Growing Georgia?s Workforce

The German-American CEO Roundtable, led by Detlev von Platen, CEO of Porsche Cars North America, has partnered with the Georgia Department of Education, the University System of Georgia, and the Technical College System of Georgia to begin the process of creating an International Workforce Development Initiative.

The Workforce Initiative will consist of a series of programs which will partner private companies with Georgia?s public educational institutions, expand access to international language education, and develop career/technical skills training for Georgia?s students. In addition to developing new opportunities, the Initiative will build upon current programs, such as Georgia Quick Start. Quick Start creates custom-tailored programs through the Technical College System of Georgia to meet the needs of business and industry. The Quick Start program was instrumental in securing the relocation of Baxter International to the metro Atlanta area. Baxter is a bio-pharmaceutical manufacturer which promises to create 1,500 jobs across the state with an anticipated $1 billion investment in Georgia?s economy.

Reece & Associates, in conjunction with State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge, was instrumental in obtaining funding for the International Workforce Development Initiative during the final days of the legislative session. Never in recent memory had an educational program been funded so late in the cycle; however, Reece was able to coordinate outreach to key legislators who understand the potential economic impact of the Initiative.  Chairmen Terry England and Jack Hill have shown their true commitment to building a brighter future for Georgia?s students by providing the legislative backing for this initiative.

The public dollars; however, are just the beginning. Private funds are anticipated to match the taxpayers? investment, and major corporations are lining up to participate in the Initiative. Porsche Cars North America, Siemens, Coca-Cola, and several other prominent members of the corporate community have reached out to establish partnerships. If you or your company would like to support or learn more about the Initiative, please contact Wayne Reece at wreece@reeceassociates.com.  
The Attorney General?s Legislative Success: Overhauling Georgia?s Sunshine Laws

Last week, Governor Nathan Deal signed into law legislation updating Georgia?s sunshine laws. House Bill 397, which was a top legislative priority of Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, institutes a number of reforms to Georgia?s Open Meetings and Open Records Act.  Speaking before the Atlanta Press Club, Deal thanked many of the partners involved in crafting the legislation and emphasized that ?this bill will help bolster the state?s ability to bring jobs to Georgia while simultaneously aiding the fundamental rights of the people to inspect the records of their government.? Deal was joined by Attorney General Olens and Representative Jay Powell, the sponsor of HB 397, at the bill signing ceremony.

Months of research, negotiations, and legislative maneuvering culminated in broad bipartisan support for the first comprehensive overhaul to Georgia?s Open Records Act. Under Olens? leadership, stakeholders ranging from the Atlanta Journal Constitution to the First Amendment Foundation came together to craft a series of changes which increase government transparency, improve ease of access to public records, and raise the penalties for those officials and agencies that refuse to comply with the law.

The reform also includes a provision which establishes exemptions for economic development projects when a business expanding or relocating to Georgia will spend more than $25 million or create 50 or more jobs. This exemption, which ends once a binding agreement has been signed by all parties involved in the project, had been sought by leaders from both the business community and State government. Prior to this amendment, competing states had the ability to request records of economic development proposals before they were finalized.

Making several significant changes to the law, the bill

? Creates criminal penalties and increases to $1,000 the maximum fine for violations of the law (up from as low as $100 before the bill was passed) and allows additional fines up to $2,500 for repeat violations occurring within a year.

? Reduces the copying/document production cost of public records from 25 cents per page to 10 cents per page.

? Revises multiple sections of the State Code to clarify the manner in which government officials must respond to public records requests.

? Requires that minutes must be taken during closed meetings, and that such minutes are subject to judicial review should there be a challenge to their non-disclosure under the law.

? Clearly states that final votes of governing bodies and agencies, including votes on real estate transactions (previously exempted from disclosure due to a State Supreme Court ruling), are required to be made public.

? Allows certain government meetings to be conducted via teleconference in the case of an emergency.

Sam Olens has long been a champion of increased transparency and accountability in government since his time as Chairman of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners. As Georgia?s Attorney General, he is charged with enforcing the Open Records Act and has done so with unparalleled vigor and dedication to the citizens of the state. His ability to successfully partner with legislators, the media, and advocacy groups to advance an agenda for the common-good make him a powerful force in State government. Those following Olens? career expect that his commitment to public service and the deft nature in which he handles the many facets of his job are strong indicators that his star has only begun to rise in Georgia politics.  
The Legal Battle over Obamacare

Last month, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of various aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Paul Clement, former Solicitor General during the George W. Bush Administration, presented arguments on behalf of the 26 States which have filed suit against the law. Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens was one of six attorneys general with a front-row seat to the proceedings.

The nation?s highest Court heard six hours of arguments over the course of three days. On the first day of arguments, the Court largely brushed off the Obama Administration?s claims that the Federal Anti-Injunction act would prohibit a ruling until 2015.

Day two focused on the most contentious and publicized issue of the new health care law - the individual mandate. Court watchers noted that Justice Anthony Kennedy appeared openly skeptical of Congress? authority to compel individuals to purchase health care insurance. Many commentators suggest that Kennedy will likely move to strike down the mandate. However, such a rush to judgment would be premature. It was Justice Kennedy, after all, who appeared ready to strike down Roe v. Wade based on his comments during oral arguments in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Kennedy ultimately sided with the decision upholding Roe.

The final day of oral arguments considered both the severability of the individual mandate from the broader healthcare law and the question of whether the federal government has the authority to compel states to expand existing Medicaid programs. While it is not clear how the Court will rule on these issues, its decision on the expansion of the Medicaid program could define the scope and boundary of the relationship between the federal government and the states for the foreseeable future.

The Court is expected to issue a ruling in late June or early July. The decision is expected to revive health care reform as a hot topic for the 2012 election.

Ambitious Legislative Session Comes to an End

Governor Nathan Deal, Speaker David Ralston and Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle set the tone for a productive 2012 legislative session with an ambitious agenda of tax, criminal justice, and regulatory reform. A series of high-profile bills were considered throughout the session, and the General Assembly leadership was successful in obtaining broad bipartisan support on several key pieces of legislation. The following is a review of the legislative highlights of the 2012 session.

Tax Reform

Championed by Speaker Ralston, House Bill 386 was the most significant reform to Georgia?s tax code in recent years. A product of recommendations from the Special Joint Committee on Revenue Structure, HB 386

? Establishes tax exemptions for Manufacturer?s energy use, the purchase of airline fuel, and the sale of farm machinery and supplies.

? Reinstates the sales tax holiday on school supplies.

? Increases, from $5,400 to $7,400, the state income tax exemption for married taxpayers filing jointly.

? Replaces the sales and annual property tax on motor vehicles with a one-time title fee of 6.5% of the vehicle?s value at the time of purchase.

? Caps the amount of non-work income seniors can claim as exempt from income taxes at $65,000 for those filing individually and $130,000 for married couples filing jointly.

? Expands the collection of sales taxes on internet purchases.

? Provides over $200 million in additional tax breaks for various industries.

Criminal Justice Reform

Governor Deal?s signature achievement in the 2012 session, reforming the State?s antiquated Criminal Justice system, is among the most forward-thinking public policies in recent memory. House Bill 1176, the result of studies backed by empirical data, creates a number of changes to the way Georgia prosecutes and penalizes a variety of crimes. Among other changes, the bill

? Establishes alternative treatment programs for drug offenders and processes these individuals through newly created ?Drug Courts.?

? Expands the State?s parole and probation system.

? Ensures that those arrested for crimes they did not commit can have their arrests sealed from employers.

? Increases the minimum dollar amount for the classification of certain crimes involving theft.

? Creates a graduated punishment system for certain crimes based on newly established categories for prosecution of those crimes.

These changes are anticipated to free up space in our over-crowded prisons by providing alternative sentencing options for low-level, non-violent offenders. The result will be a more equitable distribution of justice and millions of dollars off the State?s bottom line over the next several years.

Other Key Pieces of Legislation

? A November ballot referendum authorizing the State to create charter schools over the objection of local school districts. This referendum arises from a 2011 Georgia Supreme Court ruling invalidating the practice as unconstitutional.

? Legislation reducing the number of weeks for which Georgians are eligible for unemployment insurance from 26 weeks to a range of 14-20 weeks, depending on the state?s unemployment numbers.

? Controversial legislation restricting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and a bill (which is now being challenged in court) that mandates drug testing for welfare recipients.

? Mid-Year FY2012 and FY2013 budgets, both of which passed with bi-partisan support and restored funding to various areas of education and healthcare.

The session concluded on March 27th, the earliest Sine Die in years, allowing lawmakers to hit the campaign trail in anticipation of the fall elections. With redistricting significantly altering Democratic districts, it is highly likely that this year?s elections will bring a Republican super-majority to the General Assembly. This will provide Republicans enough votes to place constitutional amendments on the ballot and overturn a Governor?s veto. A diverse Republican caucus, of course, will continue to serve as a natural system of checks and balances should they be bestowed with these abilities.
Spotlight: 2012 General Assembly Elections

Lawmakers have wasted no time since the end of the session to gear up for an intense summer of reelection campaigning. The General Assembly finalized the maps for the 2012 elections late last year. The new maps pit several Democratic incumbents against one another and significantly alter the political demographics of a number of Metro-Area districts.
  
While the balance of power in the General Assembly is not in question, there are still several races to watch in the 2012 cycle. The following are anticipated to be two of the most contentious state legislative races of this cycle.

A Republican Primary for House District 117, currently represented by Doug McKillip, has been long-anticipated since McKillip switched parties at the beginning of the 2011 session. McKillip had hoped to avoid a primary challenge by shoring up his conservative bona-fides; however, he still has problems with the Tea Party movement and is facing a primary challenge from Republican Regina Quick.

Quick, who lost to McKillip in 2006, has a following among Republicans in Athens-Clarke County, the financial base of HD 117 and McKillip?s hometown. This is McKillip?s first election as a Republican and, with Quick?s history in the District, should make for an interesting race; however, do not expect McKillip to be easily defeated. He enjoys the support of the state leadership and, at the end of First Quarter reporting, McKillip had $40,157 cash on-hand to Quick?s $27,897. Expect this cash disparity to grow, as the session is over and McKillip can now resume fundraising.

One of the closest-watched State Senate races will be for the newly drawn Senate District 6, currently held by long-serving Democrat Doug Stoner. The demographics of the district now tilt significantly more to the right, though Stoner has historically enjoyed strong bi-partisan support and high name recognition in the area. With only $29,521 cash-on-hand at the end of the most recent fundraising quarter, Stoner will have to hit the ground running in anticipation of what promises to be a tough reelection battle in the fall.  

Republicans Hunter Hill, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Josh Belinfante, an attorney whose most recent endeavors include assisting with Georgia?s challenge to Obamacare, are stocking up for an expensive primary battle. As of the first of the year, each candidate was sitting on over $100,000

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