Day 7 (Jan. 31): In my seven years of serving in the state legislature, this session has started off slower than any other. Compared to other sessions, very few bills have been introduced and, with most of our focus on the budget and saving HOPE, many issues have been put on hold.
However, this is about to change as the Senate Republican leadership held a press conference this morning to announce that we will be focusing on six issues this session. This list includes helping create jobs, bolstering the HOPE Scholarship program, spending limitations, revising the education funding formula, tax revision recommendations and immigration enforcement. While this is an impressive list that many of us feel addresses the major needs of our state, much work lies ahead as all of these issues will require a great deal of work.
During our session Jan. 31, I introduced two bills I will be working on this year. The first bill is the Patient Safety Act of 2011 that will assist in combating the problem of prescription drug abuse in our state by creating a computer database of all controlled prescription medications dispensed. The database will be used by doctors and pharmacists for their patients only, and private information will be protected by HIPPA regulations that carry hefty fines and penalties. The other bill I introduced is a constitutional amendment that will allow the state to enter into multi-year leases when renting property.
Day 8 (Feb. 1): The Capitol is abuzz today with news of a Florida federal judge’s ruling yesterday that the new national health care act is unconstitutional. Gov. Nathan Deal, who as a congressman voted against the act, held a press conference lauding the ruling as a victory for Georgia taxpayers.
Many legislators are concerned that the health care act will be a major financial burden on taxpayers, as well as on the state, as we are forced to comply with mandated coverage.
Although far from over, yesterday’s ruling is yet another sign the health care act may never be implemented as passed.
As we went into session today, immigration reform took center stage as SB40 was introduced. The highly controversial bill, originally crafted after the Arizona legislation that dominated national headlines last year, is intended to crack down on illegal immigrants while not being burdensome on business and agriculture. Later in the evsning, we were treated to a wild game dinner hosted by the Statesboro/Bulloch County folks that was delicious.
Day 9 (Feb. 2): Sunday sales of alcohol took center stage today as SB10 easily won approval from the Senate’s State and Local Governmental Operations Committee. Another highly controversial issue, this legislation has been introduced many times over the years, but, because of the promised veto of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, has never materialized. This year, Gov. Deal has stated he will not stand in the way of such a bill, giving new life to the issue. The bill now goes to the Rules Committee for consideration of being placed on the Senate agenda for a floor vote.
While not much business was conducted in session today, most of our time was spent in appropriation subcommittee meetings reviewing individual department budget requests.
Day 10 (Thursday): Much of our session today was dedicated to recognizing different individuals and organizations for their work in our state. This is an important time for these individuals and groups, and we take it very seriously in the Senate as we acknowledge the importance of their work.
As we spent the afternoon in even more committee meetings, much of the conversation in the halls of the Capitol centered on the announcement today of a new Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office to handle the coming reapportionment process. Try as we may, redistricting is the 800-pound gorilla at the Capitol that simply cannot be ignored this year.
Carter, R- Pooler, is reporting each week during the legislative session, which began Jan. 10 and is expected to last until the latter days of March. He can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Room 301-A, Atlanta, GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109.