To our readers: State Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) will be reporting each week during the legislative session. The session began Jan. 8 and ended Friday.
Day 37 (April 16): As I leave Pooler at 5 a.m. this morning, I remind myself that this is the last week of the session and suddenly the drive doesn’t seem as long. We’re in at 10 a.m. this Monday morning and begin by recognizing two special guests, Bliss McMichael, the Georgia Junior Miss from Dublin and Emily Janet, the Georgia teacher of the year from Marietta.
Among the eight bills that we consider today is one that clarifies that it is a violation for a minor to attempt to buy tobacco and amends the vending machine law to make it clear that it is not permissible to put non-tobacco products in vending machines that dispense any tobacco products. This bill is in response to reports of vending machines showing up in our state that contain both cigarettes and candy products. Later that afternoon we have a Health and Human Services committee meeting where we discuss a bill to address the need for more trauma centers in our state.
Currently, the only trauma centers south of Macon are in Savannah and Albany, creating a serious problem throughout south Georgia.
Day 38 (April 17): We welcome Gov. Sonny Perdue as our special guest at our Legislative Prayer Fellowship this morning. Most of our time together this morning is spent in prayer for those involved in the Virginia Tech massacre.
As we go into session at 10 a.m., representatives from Pine Mountain and Martinez take the well to honor the teacher and student from these communities who were killed at Virginia Tech yesterday. After a heart wrenching observance, we get down to our business of the day and agree to a conference committee report that will allow optometrists to prescribe and administer oral and topical antibiotics. To our delight, the passage of this bill brings about an end to a debate that has been going on for many years.
We consider 28 bills today as well as many agrees/disagrees. Sometimes the laws we pass make little sense and sometimes they make so much sense that one wonders how we went without them. Such is the case with SB 34 that prohibits imprisoned criminals from possessing a photograph of their victim, unless it is needed for a legal proceeding and permission is granted by the court of jurisdiction. This legislation came at the request of prison wardens who have found that prisoners — especially those imprisoned for violent and sexual crimes — are using open records requests to obtain photos of their victims for their own personal gratification rather than for their case. Needless to say, the bill passes unanimously.
Day 39 (April 19): We’re back in this morning with a full calendar as we have almost 30 bills to consider and many agrees/disagrees. One bill that causes much debate is SB 15 that makes changes to the penalties for driving without a valid Georgia driver’s license. The third conviction within five years will now be a felony and punished by imprisonment for 1 to 5 years and an additional fine of $2,500 to $5,000 may be imposed. The law applies to those who have never had a Georgia license and not to those whose license has expired. After much discussion the bill passes. Later that night we are disappointed to learn that the governor has vetoed the 2007 amended budget. Rumors of a special session begin to swirl and we are contacted by leadership just before midnight to inform us of a Republican Caucus meeting the next morning.
Day 40 (April 20): After watching the governor veto the ’07 budget on live TV last night and reading the front page newspaper headlines, the Republican caucus meets this morning to discuss our strategy. According to our state’s constitution it takes a two-thirds majority vote of both the House and Senate to override the governor’s veto and we take a caucus position to override his veto. This is truly a momentous day in the state’s history as no legislature has overridden a governor’s veto in recent history.
As we go into session, we are all disappointed that we have reached this point, but our chaplain of the day reminds us to “keep on smiling.” Immediately following the chaplain’s message, we hear speeches from leadership in both parties encouraging us to stand up for the House of Representatives constitutional right to pass a budget. The final vote is 164-5 and the veto is overridden and immediately taken to the Senate by a bipartisan escort committee.
Once in the Senate, the lieutenant governor refuses to take up the matter since the veto has not been transmitted to the legislature from the governor. This technicality sets forth a sequence of confusing and frustrating events for our last day. With a ton of work remaining to be finished before we can adjourn, both the House and Senate recess until after lunch.
Although it remains unclear exactly what our posture is concerning the governor’s veto, we go back into session after lunch and pass a flurry of bills including the 2008 general budget. This $20.2 billion budget is the culmination of months of work by many people and includes many projects in our district. Working up until the final minutes of midnight we pass many bills before we sine die and the 2007 legislative session comes to a close. Or does it?
As we leave the Capitol in the early morning hours we are still uncertain as to the status of the ‘07 budget. With a special session to clear up this dilemma looming in the future, we all leave with mixed emotions as to the success of the past four months work.
Rep. Buddy Carter can be reached at Legislative Office Building (LOB) Room 508, Atlanta GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is (404)656-0213.