To our readers: State Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) will be reporting each week during the Legislative session. The session began Jan. 14 and is expected to last until the latter days of March.
Day 27 (March 4): After a rural caucus meeting at 7:30 a.m., we head into a Republican caucus meeting where Speaker Glenn Richardson reviews his latest tax reform plan that he is proposing.
Formerly known as the GREAT plan, the latest proposal eliminates the tag tax, freezes residential and non-residential property values, limits tax increases and provides funding for a statewide trauma care network. The Speaker informs us that the proposal will be on the house floor for a vote tomorrow and that this will be our only opportunity this year to cut taxes and fund trauma care.
Immediately following this meeting I rush over to an Insurance Committee meeting where I present HB 367 which will require insurance companies to cover a 10-day supply of medications that require a prior approval or formulary change so that the process can be completed. After explaining to the committee the problem of patients being forced to do without their medications because of this dilemma, committee members vote unanimously to pass the bill out, and it now heads to the Rules Committee where it will be considered to be placed on the House calendar.
Before we go into session at 10 a.m., I have the opportunity to meet with Frank Parker, CEO of the Recovery Place in Savannah, who is visiting at the Capitol. Once in session, we debate nine bills, including HB 1226, which establishes the Georgia Water Supply Act of 2008. This act speeds up the process of permitting water reservoirs by allowing local governments to apply for loans from the state to expand existing reservoirs as well as build new ones. HB 1245 reforms Georgia’s indigent defense program by requiring that an elected judge preside in death penalty cases, that full audits of taxpayer money be done and increases the council membership by adding county commissions from different geographic regions of the state.
Day 28 (March 5): Having finished our Wednesday morning prayer caucus meeting, I head to the Rules Committee meeting to present HB 367 and request it to be added to the House calendar for today. Once a bill is passed out of committee and is in the Rules Committee, the member sponsoring the bill must present it to the committee, explain the bill and request that it be put on the calendar for debate. Some bills are delayed for a few days and others never make it out of Rules, depending on the decision made by the committee. Today, HB 367 does not make the cut, so I must come back tomorrow to again request the bill be added to the agenda.
Once in session, we welcome Ms. Georgia 2008, Leah Massey from Fitzgerald to the House as well as the St. Patrick’s Day committee from Savannah. Decked out in green, the contingent, led by Grand Marshal Dr. Frank Rossiter, is a hit with House members who all want to have their picture taken with the group.
Today is a long day with the Speaker’s tax plan finally debated on the floor. Because this bill calls for a constitutional amendment, it requires a two-thirds vote of the house membership to pass. The final vote is 110-62 in favor of the bill, meaning that it falls 10 votes short of the required constitutional majority and fails.
Bills that pass today include HB 948, which makes July 31-Aug. 3 of this year sales tax holiday weekend for school supplies and Oct. 2-5 sales tax holiday weekend for energy appliances.
HB 1209, the much-anticipated IE squared bill that gives greater flexibility and local control of our school systems, also passes. Under this program each school system must develop a five-year strategic plan to eliminate poor school performance and can enter into a contract with the state board of education that will provide flexibility, accountability and consequences for poor school performance.
Day 29 (March 6): Today is NASCAR day at the Capitol as we welcome the drivers and team members who are in Atlanta for this weekend’s race. Among those visiting is Rusty Wallace, who takes time for pictures and autographs and is as popular as ever. I’m back in front of the Rules Committee first thing this morning, again requesting HB 367 be placed on the calendar. Today turns out to be my lucky day as the bill is added to the amended calendar for this afternoon.
We have a total of 30 bills on the calendar including bills that will create a state licensing board for home inspectors and one that creates a new class of property known as forest land conservation property. This allows those with tracts of at least 200 acres to enter into a 15-year covenant for ad valorem tax purposes. Also on the calendar today is a bill that declares the city of Bainbridge the “Bass Capital of Georgia.”
Most importantly for me and those people who have prescription insurance plans, HB 367 passes by a vote of 156-0. After two years of work on this bill, I head home with a great deal of satisfaction and a big smile on my face.