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A busy week back in session
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Day 10 (Monday, Jan. 30): Much of what we do in the legislature is related to preparation and this morning is a perfect example as I am at the Capitol at 8 a.m. to review the Criminal Justice Appropriations budget with the Senate budget analyst.

I will be chairing a subcommittee this afternoon to hear testimony from the department heads from Corrections and Pardons and Paroles, and this is an opportunity for me to familiarize myself with their budget requests before the meeting. After our usual morning caucus meeting, we go into session at 10 a.m. and have 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. Also today we agree 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 be given the responsibility to recommend whether an agency or program should continue to operate or be eliminated through a “sunset” provision.

Later in the day, I meet with Dr. Ralph Swearngin, executive director of the Georgia High School Association, and 14 other legislators to discuss the recent decision by the GHSA to have a private and public school playoff in Class A football.

Day 11 (Tuesday, Jan. 31): Today is a fairly busy day in the chamber as we have five bills on the calendar, all of which pass. 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 or preparing an annual operating budget and establishing the annual assessment. SB 300 allows for the private boiling, bottling and sale of sugar cane 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.

Two other bills taken up today are SB 307 which creates a one-day saltwater fishing license, and SB 309 which allows the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to issue a special authorization to hunt big game/alligators to a person under 21 years of age with a terminal illness.

Day 12 (Wednesday, Feb. 1): The only bill on our calendar today is 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 attend the Higher Education Appropriations subcommittee meeting to review their 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 different Appropriation subcommittees, each with the responsibility of reviewing the department’s proposals in detail.

Day 13 (Thursday, Feb. 2): After two early morning meetings, I head into session this morning as we 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 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, SB  227, which allows a home study program to submit online attendance records to the Georgia Department of Education, and SB 319, which allows DNR to post a sign or other form of notice restricting the use of boats on waters of any park, historic site, or recreational area, also pass easily.

However, the day is not void of suspense as SB 305, a bill to increase the Lemon Law fee collected by dealers of new motor vehicles from the consumer from $3 to $5, passes 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.

Day 14 (Friday, Feb. 3): As is the case on most Fridays when we are in session, we convene early today and therefore our caucus meeting is bumped up as well. Although we don’t have any bills on our calendar today, I sense a growing concern among leadership that our FY13 budget is going to be more difficult than expected. While the FY12 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 analyst and, although panic has not set in, there seems to be a genuine concern about our ability to meet our revenue estimates.