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A slow start to the General Assembly
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To our readers: State Sen. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) will be reporting each week during the Legislative Session. The session began Jan. 10, 2011 and is expected to last until the latter days of March.

Day 7 (Monday, Jan. 31): In my seven years of serving in the state legislature, this session has started off slower than any other. Compared to other sessions, very few bills have been introduced and, with most of our focus on the budget and saving HOPE, many issues have been put on hold.  However, this is about to change as the Senate Republican Leadership holds a press conference this morning to announce that we will be focusing on six issues this session. This list includes helping create jobs, bolstering the HOPE scholarship program, spending limitations, revising the education funding formula, tax revision recommendations and immigration enforcement.

While this is an impressive list that many of us feel addresses the major needs of our state, much work lies ahead as all of these issues will require a great deal of work. During our session today, I introduce two bills that I will be working on this year. The first bill is the Patient Safety Act of 2011 that will assist in combating the problem of prescription drug abuse in our state by creating a computer database of all controlled prescription medications dispensed. The database will be used by doctors and pharmacists for their patients only and private information will be protected by HIPPA regulations that carry hefty fines and penalties. The other bill I introduce today is a constitutional amendment that will allow the state to enter into multi-year leases when renting property.

Day 8 (Tuesday, Feb. 1): The Capitol is abuzz today with news of a Florida federal judge’s ruling yesterday that the new national healthcare act is unconstitutional. Gov. Deal, who as a congressman voted against the act, holds a press conference and lauds the ruling as a victory for Georgia taxpayers. Many legislators are concerned that the healthcare act will be a major financial burden on taxpayers, as well as on the state, as we are forced to comply with mandated coverage.

Although far from over, yesterday’s ruling is yet another sign that the healthcare act may never be implemented as passed. As we go into session today, immigration reform takes center stage as SB 40 is introduced. The highly controversial bill, originally crafted after the Arizona legislation that dominated national headlines last year, is intended to crack down on illegal immigrants while not being burdensome on business and agriculture. Later in the evening we are treated to a wild game dinner hosted by the Statesboro/Bulloch County folks that is delicious.      

Day 9 (Wednesday, Feb. 2):  Sunday sales of alcohol takes center stage today as SB10 easily wins approval from the Senate’s State and Local Governmental Operations Committee. Another highly controversial issue, this legislation has been introduced many times over the years but, because of the promised veto of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, has never materialized. This year Gov. Nathan Deal has stated that he will not stand in the way of such a bill, giving new life to the issue. The bill now goes to the Rules committee for consideration of being placed on the Senate agenda for a floor vote. While not much business is conducted in session today, most of our time is spent in Appropriation subcommittee meetings reviewing individual department budget requests.

Day 10 (Thursday, Feb. 3): Much of our session today is dedicated to recognizing different individuals and organizations for their work in our state. This is an important time for these individuals and groups and we take it very seriously in the Senate as we acknowledge the importance of their work in our state. As we spend the afternoon in even more committee meetings, much of the conversation in the halls of the Capitol centers around the announcement today of a new Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office to handle the upcoming reapportionment process. Try as we may, redistricting is the 800-pound gorilla at the Capitol that simply cannot be ignored this year.      

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.