During the 2017 legislative session, the ability to request a fiscal note from the Department of Audits and Accounts or the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget will be limited to what the law prescribes. In practicality, what does that mean, and how will it affect legislation being written or voted on? Let me explain.
The Fiscal Note [fısk(ə)l nəʋt, sometimes pronounced fızık(ə)l nəʋt] is an estimate of the financial impact of a piece of legislation on the state’s revenues or expenditures. Its basis in Georgia Law is the Fiscal Note Act, which requires a fiscal note to be produced for “Any bill having a significant impact on the anticipated revenue or expenditure level of any state department, bureau, board, council, committee, commission, or other state agency.” That brings up the first challenge: defining when a significant impact occurs to a state budget that exceeds $21 billion, and the code is not very helpful in narrowing the definition.
What it does say is that fiscal notes must be requested by a bill’s author prior to November 1st of the year preceding the legislative session in which the bill will be introduced. Newly elected lawmakers have until December 1st to request a fiscal note. All the fiscal notes prepared will then be available by the first day of the legislative session.
All of that is well and good, but what about bills that aren’t prefiled (most of them), or receive substantial modification in committee? In that case, the Act says that a fiscal note can be requested by the chairperson of the committee to which the bill is assigned. Fiscal notes prepared in that case will be delivered within five days of the request, or ten days if an extension is requested by the preparing agency. The Office of Planning and Budget and / or the Department of Audits and Accounts can produce a Fiscal Note on its own if it believes a bill will have a significant impact, and the fiscal note is not requested otherwise.
In the recent past and in an effort to make sure all legislators have the information they need to make decisions on bills, the two departments have issued fiscal notes upon the request of any member at any time during the session. That, however, has led to requests for over 100 fiscal notes during the 40 day 2016 session. That large volume of requests prompted a letter from the Department of Audits and Accounts to leaders of the House and Senate establishing new ground rules designed to limit the number of notes requested.
The new rules say that any legislator may request a fiscal note from November 1st through “early January.” Once the legislative session starts, fiscal notes will only be accepted according to the procedures in the Fiscal Note Act. The ability for any member to request a fiscal note prior to the start of the session is an exception to the Fiscal Note statute.
Side note: The Fiscal Note Act also specifies that any bill having a significant impact on revenues or expenditures must be filed no later than Legislative Day 20. That’s why you’ll often see several “shell bills” dropped on Day 20, just to ensure that the Day 20 rule can be followed by later substituting real legislation for the shell, if needed.