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Legislature '08: The local agenda
Area lawmakers look ahead to 2008 legislature
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As the curtain rises Monday on the 2008 session of the Georgia General Assembly, Hall County's legislative delegation has a wide range of legislative priorities. We asked the members of the delegation -- Reps. Carl Rogers, James Mills, Doug Collins and Tommy Benton and Sen. Lee Hawkins -- to tell us what they think the top issues are.

THE GREAT PLAN: Among the key issues, House Speaker Glenn Richardson's plan to replace ad valorem taxes for education with a sales tax. The plan, as presented this week, would eliminate school property taxes and replace them with a 4 percent state sales tax on groceries, lottery tickets and services. The proposal expands the scope of the current sales tax to include items like haircuts and fees paid to lawyers.

The 4 percent would be on top of Georgia's existing sales tax.

"It's always the details, the small things, that can sink a ship," Mills said. "We have numerous details to work through at this point (on the tax plan)."

The newest version was not released until last Tuesday. Richardson, who has been touting a tax plan since last year, at first proposed repealing all ad valorem taxes. He backed away to address only the cost of operating public schools.

"You got to get this right the first time if you're going to change the way taxes are structured," Mills said.

Benton, a retired educator, is taking a wait-and-see attitude about the speaker's plan.

"It is ever-changing," Benton said of the plan. "I think there are some serious issues that pertain to this legislation. I think he (Richardson) is working to make sure this is not harmful to school systems."

While Rogers won't predict the outcome of the speaker's plan, he said the Hall delegation needs to look at the increase in tax assessments.

"I think we've come to point as a delegation that we're going to have to look at ways to stabilize assessments and millage rates," Rogers said.

IDENTITY THEFT: Benton, who represents Southeast Hall County, continues to push his bill which would allow victims of identity theft to place a freeze on their credit report. Benton has been a chief sponsor of the legislation, but is unhappy with the version passed by the House Banks and Banking Committee. It calls for a $10 fee for placing the freeze. He is hopeful of having that reduced to $5.

WATER: Rogers sees water as the highest priority as lawmakers take up the statewide water plan in the early days of the session.

"We have to read the plan, understand the plan and fund the plan," Rogers said.

State Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, like Rogers puts water near the top of the list and is concerned about the increasing impact on water-dependent businesses such as nurseries and landscaping.

"I'd be going against the governor, but I'd like to see them let up and allow folks to water a day or two a week for just an hour," Hawkins said. "It would save plants, allow them to put in new plants."

Hawkins said that he remains troubled that while Georgia is under severe restriction, Alabama has few.
"That's not common sense to me," Hawkins said.