geoff Duncan said Thursday, March 30, was no different than past years.
“Day 40 is a disorienting kind of day,” he said. “It’s hard to be able to comprehend all the legislation that crosses your desk, though the way the House went about it was more structured this year and day 40 was not as busy as previous years.”
Rural health care
Duncan saw a victory for one of his bills, House Bill 54, which later became Senate Bill 180, which he said he was previously concerned would not make it through to become law.
The bill increases the amount of money Georgia residents who donate to rural hospitals can get back in tax credits and sets the cap for the credits at $60 million annually.
The legislation has been meant to encourage people to donate to rural hospitals, which have been struggling to keep the doors open in Georgia but are vital to communities far from a metropolitan center.
Current law, which went into effect Jan. 1, allows taxpayers to apply for a state income tax credit for either 70 percent of an individual’s contribution to an approved rural hospital or $2,500, whichever is less.
For a couple filing jointly, the credit can be 70 percent of the contribution or $5,000 – again, whichever is less.
SB 180 increases the credit to 90 percent of the contribution or $5,000, and for a couple filing jointly, the credit could be 90 percent of the contribution or $10,000.
The bill also makes the 70 percent to 90 percent change retroactive to Jan. 1, meaning taxpayers who have already given this year will receive the credit back.
“It was a long, hard process and we took on a lot of headwinds,” Duncan said. “But we got it passed, and what we’re hearing is the $60 million is going to start flowing in almost immediately to these rural hospitals.”
Duncan said he was disappointed that District 34 state Rep. Bert Reeve’s adoption bill did not pass.
“The bill would have reformed Georgia’s adoption system, which is one of most antiquated processes in the country,” he said. “I heard some statistic like the average adoption [time] for a child placed in foster care takes 30 months or something. Not only is that unacceptable, but that’s wrong.
“Bert worked so hard and built consensus all over the building, but it was some games played in Senate that put politics in front of policy that killed it.”
Duncan also said he was pleased with the way the legislature handled a medical marijuana bill, which is now headed to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk for signing.
“I applaud [District 141’s] Allen [Peake] for his continued hard work and the way he did it,” Duncan said. “He got buy-in from so many parts of the state and I’m proud of work Georgia has done around [regarding] medical marijuana.
“We understand the need for patients to be helped, and it was gone about it in the right manner and we got the [medical cannabis oil] benefits without putting at risk the values of our state.”
The bill adds new diagnoses, such as autism, AIDS, Tourette’s syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease to the list of qualifying conditions for possession and use of the oil.