The legislative forum was an opportunity for senators to announce what they'll focus on come January. State senators said there's no hiding the fact that property tax relief is one of the biggest concerns facing the upcoming legislative session.
According to senators, the biggest problem may be taking money from education in counties that need it. Senators said in most districts, the support of education takes the biggest portion out of local property taxes. Senators said if property taxes are lowered, it's up to the counties on how they would deal with the hit to schools. It would affect their ability to fund schools, which could translate into an obligation for the state to make sure schools are properly funded. Senators said they're looking at other areas that could make up for lower taxes, while some won't be touched.
"I think were are going to start looking at the exemptions," said Sen. Kathy Campbell. "We certainly are not going to look at the large exemptions in business, agriculture, and so forth. I don't think we'll look at food or healthcare or drugs."
While property taxes and jail overcrowding were hot button issues at the meeting, regulation of e-cigarettes to minors was also on the agenda.
Senator Colby Coash is Vice Chair of the Urban Affairs Committee that's looking at the issue. He said the consensus of the committee is that e-cigarette products should not be accessible to minors, much like cigarettes, but said they're also helpful tools to help people quit the habit.
While they're concerned about age restrictions for the e-cigarettes, he said there are also questions on how they'll be taxed.
"We tax a product differently than we tax tobacco," said Coash. "People are worried that they will be taxed as tobacco, but I don't see that happening. I think the more likely scenario is that these will be taxed just like any other product you buy."
Jail overcrowding and the Good Time Law are also concerns for the upcoming session. Coash said the Good Time Law plays into how long an inmate stays in jail, which affects the already crowded system. Proposed solutions include building a new prison and establishing a system to handle non-violent offenders.
"Do we want to spend that money on bars and bricks, or do we want to spend the money on probation officers who can keep their eye on non-violent offenders out in the community?" said Coash.