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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Josh Heintzeman (R)

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Legislative Update (4-18-16)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Dear Neighbors,

Things are starting to pick up at the Capitol as the 2016 legislative session is a little over a month away from adjournment.

On Thursday, the House Public Safety Committee approved their 2016 omnibus bill. Included in the bill was legislation that I authored that increases penalties for persons that operate a motor vehicle without a valid driver's license.

During sentencing, current law only allowed for a misdemeanor charge. Our bill would increase driving after revocation penalties to a gross misdemeanor in case of bodily harm and immediately a gross misdemeanor on the third driving after revocation offense. These enhanced penalties would more adequately fit the crime and offer prosecutors more significant legal authority to persuade repeat offenders to consider their options more seriously.

While the origins of this bill are rooted in tragedy, this legislation is an example of how government should work. Mrs. Vanek and her family contacted me regarding their situation and we worked hand in hand to shepherd it through the legislative process in the hopes that other families would not have to suffer through the same circumstances.

In addition to this important issue, I recently signed onto a bill that would provide taxpayers with greater transparency when local municipalities are considering or renewing franchise fees for utility services.

In an effort to keep property taxes low, more and more cities are using franchise fees to raise revenue. This revenue stream can largely fly under the radar, with little to no public input. This occurs when utility companies are charged by municipalities for use of public easements

That charge is then passed on to customers in the form of a franchise fee and is paid through surcharges applied to your utility bill.

A report from the state auditor indicates that 357 cities raised a combined $136.9 million in franchise fees in 2014.

Often times folks are unaware that this is taking place, because the costs appear as a fee on their utility bill when in reality, the utility company is in effect collecting a tax for the city.

To be clear, this legislation does not restrict cities from using this fee, instead it provides for greater transparency and oversight by requiring cities to notify taxpayers of renewed or proposed franchise fees, through a public hearing, and gives taxpayers the ability to approve the fee through a referendum.

At the end of the day, we want to make sure folks are aware of how fees and taxes are being collected and this legislation goes a long way in shining light on this process.

Finally, the governor and Senate have both released details of their supplemental budget proposals. While the state's two year budget was set last year, both the governor and Senate are pushing for hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending as well as a continued push for a historic gas tax increase which would equate to an annual tax of around $900 million.

Their proposals stand in contrast to the House's proposal which calls for no new spending, instead leaving the state's $900 million budget surplus for much needed tax relief and roads and bridge repairs.

With still over a month to go before we are constitutionally required to adjourn, there is plenty of time for negotiations on a transportation and tax relief bill. I am hopeful that we will be able to come to an agreement—one that delivers meaningful tax relief and a transportation bill that does not raise the gas tax.

If you have questions or comments on these issues or anything else before the legislature, I encourage you to contact me. I can be reached by phone at 651-296-4333 or via email at