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Senate busy with bills, teasing newbies
40 days at the Capitol
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• Day 17 (Tuesday, Feb. 22): While much of this session has been dedicated to talks about the HOPE scholarship program and the changes that will have to be made, Gov. Nathan Deal announced his proposals at a news conference today. The successful program that has provided numerous Georgia students with opportunities to continue their education has fallen on difficult times recently due to rising costs and declining revenues. The program is projected to show a deficit of around $240 million in the current fiscal year and more than $300 million in the next fiscal year. To give the program the financial stability it needs, Deal proposed having HOPE only pay 90 percent of the yearly costs for most recipients. In order to retain the brightest students in our state, those with a 3.7 grade point average who score at least 1200 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT still will be eligible to have all of their tuition paid under the governor’s proposal.
Deal also proposed reducing the daily schedule of the pre-K program from six and a half to four hours while increasing the number of slots available by 5,000. Bonuses awarded to Georgia lottery employees, a thorn in the side of many legislators for a long time, also would be limited under the governor’s plan.
Later in the morning, I spoke to a group of seniors from the Savannah/Brunswick Coastal Regional Commission on Aging, who visited the Capitol to celebrate Senior Week in Georgia.
During our afternoon session, we passed a number of bills including SB38, which allows the state school superintendent to employ and dismiss employees, and SB47, which requires training for magistrate judges. 
• Day 18 (Wednesday, Feb. 23): Today was a special day for me as it was “VIP day” at the Capitol, a time when pharmacists and pharmacy students from across the state come to visit. I was very proud to see that the breakfast hosted by the Georgia Pharmacy Association was packed this morning as we heard from many statewide officers, including the governor, speaker, insurance commissioner and attorney general.
As fate would have it, SB36, the Patient Safety Act of 2011 that I sponsored to help curtail prescription-drug abuse in our state, was on the Senate calendar today. With a gallery of white coats supporting me, I was fortunate to have the bill passed with only six nay votes.
Also today, freshman senator Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, presented his first bill and endured the traditional hazing that every new member goes through.
Later in the day I presented SB66, a bill outlining the role and continuing education requirements for clinical perfusionists, and SB67, a bill limiting the use of the title “nurse” only to those who are qualified and duly educated, to the Health and Human Services committee, where both passed unanimously.  
• Day 19 (Thursday, Feb. 24): Our calendar is becoming increasingly busy and we had a number of bills today, including the fiscal year 2011 amended budget. The amended budget, also referred to as the supplemental budget or little budget, will carry us through the rest of the fiscal year (ending June 30) and is required in order to make adjustments for any changes in school enrollment during the fall.
Also, SR20, the Taxpayer Protection Act of 2011, a constitutional amendment that caps how much the budget can increase each year based on inflation and population growth, passed today. I am a big fan of this legislation as it will require extra revenue to be put in reserves or returned to the citizens as tax cuts instead of being spent. Also, SB17, which creates an advisory commission to look at the financial impact that mandated medical tests and procedures have on the cost of health-care plans in our state, passed today.  

Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building (C.L.O.B.) Room 301-A, Atlanta, GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is 404-656-5109.
The Pooler  republican is reporting periodically during the legislative session, which began Jan. 10 and is expected to last until late March.

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