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Carter: Session finally comes to end
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To our readers: State Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) has been reporting each week during the Legislative session. The session ended Friday.

Day 38 (March 30): One of the many traditions that I admire about the House of Representatives is our pastor of the day program. While we are in session, we begin the day by allowing a representative to invite someone to bring us an inspirational message. While at home, my good friend Rep. Bob Bryant and I attend a weekly men’s Bible study and today we are privileged to welcome our group’s leader, Rev. Kenny Grant, to the Capitol.  

As always, Kenny does a great job, and we certainly need it today as we debate over 50 bills including SB 67 that would require examinations for permanent drivers’ licenses to be administered in only the English language while temporary licenses could be given in other languages. While the bill brings much heated and passionate debate, it passes 104-58.  

Another controversial bill that does not enjoy the same success is SB 68 that would allow counties and municipalities to sell alcoholic beverages within 100 yards of any housing authority property as long as their board approves of such action. The bill also would prohibit cities and counties from authorizing any relocation or new retail package liquor store within 500 yards of an existing retail package liquor store. Viewed as anti-competitive by the many experienced patrons of package liquor stores serving in the legislature, this bill was soundly defeated.                                    

Day 39 (April 1): With only two days left in this year’s session we finally address one of the most important issues that our state faces — transportation. Tensions are high as we debate SB 200, a controversial bill that will change how road projects are decided in our state by shifting power from the Department of Transportation to elected officials.

SB 200, known as the Transforming Transportation Investment Act, is supported by the speaker, the governor and the lieutenant governor and is one of the most significant changes made to the structure of state government in recent memory. Among the changes made by SB 200 is the shifting of direct appropriation to the Department of Transportation to an appropriation process that the General Assembly will control. The bill creates a new planning division at DOT and a new position of director of planning, who will be appointed by the governor and ratified by the House Transportation Committee.  

The Statewide Transportation Plan, a four-year plan that will set forth the goals and strategies for transportation, will be submitted to the governor for approval and then to the DOT board for approval. From this plan the General Assembly will choose which projects to fund.  

During the final vote for approval of SB 200, the speaker holds the voting machine open for an unusually long period of time during which at least five House members are persuaded to change their vote. The final vote is 91-84 in favor of the measure with the speaker casting the final vote.  

Another highly controversial bill, SB 164, receives a different fate today. The bill, which would benefit the billboard industry by changing some of the rules of cutting trees and vegetation along roads, is strongly opposed by the Garden Club of Georgia and goes down in defeat.                       

Day 40 (April 3): It’s finally here — the last day of the 2009 legislative session. Or at least we hope it’s the last day.  
According to our state constitution the only business that the General Assembly is required to complete is to pass a balanced budget. Talks between the House and Senate have been non-stop for the past 48 hours, and the three conferees appointed by each chamber are hopefully close to a resolution.  

Because a printed version of the final agreement must sit on each legislator’s desk for at least an hour and because it takes four hours to be printed, the conferees are up against the clock if we are to adjourn today. Fortunately, a compromise is reached and we adopt an $18.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2010, far short of the $21.2 billion budget adopted only a year ago.  

Among the many bills to pass today is HB 388 that will allow couples to legally adopt an embryo, making Georgia the first state in the nation to pass embryo adoption legislation.  Finally, as the clock strikes midnight, the speaker and lieutenant governor gavel their respective chambers to adjournment sine die and the 2009 Georgia General Assembly that started on Jan. 12 is now history.                                                   

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