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State Senate OKs credit freeze bill as Rep. Mills works on tax cut compromise

POSTED: April 12, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The state Senate has passed its version of a credit freeze bill that would allow consumers who are victims of identity theft to "freeze" access to their credit records.

Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes work is continuing on a compromise between House and Senate proposals for tax relief.

Advocate groups hailed the credit measure as one of the best credit freeze bills in the nation for consumers.

Under the bill, residents with a freeze in place must give creditors written permission to obtain their credit history.

"We are very happy with this version," said Holly Lang, a spokeswoman for Georgia Watch. "It goes a long way toward making consumer protections available to those on a fixed income and seniors who are often vulnerable to identity theft."

The legislation caps the amount consumers must pay for each security freeze at $3 — or a total of $9 for the three major credit reporting agencies. Currently, they charge $10 per freeze. Credit monitoring companies have resisted setting a cap.

Senior citizens and residents who can prove they are victims of identity theft would be eligible for free credit freezes, said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Bill Hamrick, R-Carrollton.

Credit agencies could lift the freeze permanently or "thaw" the account temporarily if the consumer asked for them to do so. The temporary thaw was key to gaining support from some retail groups, who rely on quick credit checks to sell things like cars.

Some 39 other states have adopted their own versions of the freeze.

The three major credit reporting agencies are already offering freezes, but there were concerns about the amount they could charge for the service.

One of the bill’s major proponents in the House is state Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, who represents part of southeastern Hall County.

The House version of the bill lacked the free credit freeze protection for senior citizens. The two chambers must iron out that discrepancy before sending the bill to Gov. Sonny Perdue.

State Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, is one of three House members who have been meeting informally with three senators to try to find a compromise on tax cut plans.

"It’s not an official committee at this point, but we are conversing and floating ideas back and forth," Mills said.

The Senate has passed a bill that would cut the state income tax rate, while the House has passed a constitutional amendment that would, if approved by voters, eliminate ad valorem taxes on cars.

Many legislators believe the state budget can afford one, but not both, of the proposals.

Perdue, who is on a trade mission to China, has said the state cannot afford either tax cut.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, R-Chestnut Mountain, who is pushing the income tax reduction, has received letters of endorsement for the Senate plan from groups including the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

Jerry Griffin, executive director of ACCG, said the House version does not constitutionally guarantee full reimbursement to counties for the loss of the vehicle tax.

"It would have forced counties to raise millage rates just to keep up with inflationary increases in the cost of providing existing county services," Griffin wrote.

The income tax cut is also being supported by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

"The House plan, while providing $760 million a year in tax relief once fully implemented, does not go as far as the tax cut plan put forth by Lt. Gov. Cagle," Norquist wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

The General Assembly has just three days to work out its differences on tax relief and the $2.4 million state budget.

Lawmakers plan to meet today and Wednesday, then adjourn on Thursday for conference committees to meet.

The final day of the 2008 session is scheduled for Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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