Thank you for allowing me the honor of serving my first term as your state representative this year under the Gold Dome at our state Capitol.
I began my first day of session at the Capitol on Jan. 14 by being sworn in and taking the oath of office. The session ended at midnight on March 28 with the words “sine die” and the traditional tossing of papers in the air. The conclusion of 40 days of session, three months in Atlanta, countless committee meetings, hundreds of floor votes, thousands of prayers, and 9 million Georgians on my mind, as well as the minds of my colleagues, helped us shape the legislation we passed to protect our families, our freedoms and our pocketbooks.
My sincere hope is that I represented you well. One indicator that I may have performed satisfactorily was that I was recently notified that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, David Ralston, has selected me to attend the Georgia Legislative Leadership Institute (GLLI) co-sponsored by the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia and the Robert Woodruff Foundation. Approximately one-half of freshman legislators are given the opportunity to avail themselves of this unique learning opportunity.
The GLLI’s curriculum comprises six main elements: personal leadership development, public policy process and analysis, ethical governance, political leadership, understanding a diverse citizenry, and advanced legislative processes. Several years ago I had the opportunity to attend the Carl Vinson Institute’s Executive Leadership Course, which I thought was personally and professionally rewarding. Hopefully, this course will further hone my legislative skills so that I may be able to serve you more effectively.
As I discussed in detail last week, the legislature successfully passed ethics reform legislation (HB 142) this session, and while we didn’t get everything we had hoped for, it was one more step in the right direction. As a proponent of ethics reform, it is fully expected that Governor Deal will sign this legislation into law.
During my many years as a public servant, I have had the privilege of serving as the commissioner of the Georgia Department for Public Safety, the colonel of the Georgia State Patrol, and as director of the Office of Homeland Security.
That said, public safety has, is, and will continue to be one of my top priorities given the great importance and daily impact to both our state and our district. In addition, I currently serve on the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, as well as the Public Safety Subcommittee of House Appropriations.
One major change this session related to public safety included legislation passed (SB 136) that will modify the boating under the influence (BUI) and the hunting under the influence (HUI) alcohol content limit to comply with the current driving under the influence (DUI) limit amount of 0.08 grams.
Additional modifications include the requirement for children operating personal watercraft (for ages 12-15 years old) to be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older or to complete a boater education course, as well as life jacket requirements for children under 13 years old. This legislation is fully expected to be signed into law by Governor Deal and with his signature will become effective on May 15 of this year.
Other legislation in regard to public safety was also passed this session. Last week I described legislation I sponsored and passed this session (HB 407) to extend to 12 months the time required for multiple DUI offenders to use ignition interlock devices on the vehicles. Also passed this session, and signed by Governor Deal into law Feb. 13, was HB 55 to allow a superior court judge with jurisdiction over a particular investigation to allow the interception of wiretaps or oral transmission across county lines, with the main goal of tracking and locating drug dealers and traffickers. To finish off the list of some of the public safety legislation passed this session is HB57, which will ban the latest variation of synthetic marijuana and was signed into law by Governor Deal, effective Feb. 26.
With the fourth-largest prison system in our country (and an ever-growing annual cost of around $1.1 billion), criminal justice reform is critical. Governor Deal has repeatedly stated that reforming our criminal justice system in Georgia is essential and the General Assembly passed legislation this session to address some of the issues.
The product of recommendations made by the Governor’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform, HB 349 will change the schedules and penalties for drug-related offenses, as well as allow reduced sentences under certain circumstances (currently there are mandatory minimum sentencing laws).
Within reforming our criminal justice system, the legislature also made changes to the juvenile justice system with HB 242. By modernizing and revising juvenile proceedings, this legislation will provide less incarceration of juvenile offenders and focus more on community-based alternatives. Our state budget also included increased funding for accountability courts, residential substance abuse treatment centers, new youth detention centers and the creation of the community-based juvenile incentive funding grant program.
One of the most beneficial higher education programs in our state is the HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) program, which includes the HOPE Grant, the HOPE Scholarship and the Zell Miller Scholarship. This session, the legislature made changes to the HOPE Grant, used for Georgia residents seeking a certificate or diploma at an eligible college or university in our state. The change (HB 372) to the HOPE Grant includes a reduction of the required grade-point average to a 2.0 GPA (currently the requirement is a 3.0 GPA).
In case you might have missed the previous weekly update where I discussed this bill, I want to again let you know that I have been queried several times about why some college students must continue to maintain a 3.0 GPA to retain the HOPE Scholarship and now students working toward a certificate or diploma will only be required to maintain a 2.0 for the HOPE Grant.
From my perspective, many students seeking the HOPE Grant today are non-traditional students. Because of the economic downturn in our society and the resulting loss of jobs, many of these students are older, have been out of school and working for many years, are working part-time jobs, and have family and financial responsibilities. They have returned to school to learn a new trade so that they may provide for their families and this legislation will assist them to re-enter the job market, provide for their families and become productive taxpaying citizens once again.
With the General Assembly completing the 2013 legislative session under the Gold Dome, let me thank you for your confidence, support, and prayers during my first session as your state representative.
Now that session has ended, and as all legislators return to our districts and to our family, friends and constituents, know that I am available and will continue to keep you apprised of important legislation that affects your families, your freedoms and your pocketbooks.
Please feel welcome to write to me at 501 Coverdell Legislative Office Bldg., Atlanta, GA 30334, email me at email@example.com, or call my office at (404) 656-0178.