Carter, R- Pooler, will report each week during the Legislative Session, which began Jan. 13 and is expected to last until March 1.
Day 1 — Jan. 13: I began my 10th and final session in the Georgia State Legislature. What an honor and privilege it has been to represent the citizens of coastal Georgia at the state Capitol. Every day that I spend in these hallowed halls of the Capitol adds to one of the greatest experiences of my life. I thank all of you for this honor.
After arriving at the Capitol bright and early and catching up with staff, we had our first caucus of the session. Every day that we are in session, Senate Republican members meet to discuss the days’ activities and any other important issues. The Jan. 13 meeting was especially important as this is the second year of a two-year session, and bills that were not passed last year remain active and, if passed out of committee last year, return to committees for further consideration. As we went into session at 10 a.m., our first action item was to act on a motion made by the majority leader to return all remaining bills to the committee from which they came. Also, we elected David Cook as secretary of the Senate, a vital role in the legislative process. Cook replaces Bob Ewing, who retired during the interim after many years of service. After adjournment, I joined my fellow District 1 legislators for a meeting of the Coastal Georgia delegation, where we meet with the Department of Transportation and Department of Natural Resources commissioners to discuss issues in our area.
I also attended a Health and Human Services meeting and heard testimony on Senate Bill 141, the Patient Compensation Act.
Day 2 — Jan. 14: While this is the 10th year I have written these columns in this same basic format, one difference this year is in the prelude. Instead of saying that the session is expected to last until the latter days of March, this year it says that the session is expected to last until March 1.
This became more of a reality Jan. 14, as we passed House Bill 310, which changes the state primary date this year to coincide with the federal date of May 20. It also sets the runoff date as July 22 and the qualifying dates as March 3-7, both the same as the federal dates. While many people believe this is the underlying reason for the projected short session, many “old timers” reminded us that a short session was the norm back in the 1980s and 1990s. It also was pointed out that part-time hires at the Capitol cost taxpayers around $93,000 weekly and, therefore, getting out two weeks earlier could save $186,000 in taxpayer dollars.
Perhaps the “line of the session” occurred Jan. 14 as Sen. Tyler Harper, R-Douglas, invited legislators to the Okefenokee Occasion that evening. This is an annual gathering of folks from South Georgia featuring local foods such as gator tail. Immediately afterward, Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, went to the well and reinforced what a delicacy gator tail is, reminding everyone that Georgia Southern’s football team had some gator tail in Florida a few months ago and it was “mighty fine.”
Day 3 — Jan. 15: It was a busy day as we started out with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce Eggs and Issues breakfast. We heard from the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker about their expectations and hopes for the session. After a short caucus, we were in session at 10 a.m. and then went over to the House chamber to hear Gov. Deal give his State of the State address and outline his budget proposal for fiscal year 2015. Although I was delighted to find out he has proposed $36 million in bond money for the Savannah Harbor project, I was disappointed that money for the re-nourishment of the Tybee Island beach area was not included.
The afternoon was spent in a joint House-Senate Appropriations hearing in which the governor went into more detail about his proposed budget. We also heard from various department heads such as DOT, the Board of Regents and Education about their specific budgets.
Day 4 — Jan. 16: After an early morning meeting with a constituent and a brief visit to our caucus meeting, I joined folks from the Coastal Conservation Association and the Georgia Sportsman Association who were visiting the Capitol. After receiving greetings from the governor, the CCA presented me an award for my sponsorship last year of HB 36, which established game-fish status for Georgia’s redfish. I was honored to receive the award.
After a short session, I attended a Senate leadership meeting in which we discussed strategy for the upcoming session. As the chief deputy whip, I am privileged to be a member of leadership in the Senate. For lunch, we feasted on seafood gumbo and roasted oysters prepared by CCA members. The afternoon was spent in appropriation subcommittee meetings, where we scrutinized the public-safety and fiscal-management portions of the budget.
Day 5 — Jan. 17: The morning started off early with a meeting with an expert in geospatial information systems from Georgia Tech, whom I am working with to draft legislation dealing with the federal law known as Biggert-Waters. While I am co-sponsoring legislation calling on Congress to repeal this law, I continue to work on ways for the state to make sure the flood maps are as accurate as possible and proper notification is given to property owners.
We went into session at 9 a.m.; with little business, we were out quickly. This is typical of the first days of a session. I attended a meeting of the Appropriations Higher Education subcommittee, where we reviewed the amended FY 14 budget before spending the afternoon in the office
Carter can be reached at 421-B State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334, call him at 404-656-5109, connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/buddycarterga or follow him on Twitter @Buddy_Carter.