Day 25 (March 7): Today was 10th Amendment Day in the Senate as we took up three bills aimed at strengthening the rights of the state of Georgia under federal law. The 10th Amendment says the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution or prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states.
Among the bills passed today was SB 9, which allows the governor to delay implementing any federal program regulating greenhouse gasses until he sees an analysis showing why it is in the best interest of Georgians. Also passed was SB 61, which, despite a federal ban beginning in 2014, will allow the manufacturing and sale of incandescent light bulbs within Georgia borders.
Later today, Gov. Nathan Deal announced that he is changing his proposed plan to cut pre-k class hours from six and a half to four hours per day and will instead cut the number of pre-k class days from 180 to 160, as well as increase class sizes by two students to 22 each. The announcement was well-received by many educators and should help alleviate many of the concerns surrounding the proposed changes to HOPE.
Day 26 (March 8): The day started off bright and early with two committee meetings before 9 a.m. As we went into session today, I was pleased to welcome my good friend, Congressman Jack Kingston from Savannah to the Senate chambers.
One of the major bills on the agenda today was HB 179, the outdoor advertising bill, which took up all of our morning and early afternoon. This bill has been around for years with no resolution; however, this year a compromise has been reached that will allow billboard owners to remove trees along state highways that are blocking their signs.
HB 326, the HOPE legislation, took up our afternoon and brought protestors to our normally tranquil chambers. The protestors, who appeared to be primarily college-aged students, used a number of tactics to try to disrupt our discussions, including hanging banners from the gallery, hissing and snapping fingers before finally reverting to shouting.
As the protestors were escorted out of the Capitol, we continued our debate and the bill passed with a few amendments, including adding all valedictorians and salutatorians from all schools to be eligible for the full HOPE scholarship even if they don’t qualify academically.
Day 27 (Thursday): March 9 was anything but a day off as we spent the whole day in committee hearings. It convinced many of the freshman legislators that the saying “the session lasts for 40 days and 80 nights” is true.
I was honored today to welcome representatives from the state Hospice and Palliative Care Association to the Senate and present them with a resolution in their honor. I presented two bills today: SB 79 changing terms for school-board members to four years minimum, and SB 81, which allows the state board of pharmacy to perform mental and physical evaluations with just cause to pharmacist and pharmacy techs.
Also passed today was the controversial SB 160, which allows utility companies such as Georgia Power and Atlanta Gas Light to contribute directly to candidates for state office. And Sen. William Ligon, a freshman from Brunswick who served 17 years as a municipal court judge, also passed SB 162 today, which makes driving under the influence (DUI) a felony offense for a person who is residing illegally in the United States.
Day 28 (Friday): Because today was the last day that bills could be passed out of committees in order to be heard in the full Senate chamber before Crossover Day on day 30, we had a rare Friday afternoon start to allow for committee meetings in the morning. One important bill we did pass today was HB 232, which defines more specifically what a lobbyist is and which people should be required to register with the state as lobbyists.
Carter, R-Pooler, is reporting each week during the legislative session, which 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.