Although several main issues were passed during the session, including a new immigration bill and HOPE reform, there were some key points unable to be agreed upon between the two chambers.
“We set out with one of our highest priorities from the Republican caucus,” Loudermilk said in an opening statement. “Jobs were the biggest factor we needed to look at in the state, not what the federal government is doing to create more jobs, but what can we do to create an environment that would allow private industry and individuals to create more jobs.”
Loudermilk explained this in the sense that science and technology companies are often developed in Georgia, but later move out of the state. The legislature decided to create a strategic plan that would establish a commission of 12 people to determine what the state needs to do to keep those jobs within our borders.
In addressing the attempts to restructure the state tax codes, no bill was passed. “There’s been a big push to shift to a fair tax or flat tax system,” Loudermilk said of the efforts. “Thirty-five percent of the population pays 90 percent of our taxes. So, we want to transition to something broad but shallow so that a larger percentage of the population is sharing in the tax burden.”
In an effort to make this shift possible Loudermilk said a compromise must be reached. Taxes must be created on services that are not currently taxed. But, Loudermilk said, “To add a 7 percent sales tax to TV, we’re cutting your income tax by 1.5 percent. The tradeoff is that as a working class, you are inevitably going to pay less.” However, a plan could not be created that would be equally fair to everyone in the short session allowed to legislators, he said.
Coomer, on a different but linking note, stated that a 2012 budget has been agreed upon with an overall $2 billion reduction. “We are now spending, when adjusted for inflation, at 2003 levels, and we’re going to continue that trend,” Coomer said.
On issues of immigration, Coomer stated that the “sweeping immigration reform package was broad.” In the bill, a committee was formed to study ways to implement a temporary worker program in the state. “It’s not just about trying to find and rout out the sources of the problem,” Coomer said, “but also dealing with the needs of industry and agriculture that rely on a less expensive form of labor.”
Loudermilk also pointed out that “there were some victories, and some things that we didn’t get to do that we set out to do.” However, as Coomer stated, “HOPE was subject to being in default by 2013.” Although many people disagree with parts of the HOPE reformation bill, Coomer stated that the state has “rescued the program. It is now situated so that it is sound for the foreseeable future.”
Along with these main issues, Loudermilk addressed Senate Bill 98, which opened up the ability to carry concealed firearms. This bill, as Loudermilk stated, “Basically allows people to carry firearms anywhere in the state [other than restricted areas such as schools, courts and jails] but would leave the determination to the private property owner to whether or not you carry that into a restaurant or even a church.”
The legislative session is officially closed at this time, but with the results of the census redistricting plans will be drawn in a special called session. During this time, pending approval from the governor, bills that were not able to be discussed could go before a legislative process.