Plan Advances To Tax Ride Shares, Short-Term Rentals As Lawmakers Return To Work

Timothy Miller, center back, is flanked by House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, right, and Rep. Mack Jackson, D – Sandersville, left, as the chamber applauds his singing of the national anthem during the opening day of the year for the general session of the state legislature, Monday.

John Amis / Associated Press

On the first day of the 2020 legislative session, the Georgia Senate moved forward with a plan to compel online retailers and companies like Uber and Airbnb to collect state sales tax.

Given Gov. Brian Kemp’s mandated budget cuts, a stalled proposal to tax what are known as “marketplace facilitators” has picked up traction this year. The state Senate moved to push the proposal to a conference committee, which convenes when the House and Senate don’t agree on a bill’s language.

Republican state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler made the motion in the Senate.

“It’s been worked on a lot in the House and the Senate. It’s been done in over 30 states, and Georgia certainly needs the revenue,” he said of the proposal. “And we want to move forward on this quickly so that we can have an earlier implementation date and be collecting money which is owed the state.”

House Speaker David Ralston has said he’s “optimistic” the measure will pass quickly. A report from the state auditor last spring said last year’s proposal to do just that would generate $86 million in state revenue in FY 2020.

“We may not have a revenue problem, we may have a collection problem, and we need to start collecting on this money, which is due to the state,” Hufstetler said.

One sticking point on the bill last year was whether to include rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft.

The Senate version includes a carve-out to exempt transportation companies, but the original proposal would give Georgia one of the highest state fees on rideshares in the country.

“We agree that addressing inequities between online and brick and mortar retailers is an important issue,” said an Uber spokeswoman. “However, if action is not taken to put a reasonable fee structure on rideshare in place, Georgians will end up paying one of the highest rideshare taxes in the nation.”

She said the company is working on a compromise this legislative session.

Governor, First Lady Announce Anti-Trafficking Training

The state of Georgia is launching a training program to help people spot the signs of human trafficking, criminal activity that generates an estimated $150 billion per year nationwide.

“Once you get the information, you can’t not do something about it,” said Georgia First Lady Marty Kemp, co-chair of the GRACE commission working to end human trafficking in Georgia.

GRACE stands for Georgians for Refuge, Action, Compassion and Education.

Gov. Brian Kemp is encouraging the heads of all state agencies to require their employees to go through the training.

“Think of the great impact this program will have if 80,000 state employees will participate and take part in this training,” said Marty Kemp. “That’s 80,000 boots on the ground ready to help a victim in need.”

The training will also be available online for the general public.

Meanwhile, the Kemps are set to join White House Senior adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump in Atlanta Tuesday, speaking with victims and outlining efforts to fight human trafficking on a national level.

Lawmakers Remembered

The Georgia legislative session began with a somber note Monday. The House and the Senate each lost members in the past few months.

Republican state Sen. Greg Kirk of Americus died at 56 after a battle with cancer in December.

Democratic state Sen. Emanuel Jones recalled how Kirk reached out across the aisle to forge a friendship with him.

“What we found during that time is that we had a lot more in common than we had in separate,” Jones said. “We built a friendship, a relationship during that period that superseded any debate, any argument we had in this chamber.”

In the House, Speaker David Ralston remembered Rep. Jay Powell, who was chairman of the House Rules Committee.

“We were truly blessed that he passed our way and that for a season, we had the benefit of his brilliant mind, his wise counsel, his kind heart and his humble spirit,” Ralston said.

Powell, who was from Camilla, died suddenly at a legislative retreat last November at age 67.

Atlanta Mayor Greets State Senators 

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also made an appearance in the Senate Chamber Monday. She spoke about the important relationship between the city of Atlanta and the state.

“With your great feedback, we continue to improve ethics and transparency in the city of Atlanta,” she said. “Because what we know is our people are your people, and a stronger Atlanta contributes to a stronger Georgia.”

Her presence and words were particularly notable given that the State Senate last year passed a proposal for the state to take over control of the Atlanta airport, which stalled in the final days of the session.