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Carter: Education a large chunk of budget
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To our readers: State Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) will be reporting each week during the legislative session. The session began Jan. 12.

Day 31 (March 17): Yes, it’s St. Patrick’s Day and yes, we’re in Atlanta, not Savannah where we’d like to be. Because of the tight schedule we’re forced to meet today but that doesn’t keep me from proudly wearing my green blazer to celebrate this special day. Things are certainly quieter today than they were the last time we met.  

Instead of the 70-plus bills that we debated on day 30, today we only take up one resolution and five local bills. HR 562 encourages Georgians to be aware of blind pedestrians and their rights. This has become more of an issue as the number of smart cars and hybrid vehicles on the road has increased and blind pedestrians are having trouble hearing these quieter vehicles approaching. This resolution simply directs the Department of Driver Services (DDS) to review and assess their current efforts to inform new and experienced drivers that persons with visual impairments have the right of way at all times.              

Day 32 (March 18): Aside from local legislation, we only have two bills on the calendar today, one that is passed unanimously and the other that draws quite a bit of debate. SB 80 requires food processors to report lab results to the Georgia Department of Agriculture within 24 hours of receiving them and requires the processors to keep these records for a minimum of two years. Although not stated, this bill is understood to be in response to the salmonella outbreak at a peanut butter factory in middle Georgia earlier this year and passes unanimously.  

HR 334 on the other hand, generates quite a bit of controversy and debate as it urges Congress to oppose any efforts to enact the Freedom of Choice Act or any other similar legislation aiming to remove the power of governments to restrict access to abortions. This act would invalidate the “Parental Consent” as well as “Woman’s Right to Know” laws that have been passed by Georgia’s Republican controlled legislature over the past few years.  With a new Democratic president combined with a Democratic-controlled Congress, the abortion issue is heating up again and a message is sent from the Georgia legislature today with passage of this resolution by a 92-55 margin.     

Day 33 (March 19): While most of the day is spent reviewing the 2010 budget, we enjoy some good-natured humor today as we have two freshman present their first bills.  Traditionally, a freshman is assigned a fairly simple bill to present so that they can gain experience in the well and today is no exception.

The two bills we have presented today deal with allowing duly authorized individuals to trap beaver upon the right of way of any public road or highway and allowing any size light carried or affixed to a helmet or hat to be used in the hunting of raccoons, opossums, foxes or bobcats. Although both bills pass easily, both presenters are subjected to good natured ribbing and borderline hazing.  

The 2010 budget, on the other hand, is certainly no laughing matter as we debate an $18.6 billion budget, well short of the $21.2 billion 2009 budget that we adopted only a year ago.  While severe cuts have been eased somewhat this year by the arrival of stimulus funds from Washington, no stimulus money has been used to expand existing or create new programs that would obligate the state in future years.  

Of particular note is the fact that 46.17 percent of this budget is dedicated to K-12 education, the highest percentage ever for our state. Also included is funding for school nurses and salary supplements for National Board Certified teachers as well as $33 million for trauma. After hours of heated debate, the budget passes by a 123-49 margin.               

Day 34 (March 20): As we finish up this week, we’re faced with a difficult decision in HR 161 which proposes to compensate John Jerome White $709,090 for 13 years of incarceration for a conviction of rape for which he was exonerated based on DNA evidence. While we have had these types of cases before, this one is especially difficult for two reasons — 1) his original sentence included charges of rape and assault, for which he was exonerated, and robbery for which he was originally arrested and pleaded guilty to and 2) he has been in and out of prison on other charges since his initial release.  

Although his chronology reads like that of a career criminal, the resolution ultimately passes, but not without a motion for reconsideration on the next legislative day.                                                 

Rep. Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building (CLOB) Room 508, Atlanta, GA 30334.  His Capitol office number is (404) 656-0213.