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Lawmakers sprint through final days
40 days at the Capitol
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• Day 38 (Monday, April 11): After a week off for spring break, we returned to work this morning knowing full well that these final days of the session would be a sprint to the finish line. We didn’t go in until 1 p.m. this afternoon, which is normal for Mondays but especially was necessary today because all bills had to be approved through committees before the start of the 38th day.
My first committee meeting this morning was senate finance, where HB 234, a bill that will extend a sales-tax exemption on the purchase of aircraft parts by Gulfstream Aerospace, was amended before it passed. Obviously, this is an important bill to the Chatham County area and although we are concerned that the bill was amended, we have been assured by the governor’s office that the amendment will not slow down the bill.
Later in the morning I was successful in getting two of my bills, SB 66, which deals with clinical perfusionists, and SB 67, which deals with nurses, passed out of the House health and human services committee.
Before lunch I attended the House rules committee meeting and was fortunate to get three bills on the House calendar for this afternoon.  As we headed in this afternoon, we had nearly 30 bills on the calendar and I presented two of them for House members.
Because House and Senate members are allowed to speak only in their respective chambers, we have to present bills for each other. In a surprising move, the House adjourned early today without voting on the tax-revision bill, signifying that it is dead for the session.
After a short break for dinner, we went back in at 7:30 p.m. and debated the immigration bill until 10:30 p.m. Although we differed with the House version — primarily on the E-Verify program used to confirm employees’ residency status — the bill passed.        
 • Day 39 (Tuesday, April 12): As legislators, we are constitutionally required to do one thing each session — pass a balanced state budget. The budget conferees — three from the House and three from the Senate — met last week to finalize their negotiations and announced this morning that they have agreed on an $18.3 billion proposal.
Because Gov. Nathan Deal also must agree on the final proposal, he was involved in the negotiations and helped by agreeing to raise the state’s revenue estimate by $47 million. The final budget includes a bond package of $675 million for construction projects, including money for deepening the Savannah Harbor.
After the House approved the negotiated budget earlier in the day, we passed it in the afternoon and sent it to the governor for his final consideration.
With 41 bills on the calendar today, including HB 234, the sales-tax exemption for Gulfstream, we buzzed through most of them. However, we got sidetracked — which always seems to be the case — on a few bills, including one that would allow the sale of health insurance across state lines. Although we had 10 bills left on the calendar, we mercifully adjourned at 11:30 p.m. and left the remaining bills for the last day.          
• Day 40 (Thursday, April 14): It’s finally here — the last day of the session, which arguably is the most dangerous day of the session. Like many people, I had a number of bills to finish today and while they are all important, SB 36, the prescription-monitoring bill, was my main focus. After meeting with Attorney General Sam Olens and other interested parties, we finally hammered out an agreement, and the bill was passed and sent to the governor for his signature.
Although the day almost was a blur with so much going on, we managed to pass a compromised illegal-immigration bill that will require companies with 10 employees or more to use the E-verify program.
Finally, at 11:45 p.m. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston banged their gavels in unison, signifying the end of the 2011 session that began Jan. 10.           
Carter, R-Pooler, can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building Room 301-A, Atlanta, GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is 404-656-5109.

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