March 5 through March 9 brought a busy legislative week where some innovative pieces of legislation were voted upon and passed for the people of Georgia. The culmination of the legislative week was on Wednesday, March 7. This is known as crossover day, which is the last opportunity that the Senate and House of Representatives have to send each other their own bills. The General Assembly is scheduled to recess on Wednesday of this week, March 15, and reconvene on Monday, March 19, for the 34th legislative day. This means that at the end of this week, only seven working days remain until the 2012 regular session concludes sine die.
Some of you may be asking the question as to what is the purpose of all these breaks. This is to slow the process down in order to give the House and Senate committees time to digest and consider legislation sent from the other body that they might be seeing for the first time. A prime example of this is House Bill 742, the Appropriations Act, which goes into effect on July 1, 2012. It includes $19.2 billion in state funds for next year’s spending. I will be reporting to you in more detail on the budget once we know what the final version will look like.
This report discusses in detail legislation that can have a profound effect on your business, farming enterprise, or on you as an individual. House Bill 100 passed the House overwhelming last Wednesday and is now in the Senate. This bill creates a Georgia Tax Tribunal designed to hear disputes involving taxes that are currently administered under the Georgia Department of Revenue. Issues eligible to come before the tribunal include challenges to state tax assessments and denials of state tax refund claims. The tribunal will serve as an addition to existing procedures for administratively solving disputes prior to the issuance of a final assessment or refund denial.
The purpose of this new procedure is to provide a lower cost alternative method of resolving disputes with a ruling from tax experts (an appointee must have at least 8 years of experience as a tax attorney) in order to ensure reasoned, fair, and consistent decisions that clarify Georgia law. The establishment of this tribunal does not limit a citizen’s ability to file their concern with the Superior Court, and all decisions of the tribunal are subject to appeals to the Superior Court. Currently, if you have a dispute with the Department of Revenue, you have an option to file a petition in Superior Court, or go before the Office of State Administrative Hearings (OSAH) and an administrative law judge. If you file with OSAH, the verdict can be still be reversed arbitrarily by the Commissioner of the Department of Revenue, which can leave citizens and businesses extremely frustrated. Appeals by individuals and businesses are both time consuming and expensive. This is especially true for someone in South Georgia who may have to travel over 200 miles to Atlanta more than once to present their case. The establishment of this tax tribunal will assure the citizens of our state that they will have petitions heard before an expert in the complex area of tax law. These rulings will become public record, and are intended to lead to more consistency, better predictability, and significant efficiency for our citizens when they have disputes with the Department of Revenue.
Another key component of this bill is the creation of a small claims division, whereby citizens and small businesses in our state will have the right to appeal their small claims against the Department of Revenue (DOR). Many of our citizens have chosen not to contest disputes with the DOR because it seemed too much of a hassle or too costly. Under House Bill 100 the average citizen will be able to challenge a DOR ruling in this small claims division, with only the assistance of their CPA, without the burden or cost of hiring legal counsel.
I believe HB100 will create new opportunities for businesses and citizens in our state to be able to address their disputes with the Department of Revenue confidentially in a much more user friendly environment. This bill also has overwhelming support from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), as it continues our commitment to creating a business environment in Georgia that is conductive to economic growth.
Dr. William C. Joyner, pastor of Broadway Baptist Church in Augusta, spoke to the House and gave his definition of a true champion. In the story of David and Goliath, the champion was not someone who was the biggest or the strongest. It was the shepherd David who stepped forward and said confidently, “I’ll go. You can count on me.” Goliath stepped out in his own strength. David stepped out in God’s strength, won the battle and changed the course of history. So can we with God’s help as we face personal challenges in our own daily lives.
For a copy of HB100 or any other legislation taken up during the 2012 session, you may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 404-656-5105 or 912-614-2077.