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Fast session nears its busy end

POSTED: March 20, 2014 2:56 p.m.

State Sen. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) is reporting each week during the legislative session. The session began Jan. 13 and ended Thursday.

Day 35 (Monday, March 10): We’re heading to the home stretch now and, as always, things are really starting to get hectic at the Capitol. After an early morning meeting with the governor’s chief of staff, I head to our caucus meeting at 9 a.m. As we go into session at 10 a.m., we take time out to honor six different groups, including the Nighthawks DUI Task Force and the Beekeepers Association.

We have a total of 10 bills on the calendar today, including HB 60, the weapons carry bill. This bill expands the list of judges who are allowed to carry guns. Currently only state and federal trial and appellate judges are exempted but HB 60 expands that list to include probate, juvenile, and magistrate judges as well as municipal and city judges.

HB 770 creates the crime of home invasion. This bill is intended to fill a gap in the current burglary and theft statues for specific instances when perpetrators invade an occupied home with weapons.

Another interesting bill that passes today is HB 838, the “revenge pornography” bill. This bill prohibits the intentional electronic transmission of photos or videos depicting nudity or sexually explicit conduct without the consent of the person depicted. If this bill becomes law, Georgia will become only the third state to have passed this type of law.

After adjourning at mid-afternoon, I spend the meeting in yet another Health and Human Services committee, which has turned out to be one of the busiest committees at the Capitol.

Day 36 (Tuesday, March 11): Today is Savannah State Day at the Capitol and it is a pleasure to welcome President Cheryl Dozier and other members of this fine university. It is also Israeli Day at the Capitol, and we recognize both of these groups during session, as well as the Peach Queens from Macon. We have Tiny Miss Peach, Little Miss Peach, Teen Miss Peach, Junior Miss Peach and Miss Peach — all of them beautiful and true Georgia peaches.

Among the eight bills that we have today is HB 153, a bill allowing cities and counties the option of levying a fractional SPLOST in .05 percent increments. Also passed today is HB 459 known as the “slowpoke bill.” This somewhat controversial bill, sponsored by former Georgia State Patrol commander and current state Rep. Bill Hitchens, prohibits a driver from continuing in a “passing lane,” defined as the left-most lane in a multi-lane road, once he becomes aware that he is being overtaken by a driver from behind.

HB 790 also passes and changes provisions and penalties for illegally cutting timber, including awarding triple the fair market value of trees cut illegally. I also take the well today to present HB 791, a bill that deals with military zones that are eligible for tax credits. This bill addresses a specific situation in Bryan County and passes unanimously.

Later in the afternoon I have the opportunity to meet with Jon Pannell, a member of the Board of Registrars in Chatham County, and Joe Steffen, the chairman of the Board of Elections in Chatham County, to discuss a bill I am sponsoring to combine these boards. Later, I chair a Public Safety meeting before enjoying a surprise visit from Effingham County Commission Chairman Wendall Kessler.

Day 37 (Wednesday, March 12): With only three more days left in the session, we are scrambling to finish various tasks. Today is a very special day for all senators as we take time out to honor one of our own, retiring Sen. John Crosby. The former superior court judge, affectionately known as Judge Crosby, is from Tifton and happens to be kin to my wife’s family. He and his wife Rose are fine people and will be dearly missed next year.

We also celebrate Young Farmers Day today and welcome University of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray to the chamber. Chants of “Go Dawgs” can be heard throughout the Senate as this fine young man is recognized.

One of the most important bills of the session, HB 933, is on the agenda today. This bill removes the sunset for the tax exemption for the sale or use of engines, parts, and equipment used in the maintenance or repair of aircrafts in the state.

We also pass two bills, HB 702 and HB 1080, dealing with placing monuments in the state Capitol.  Monuments on the Capitol grounds can be very controversial. This past year, a statue of a former governor was removed from the grounds after historians questioned the appropriateness of it being displayed. The afternoon is spent in yet another Health and Human Services meeting, where we discuss numerous subjects, including autism.

Day 38 (Thursday, March 13): Because today is the last day that bills can be passed out of committee, we delay the start of our session until 1 p.m. in order to have committee meetings in the morning. We start early as we have a Health and Human Services Committee meeting at 8 a.m. and pass out four more bills. Later in the morning we have a Higher Education meeting before our caucus meeting at noon.

I also take the time to attend an Insurance Committee meeting, where Rep. Jason Spencer is presenting HB 707, the Georgia Health Care Freedom Act. This bill is the same as SB 334, a bill that I sponsored in the Senate and that passed the Insurance Committee but did not get to the Senate floor for a vote. I am excited to be carrying HB 707 (also known as the anti-Obamacare bill) in the Senate.

As we go into session at 1 p.m. with 22 bills on the calendar, we suspend for a brief recess to allow House and Senate leadership the opportunity to meet. In order to do this, the majority leader makes a motion that all 22 bills be tabled, and we stand at ease for almost an hour before returning.

When we go back in, we bring 12 bills off the table, including HB 943, the Cancer Treatment Fairness Act and autism coverage. This combination bill requires insurance coverage for orally-administered chemotherapy at the same level as IV-administered coverage. It also requires insurers to cover children 6 years of age or younger who are diagnosed with autism.

We also pass HB 965, the medical amnesty law, creating a “good samaritan” law that encourages people to seek medical assistance for drug overdoses. It also allows licensed health practitioners and pharmacists to prescribe and dispense opioid antagonists.

As we adjourn at 6 p.m., we are reminded that we have two days remaining in this session and lots and lots of work left.

Sen. Buddy Carter can be reached at 421-B State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109. You can connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/buddycarterga or follow him on Twitter @Buddy_Carter.

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