State Sen. Buddy Carter, R- Pooler, will be reporting each week during the legislative session. The session is expected to last until the latter days of March.
March 20 — After working on the fiscal year 2014 budget on March 15, most of us were back March 20 for other committee meetings, proving that the old saying “the session lasts 40 days and 80 nights” is true. The day started early with a House Rules meeting to request one of my bills to be placed on their calendar, followed by a caucus meeting.
After going into session at 10 a.m., I rushed down to the governor’s office to witness the swearing-in of our newest member of the Board of Regents, Don Waters from Savannah. Aside from being a good friend, Don is a successful businessman, has experience in higher education and will do an outstanding job representing our area.
As chairman of the Public Safety Committee, I had the honor of presenting Deputy Jason Michael Ross of the Coweta County Sheriff’s Department with the Valor Service Award from the Peace Officers Association of Georgia. In September 2011, upon arriving on the scene of a head-on collision that resulted in the vehicle catching fire, Ross extinguished the flames and freed the driver, all the while speaking to her in calm, reassuring tones even as he suffered burns on his face and arms.
We had five bills on the calendar, including House Bill 164 that extends the sales-tax exemption for aircraft parts used specifically in maintenance or repair. This is an important bill to the Savannah area, as it helps keep Gulfstream Aerospace competitive by not requiring their customers pay sales tax, as is the case in other states. The bill passed, 39-12.
March 21 — After an Appropriations meeting at 8 a.m, during which we passed out the FY14 budget, I ran downstairs to a meeting of the Chatham County delegation in Chairman Ron Stephen’s office. Stephens is the dean of our delegation and does an excellent job of keeping us abreast of issues back home.
Next, I appeared before the House rules committee to request more consideration of my bills before I went to our daily caucus meeting. We welcomed Roberto Roy, minister of the Panama Canal, to the Senate. A Georgia Tech graduate, Roy shared the importance of supporting the dredging of the Savannah Port due to the expansion of the Panama Canal.
We had 16 bills on the calendar; unfortunately, many of the bills we considered reminded us of the sometimes harsh society we live in.
For instance, HB 126 prohibits individuals from obstructing the duties of a park ranger, making it a misdemeanor for an individual to knowingly or willfully hinder park rangers from fulfilling their duties. Although it passed easily, it still was disappointing to think that this type of legislation is needed.
Also passing was HB 141, which requires certain establishments to post information on how trafficking victims can receive help from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Again, while we would like to think these things don’t happen in our state, the truth is that they do, and we must do all we can to combat them.
We also passed HB178, the Georgia Pain Management Clinic Act, requiring pain-management clinics to be licensed by the Georgia Composite Medical Board and owned by physicians licensed to practice in Georgia. This legislation is needed to combat the proliferation of “pill mills” in our state and passed, 44-5.
Finally, we passed HB 242, a landmark juvenile-justice reform bill that calls for substantial changes in the state’s juvenile-court proceedings.
Before leaving for the day, I chaired a meeting of the Senate Public Safety committee where we passed out two House bills.
March 22 — We began our session by honoring the Atlanta Falcons and their owner, Arthur Blank. Since purchasing the Falcons, the Home Depot co-founder has turned the franchise into one of the most successful in the National Football Conference. In fact, during the last five seasons, only one team has won more regular season games than the Falcons.
We also honored the memory of longtime political reporter Dick Pettys, who covered the Capitol beat for more than three decades.
In both a joyous and sad occasion, we honored two Senate staff members who are retiring this year. Secretary of the Senate Bob Ewing, who is retiring after 34 years of service, and Deputy Secretary of the Senate Jeffrey Foley, who is retiring after 28 years, are beloved members of the Senate family and will be deeply missed.
In another busy day, we had 15 bills on our calendar, including HB 106, the FY14 budget. The proposed $19.8 billion budget brings us back to the same revenue projection as we had in 2008. Among the bonding projects in the budget are $50 million for the Savannah Harbor deepening project and $2.4 million for Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Liberty Center in Hinesville. After passing unanimously, the rules are suspended and the budget immediately is transmitted to the House so that three conferees can be appointed by both chambers, and they can begin negotiations for a final product.
Passing unanimously was the Senate substitute to HB 142, dealing with ethics reform. This historic proposal builds on the $100 gift cap resolution passed by the Senate on day one of the session and eliminates loopholes for special groups while protecting citizens who are expressing their constitutionally protected views from burdensome registration and reporting requirements.
After arriving at the Capitol this morning at 8 a.m., I finally left 12 hours later and headed to Moultrie for my nephew’s wedding.
Carter can be reached at 421-B State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334. His Capitol office number is 404-656-5109. Connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/buddycarterga or follow him on Twitter @Buddy_Carter.