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Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 4:38am

Airline Tax Breaks OK'd by House

House members were busy on Wednesday’s crossover day handling many bills before the midnight deadline.

Two bills to extend tax breaks for the airline industry passed through the House Wednesday. House members voted yes to a partial gas tax exemption for Atlanta-based Delta Airlines.

Republican Representative Ron Stephens from Savannah, who heads the Economic Development Committee, supported the two year extension.

"It means our home grown companies we’re going to stand behind them and whenever they plant their roots here… and they sink lots of capital.. by god we’re going to stand behind them."

Opponents say the $30 million tax exemption is corporate welfare for a company that isn’t hurting, while the state is facing a deficit.

Under another measure the House passed, people from out-of-state who buy airplane parts and repair services in Georgia won't pay state taxes.

A crucial part of federal health care law didn’t make the crossover cut. State Republicans gave into to pressure from opponents of the law, and pulled a house bill that would have created an online health care exchange. Majority Whip Republican Ed Lindsey says if the state doesn’t create its own exchange then the federal government will and that will be more expensive.

"I’ve seen estimates of upwards $1.5 to $2 billion a year that the people of Georgia have to pay if we don’t put up our own exchange as opposed to the federal government."

Still, Lindsay supported putting off creating an exchange this year. He says lawmakers will be able to revisit the issue next session and still meet the current January 2013 deadline. Resisting the national healthcare law is a popular sentiment with the Republican-controlled legislature.
Both the House and Senate have passed compacts to stand up with other states to uphold their right to regulate their individual health care systems.

There are other health care measures lawmakers will continue to work through. They include one that would let Georgians buy insurance plans approved by other states. Another establishes a database to track prescription drug sales to prevent abuse.

Lawmakers took the first step toward overhauling Georgia's criminal justice system as the House voted 169-1 to create a panel to study the state's tough sentencing laws. The bill will move to the Senate.

Gov. Nathan Deal, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein and a bipartisan group of legislative leaders have united behind the effort to curb the state's soaring prison costs. Georgia spends about $1 billion a year on corrections and has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation. The 10-member commission must make its recommendations by early 2012, in time for lawmakers to act on them in the next legislative session. Deal has said he supports alternative sentencing for certain nonviolent offenders, like drug addicts.

A bill to allow lawn trimmings to be placed in local landfills was approved by the House. The measure - which also renews a $1 tire cleanup fee for three more years - passed 104-68 on Wednesday. Opponents claim that adding yard waste to landfills would discourage composting and add to greenhouse gasses. The bill extends the tire cleanup fee, but there's no guarantee the money raised will be used to clean up tire dumps as it was originally intended. Sponsor Randy Nix of LaGrange said the Legislature needs to pass a Constitutional amendment to designate the fees. In recent years roughly two-thirds of the $57 million raised by the tire fee has been used to fill holes in the state budget.