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First week busy for lawmakers
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To our readers: State Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) will be reporting each week during the legislative session. The session began Jan. 12 and is expected to last until the latter days of March.

Day 1 (Jan. 12): As we begin the 2009 legislative session today, we are still reeling from last week’s reporting that revenue figures for the month of December were down 8.9 percent from the previous year, putting us nearly 3 percent behind last year’s revenue figures for the fiscal year.  What started out as an estimated $1.6 billion needing to be cut from our current budget has now grown to $2 billion, causing serious concern for all legislators. Nevertheless, the excitement of a new legislative session is quite evident today as we are sworn into office for another two year term by Savannah native and current Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, the honorable Leah Ward Sears.  

We begin by electing officers and, by acclamation, Glenn Richardson and Mark Burkhalter are re-elected Speaker and Speaker Pro Tempore of the House. The only official business that we undertake today is to vote on resolutions establishing the start of the 2009-10 session, the adoption of the rules for the house floor and other housekeeping provisions. The only notable change in house rules this year is the banning of cell phone use in the house chambers while we are in session. Although texting will still be allowed, talking on cell phones will not be. Rules such as this are becoming more common in our state and there is even talk of legislation being introduced this year that will ban the use of cell phones while driving.  

After the ceremonies of the day, the evening is spent at the annual meeting of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce where we hear political commentaries from former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and popular Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.       

Day 2 (Jan. 13): The annual Georgia Chamber of Commerce Eggs and Issues Breakfast is held this morning at the World Congress Center as we hear from the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker on their thoughts concerning the upcoming session. Among the priorities highlighted are balancing the budget, education, trauma care, transportation and property tax reform.

While there is little business to be discussed as we go into session today, we are proud to congratulate and be joined by the South Cobb Marching Band. This group of young Georgians has recently been awarded the great honor of being the only high school marching band in the nation to be invited to perform during the inauguration parade of our 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama.

Day 3 (Jan. 14): We’re in early today in order to prepare for a joint session of the House and Senate to hear the governor’s State of the State address. This ceremonial event is held in the House chambers since it is the largest room in the Capitol and is also attended by justices of the supreme court and appeals court.  

The governor announces his legislative agenda for this session, including his plans to restructure the Department of Human Resources and more clearly define what citizens expect from school board members as well as give the state power to replace board members when accreditation is threatened. He also proposes merit pay programs for principals and teachers who increase student achievement. Among his spending priorities for the 2010 fiscal year, he recommends using the rainy day fund to balance the budget and also describes plans to impose a 1.6 percent fee on hospitals and health insurance plans in order to raise reimbursement rates for providers and give $60 million to sustain and expand the state’s trauma network.     

Day 4 (Jan. 15): Although we’re not in very long today, it is a very anxious day for all House members as committee assignments for the year are announced. A great deal of attention is given to a number of bills that are being read on the floor and being assigned to committees. Among those creating the most buzz are bills that would allow the Sunday sales of alcohol and increasing the tobacco tax. Most of my day is spent securing signatures and support for bills that I am introducing to make the election of sheriffs, tax commissioners and other local offices non-partisan.       

Day 5 (Jan. 16): As we finish up this hectic week, we are delighted to welcome back our colleague, Rep. Doug Collins who has joined us after returning from Iraq. Rep. Collins is an Air Force chaplain who has just finished a tour and speaks from the well to tell us of his experiences and of the progress being made by the brave American soldiers serving our country overseas.

As we head to our homes for the weekend we are thankful for these heroes fighting for our freedom.         

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.