State Sen. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) has reported each week during the legislative session.
Day 38 (Monday, March 25): Well, it’s finally here — the last week of the 2013 legislative session. We have 25 bills on the calendar today and the first one called up is one that I am carrying, HB 36. This bill, which was sponsored in the House by Rep. Ben Watson (R-Savannah), adds red drum to the list of Georgia game fish, meaning that it can no longer be bought or sold on the open market. While presenting the bill, I share my personal experiences of fishing for red drum, or spot-tail bass as we called them, while I was growing up in coastal Georgia and how important it is for us to protect this fish for future generations to enjoy. The bill passes by a 38-12 margin.
Another bill that passes today is HB 161, which updates the oath that bailiffs are required to take. In a sign of the times, the oath is changed from having bailiffs keep jurors that they are in charge of from having any meat or drink (water excepted), to where they are not to use any electronic communication devices. Not surprisingly, the bill passes unanimously.
Also passing today is HR 4, which corrects the almost 200-year-old survey errors along Georgia’s northern border. HR 4 proposes a settlement of the boundary dispute and clarifies Georgia’s access to the Tennessee River. If no settlement is reached with Tennessee, the attorney general is directed to sue for the extension of the boundary line 1.1 miles north to the 35th parallel.
As is often the case, we get bogged down with two of the 25 bills on the calendar today, spending twice as much time with HB 246 dealing with health benefits and HB 361 dealing with labor unions, as with the other 23 bills combined. As we finish up around 7:30 p.m., I escort my page for the day, Tyler Melvin, and his mom, Trisha, to their car as they head back home to Pooler after a full day’s work.
Day 39 (Tuesday, March 26): As chief deputy whip of the majority party, it is my responsibility to fill in for the whip when he is away. Every day prior to convening we have a caucus meeting where we review the whip report, a report summarizing the bills that will be on the agenda that day.
Today is one of the busiest days of the session with a total of 66 bills on the agenda and, as fate would have it, the whip is absent and I get to present the report. After spending one-and-a-half hours in our caucus meeting, we convene at 10 a.m. and spend the first few hours debating local legislation dealing with Fulton County, where the city of Atlanta is located.
Next, we vote to engross bills on the calendar dealing with ethics and taxes. Engrossment is a process whereby a bill cannot be amended on the floor during debate. This is done in order to avoid unfriendly amendments being offered. We vote in favor of engrossing eight of the nine bills, but HB 87, an ethics bill dealing with precinct boundaries, fails and therefore can be amended.
Recognizing the opportunity, I have an amendment drawn up for HB 87 that will allow each county to hold non-partisan elections for the offices of county coroner, tax commissioner and clerk of the Superior Court if they so choose.
These are bills that I had passed out of the ethics committee earlier in the session but were never put on the calendar. After presenting the amendment and answering questions from senators, the amendment is defeated by a vote of 27-20. The underlying bill passes by a vote of 31-20. Next, I am involved in a heated debate on the floor regarding HB 132, a bill transferring administrative oversight of pharmacists and dentists from the Secretary of State to the Department of Community Health. Thankfully, the bill passes by a 45-8 vote.
In a game of cat-and-mouse with the House Chamber, the lieuteant governor decides that Senate bills are not moving fast enough in the House and asks senators to table all bills except for the governor’s legislation, effectively leaving 41 of the original 66 bills for day 40.
Before adjourning at 7 p.m., Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) and I take part in honoring Dr. Scott Bohlke, who practices in Brooklet, as our doctor of the day. Dr. Bohlke currently serves as the Medical Association of Georgia’s 160th president.
Day 40 (Thursday, March 28): Sine Die, the 40th and last day of the session, is called the most dangerous day of the session and with good reason. Not only do we have the 41 bills left from the previous session, but we also have agree/disagrees coming over from the House during the day and amendments being added left and right.
Although we all have important legislation that we are involved with, the three top issues today are the FY14 budget, the ethics bill and the gun control bill. After lunch we approve HB 106, the FY14 budget that calls for an expected $19.9 billion in revenue. While we are disappointed that some projects didn’t make the final cut, the Savannah area has to be considered a winner in the budget as another $50 million in bonds is committed to the Savannah Harbor deepening project and $4.5 million is committed to the Armstrong Atlantic State University Hinesville project.
I present a total of six bills today and am fortunate to have five of them pass. The final bill, SB 134, a bill to recognize prescriptions from out-of-state practitioners, is amended around 5 p.m. and sent to the House where the amendment is ruled non-germane, meaning that it is not relevant to the underlying bill. This move sends the bill back to the Senate and, unfortunately, it is not called up again and dies. The ethics bill, HB 142, is finally ready after months of negotiations and, although not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, passes by a 56-0 vote.
One of the big regrets for those of us who are strong Second Amendment proponents, an agreement on the gun bill is not reached and no legislation is passed this year.
Nevertheless, it has been a good session and as the clock strikes midnight, the doors of both chambers are opened and the lieutenant governor and speaker of the House gavel the 2013 session to end, sine die.
Sen. Buddy Carter can be reached at 421-B State Capitol, Atlanta, GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109. You can connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/buddycarterga or follow him on Twitter @Buddy_Carter.