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A few things learned in the session
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The 2011 General Assembly marked my seventh year as a legislator. Every year I learn something new or am reminded of something along the way. This year was certainly no different and following are a few things I either learned or of which I was reminded.

From Rabun Gap to Tybee Island, Georgia state legislators understand the importance of deepening the Savannah Harbor. SR 312, a resolution I sponsored endorsing the efforts to deepen the port of Savannah, passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House by an overwhelming margin of 167-3. With only 3 nay votes between the two chambers, it’s easy to tell that state legislators understand the importance of arguably the most important economic development project in the modern history of our state.

Perhaps more important is the $32 million in bonds that was included in this year’s budget bringing our total commitment thus far to approximately $135 million. However, what was priceless through the whole process was the number of legislators who stopped me to say how important this project was to their district and asked what they could do to help.

Government, state or federal, should never pay 100 percent of anything. One of the most popular and successful programs in our state is the HOPE scholarship that is funded by lottery proceeds.

Over the years, enrollment and tuition at our state’s colleges and universities have increased making it difficult for lottery proceeds to keep up with expenses. In fact, during the past few years the lottery has been paying out more than it brings in, causing us to have to use reserves to meet obligations. Unless changed, by the year 2013 we would deplete all of our reserves and be unable to meet our obligations.

In order to save this great program, it became necessary for us to decouple the HOPE scholarship from tuition and base the scholarship amount annually on lottery revenues for those HOPE recipients maintaining a 3.0-3.6 GPA. Starting in the fall of 2011, these students will receive 90 percent of the FY11 standard tuition rate.

While it is unfortunate, the reality is that something had to be done. So, how can receiving 90 percent of one’s tuition possibly be viewed as unfair by some? When you’re accustomed to receiving 100 percent, then I suspect it can.

Approximately 60 percent of all traumatic injuries involve burns. HB 307 added burn centers and burn patients as part of Georgia’s trauma network, allowing the two burn care centers in our state that admit at least 300 patients annually to receive funds from the trauma commission.

One of these two burn centers is the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta where many of the patients from the Imperial Sugar blast on Feb. 7, 2008, in Port Wentworth were treated. Along with Memorial Health University, many of us will never forget the great service these health care professionals provided during this tragedy.

As a legislator, with the Sunday sales of alcohol issue, you’re wrong if you do and wrong if you don’t. While this issue may have seemed easy for many, it was far from it for most legislators. Voting for it meant you would be adding to the moral degradation of our state, while voting against it meant you were against local control. Local control won out.

Just because you believe illegal immigration is wrong and violators should be punished doesn’t mean you’re heartless or non-loving toward your fellow man.  While I don’t pretend to speak for everyone who voted in favor of HB 87, I will say that, without exception, those legislators I conferred with in regards to illegal immigration are loving of their fellow man but are also concerned with the estimated $2.4-$2.6 billion that illegal immigration is costing our state.

If at first (or the first five or six times) you don’t succeed, try again. Outdoor advertisers finally got their way this year as HB 179, which will allow billboard owners to cut trees in the public right-of-way if they block the visibility of signs, passed and was signed into law.

Sen. Buddy Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building (CLOB) Room 301-A, Atlanta GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109.