2013 General Assembly
Ramsey, Smith discuss impact of session
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Video poker is a huge black market industry, State Representative Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, said at a legislative roundtable in Newnan on Friday.
The money people spend on machines at places that illegally pay out cash “are dollars that are coming out of the lottery” and out of the HOPE Scholarship, he said.
Ramsey and State Representative Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, discussed issues from this year’s Georgia General Assembly session at the legislative roundtable held Friday at the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce offices on Bullsboro Drive.
Ramsey is a new member of the Coweta legislative delegation. His district now includes the Senoia and Haralson areas.
The other three members of the Coweta delegation: Reps. Carl Von Epps, D-LaGrange and David Stover, R-Palmetto, and Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan, were not in attendance.
Ramsey was the lead sponsor of House Bill 487, which moves the regulation of “video poker” machines from the Georgia Department of Revenue to the Georgia Lottery Corporation.
The revenue department was “glad to give it up. They know they weren’t doing a good job,” Ramsey said of the video gaming. Eventually, all the video poker machines will have to be tied into a central monitoring system. And the lottery corporation does that every single day with lottery terminals.
Several other states have done something similar and “it has severely cracked down on abuse of those machines,” Ramsey said. “Plus I think it is going to provide some much-needed additional revenue to the lottery, which bolsters the HOPE Scholarship program.”
A very important bill that “hardly anybody talked about” requires greater reporting of the results of the state’s “many, many tax credits.”
Ramsey serves on the Ways and Means Committee and every year, representatives of various industries come in with proposals for new tax credits and incentives. “And many times they are very appropriate,” Ramsey said. Georgia, especially this area, has really seen the result of tax credits for the film industry.
There are many, many credits and incentives “but we don’t do a good job of looking back and seeing if taxpayers are getting a good bang for our bucks,” Ramsey said. The new bill will require the Department of Revenue to annually provide a report on every tax credit and incentive, including what its original purpose was, who promoted it and what kind of economic activity is being generated from it.
If incentives aren’t working, the money they cost could be put to better use elsewhere.
“It’s a good little bill that nobody is really talking about but it deserves a lot of attention,” Ramsey said.
He also spoke about the ethics bills, the recent changes to the GPA requirement for the HOPE grant and the tweaks to the illegal immigration bill.
The GPA for the HOPE Grant, which helps fund technical school education was raised to 3.0 a few years ago to help shore up the HOPE program, but that change resulted in a drop in enrollment of between 7,000 and 8,000 in the state’s technical schools, Ramsey said. The requirement was returned to its original 2.0.
One of the changes to the illegal immigration bill, of which Ramsey was the primary sponsor, had to do with proving your citizenship for “public benefits.”
An unintended consequence was that all Georgians were having to prove citizenship every time they renewed a professional license, Ramsey said. “They have to do it one time. You shouldn’t have to do it year after year after year.” There were also some loopholes closed.
Ramsey said he thinks the changes will be good for business, good for workers and good for Georgia.
Smith discussed the ethics legislation, especially the fact that the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (better known by its former name, the State Ethics Commission) will have rule making authority again.
“In the past, they had rule making authority but it had gotten really political” and wasn’t serving its purpose, she said. The authority was stripped a few years ago. “The wisdom today is we need just to empower the ethics commission and let them do” what they are supposed to do, Smith said. “They will be doing the rules and regulations.” And if they suspect criminal behavior they can turn cases over to the attorney general’s office, she said.
There were three bills that dealt with labor unions — House Bills 361 and 362 and Senate Bill 179. There were some cases where public contracts were being let and there were union requirements in them — that was done away with. There are also protections of the secret ballot for unions and a law stating that people who leave a union can no longer be held responsible for union dues.
There were also changes bringing more transparency to the Georgia Workforce Investment boards, Smith said.
Smith said that this year was the “year of education,” for her. She spent a lot of time honoring local legislators. It was also the year that plans really came together for the new University of West Georgia campus at the original Newnan Hospital campus.