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Senate takes up budget issues, more
40 days at the Capital
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Day 10 (Monday, Jan. 30): Much of what we do in the Legislature is related to preparation, and this morning was a perfect example: I was at the Capitol at 8 a.m. to review the criminal justice appropriations budget with the Senate budget analyst. 
I chaired a subcommittee in the afternoon to hear testimony from the department heads from corrections and pardons and paroles. It was an opportunity for me to familiarize myself with their budget requests before the meeting. 
After the usual morning caucus meeting, we went into session at 10 a.m. and had two items on the agenda. 
SB 117, sponsored by Sen. Jessie Stone from Waynesboro, increases the homestead exemption on a person’s home for bankruptcy purposes from $10,000 to $21,500 for an individual and from $20,000 to $43,000 if the property is in the name of one of two spouses.
We also agreed to a conference committee report worked out by members of the Senate and House on SB 223, a bill that will set up a legislative “sunset” panel to review and eliminate state agencies. 
The panel, made up of 14 legislators, would recommend whether an agency or program should continue to operate or be eliminated through a “sunset” provision. 
Later in the day, I met with Dr. Ralph Swearngin, executive director of the Georgia High School Association, and 14 other legislators to discuss the GHSA’s recent decision to have a private and public school playoff in Class A football.       
Day 11 (Tuesday, Jan. 31):  Today was a fairly busy day in the chamber — we had five bills on the calendar, all of which passed. 
SB 136 provides condominium owners with a process to go to court if a developer fails to complete certain responsibilities, such as following an association’s bylaws, preparing an annual operating budget or establishing the annual assessment. 
SB 300 allows for the private boiling, bottling and sale of sugarcane or sorghum syrup as long as the bottles contain a label with the producer’s name, address, all ingredients, net weight or volume and a statement that the product was not produced by a Department of Agriculture licensed facility. Meanwhile, silencers on hunting firearms are allowed under SB 301 with stiff penalties for those hunting without the permission of the landowner, hunting in an area that has been closed to hunting or is out of season, or hunting big game at night. 
The other two bills taken up today were SB 307, which creates a one-day saltwater fishing license, and SB 309, which allows the Department of Natural Resources to issue a special authorization to hunt big game/alligators to a person who is younger than 21 and has a terminal illness. 
I also welcomed Bryan County Commissioner Carter Infinger to the Capitol. He was in town for business with the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia.
Day 12 (Wed., Feb. 1):  Once again, the day started early with a meeting of the Chatham County legislative delegation. We discussed local issues, including new maps for the school board and county commission.
We were pleased to have the lieutenant governor visit with us at our daily caucus meeting as we discussed budgetary issues.
The only bill on our calendar was SB 302, which increases the bonding authority for the Georgia Higher Education Facilities Authority from $300 million to $500 million. These are facilities such as parking decks and student centers that schools build and pay for through student fees. 
Later in the day, I attended the Higher-Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to review its budget requests. 
Although we do a great deal of work on other things, our work on the budget is, without question, the most time consuming. Altogether, I serve on five appropriation subcommittees, each with the responsibility of reviewing the department’s proposals in detail. 
Day 13 (Thurs., Feb. 2): After two early-morning meetings, I headed into session to take up six bills. 
HB 477 sets all insurance licenses issued by the state to a two-year term, while HB 683 allows an authorized officer or employee to answer garnishment summonses.
SB 225 creates the crime of false reporting of a crime by anyone who knowingly and intentionally sends a false claim that they have committed a serious violent felony.
Two other bills passed easily: SB  227, which allows a home study program to submit online attendance records to the Georgia Department of Education, and SB 319, which allows the DNR to post a sign or other form of notice to restrict the use of boats on waters of any park, historic site or recreational area.
However, the day was not void of suspense. SB 305 is a bill to increase from $3 to $5 the lemon law fee that dealers of new motor vehicles collect from the consumer, and it passed by the slimmest of margins. 
Although the fee hasn’t been raised since 1990, some members are upset at any increase in fees, regardless of the purpose.
In one of my busiest afternoons this session, I attended meetings from 1-6:30 p.m., including a regulated-industries meeting that lasted  three and a half hours.    
Day 14 (Friday, Feb. 3): As is the case on most Fridays when we are in session, we convened early today; therefore, our caucus meeting was bumped up as well. 
Although we didn’t have any bills on the calendar, I sensed a growing concern among leadership that our fiscal year 2013 budget is going to be more difficult than expected. 
While the fiscal year 2012 amended budget seems to be settled at this point, lower-than-expected revenue numbers from December 2011 and January 2012 have gotten the attention of budget analysts. Although panic has not set in, there seems to be a genuine concern about our ability to meet revenue estimates. 
The governor and Legislature desperately want to achieve certain things in the proposed fiscal year 2013 budget, such as a much-deserved pay increase for teachers and the elimination of taxes on energy in manufacturing. But because of the lower revenue figures, achieving these goals is becoming more of a challenge.        

Carter, R-Pooler, provides periodic reports during the Legislative session, which began Jan. 9 and is expected to last until late March. He 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.

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