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A sprint to finish the marathon
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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 and lasted until the middle of April.

Day 38 (Monday, April 11): After a week off for spring break, we’re back at it this morning knowing full well that these final few days will be a sprint to the finish. We don’t go in until 1 p.m. this afternoon and, although this is normal for Mondays, it is relevant today because all bills must be approved through committees before the start of the 38th day.

My first committee meeting this morning is Senate Finance where HB 234, a bill that will extend a sales tax exemption on the purchase of aircraft parts by Gulfstream Aerospace, is amended before it is passed. Obviously, this is an extremely important bill to the area and, although we are concerned with the bill being amended, we have been assured by the governor’s office that the amendment will not slow the bill down.

Later in the morning I am successful in getting two of my bills, SB 66 dealing with Clinical Perfusionists and SB 67 dealing with nurses, passed out of the House Health and Human Services committee.

Before lunch I attend the House Rules Committee and am fortunate to get three bills on the House calendar for this afternoon. As we go in this afternoon, we have almost 30 bills on the calendar and I am presenting two of them for House members. Because House and Senate members are allowed to speak only in their respective chambers, we have to present bills for each other.

In a surprising move, the House adjourns early today without voting on the tax revision bill, signifying that it is dead for the session.

After a short break for dinner, we go back in at 7:30 p.m. and debate the immigration bill until 10:30 p.m. Although we differ with the House version, primarily in the area of the E-Verify program used to confirm the residency status of employees, the bill passes.

Day 39 (Tuesday, April 12): As legislators, we are constitutionally required to do one thing each session — pass a balanced state budget. The budget conferees — three from the House and three from the Senate — met last week to finalize their negotiations and announce this morning that they have agreed on an $18.3 billion proposal.

Because the governor must agree on the final proposal as well, he is intricately involved in the negotiations and has helped by agreeing to raise the state’s revenue estimate by $47 million. The final budget includes a bond package of $675 million for construction projects, including money for the deepening of the Savannah Harbor.

After the House approved the negotiated budget earlier in the day, we pass it in the afternoon and send it to the governor for his final consideration.

With 41 bills on the calendar today, including HB 234, the sales tax exemption for Gulfstream, we buzz through most but, as is always the case, get sidetracked on a few including one that would allow the sale of health insurance across state lines. Although we have 10 bills left on the calendar, we mercifully adjourn at 11:30 p.m. and leave the remaining bills for the last day.

Day 40 (Thursday, April 14, 2011):  It’s finally here — sine die — the last day of the session and arguably the most dangerous day of the session.  Like many people, I have a number of bills to finish today and while they are all important, SB 36, the prescription monitoring bill, is my main focus this morning.

After meeting with Attorney General Sam Olens and other interested parties, we finally hammer out an agreement and the bill is passed and sent to the governor for his signature. Although the day is almost a blur with so much going on, we manage to pass a compromised illegal immigration bill that will require companies with 10 employees or more to use the E-verify program.

Finally, at 11:45 p.m. the lieutenant governor and Speaker bang their gavels in unison, signifying the end of the 2011 session that began back on Jan. 10.

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.