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Changes to pre-K, lottery all part of plan to save HOPE
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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 is expected to last until the latter days of March.

Day 17 (Tuesday, Feb. 22): While much of this session has been dedicated to talks about the HOPE scholarship program and the changes that will have to be made, Gov. Nathan Deal announces his proposals at a news conference today. The successful program that has provided numerous Georgia students the opportunity to continue their educations has fallen on difficult times recently due to rising costs and declining revenues. The program is projected to show a deficit of around $240 million in the current fiscal year and more than $300 million in the next fiscal year.

To give the program the financial stability that it needs, Gov. Deal is proposing to have HOPE only pay 90 percent of the yearly costs for most recipients. In order to retain the brightest students in our state, those with a 3.7 grade point average and who score at least 1200 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT will still be eligible to receive all of their tuition costs under the Governor’s proposal.

Also proposed is a reduction in the daily schedule of the Pre-K program from 6.5 to four hours while increasing the number of slots available by 5,000. Bonuses awarded to Georgia lottery employees, a thorn in the side of many legislators for a long time, are also proposed to be limited under the governor’s plan.

Later in the morning, I stop by to speak to a group of seniors from the Savannah/Brunswick Coastal Regional Commission on Aging who are visiting the Capitol to help celebrate Senior Week in Georgia. During our afternoon session, we pass a number of bills including SB38 that allows the state school superintendent to employ and dismiss employees and SB47 to require training for magistrate judges.

Day 18 (Wednesday, Feb. 23): Today is a special day for me as it is VIP day at the Capitol, a time when pharmacists and pharmacy students from across the state come to visit. I am very proud to see that the breakfast hosted by the Georgia Pharmacy Association (GPhA) is packed this morning as we hear from many statewide officers, including the governor, Speaker of the House, insurance commissioner and attorney general. As fate would have it, SB36, the Patient Safety Act of 2011 that I am sponsoring to help curtail prescription drug abuse in our state, is on the Senate calendar today. With a gallery of white coats supporting me, I am fortunate to have the bill passed with only six nay votes. Also today, freshman Sen. Jason Carter, grandson of President Jimmy Carter, presents his first bill and endures the traditional hazing that is given to each new member of this august body.

Later in the day I present SB66, a bill outlining the role and continuing education requirements of Clinical Perfusionists, and SB67, a bill limiting the use of the title nurse only to those who are qualified and duly educated, to the Health and Human Services committee, where both pass unanimously.

Day 16 (Thursday, Feb. 24): Our calendar is becoming increasingly busy as we have a number of bills today, including the FY11 amended budget. The amended budget, also referred to as the supplemental budget or little budget, will carry us through the rest of the fiscal year (ending June 30) and is required in order to make adjustments for any changes in school enrollment during the fall. 

Also passed today is SR20, the Taxpayer Protection Act of 2011, a constitutional amendment that places a cap on how much the budget can increase each year based on inflation and population growth. I am a big fan of this legislation as it will require excess revenues to be put in reserves or returned to the citizens in the way of tax cuts instead of being spent.

Also passed today is SB17, which creates an advisory commission to look at the financial impact that mandated medical tests and procedures have on the cost of health care plans in our state.

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.