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House pushes teachers' raises
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We have completed 34 of the allowable 40 days of the 2008 Georgia General Assembly.  As required by the state’s constitution, the only item we must complete is the enactment of a balanced budget for the operations of the state. We completed that last week and now the Senate will consider it. (Just a quick civics lesson…all tax and budget legislation must begin in the House of Representatives.)  

Because the governor lowered the revenue estimates, our work on the state budgets this year has been more difficult. We had to make difficult decisions about necessary cuts while still funding our state’s priorities especially in education. I can tell you that my colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee worked tirelessly on these two budgets and I am proud to report to you that we have succeeded in funding our priorities.

The budget is a $21.2 billion budget for the new 2009 fiscal year beginning July 1. It includes a 2.5 percent pay raises for state teachers and state employees at the Department of Natural Resources and community health centers. There is $40 million for reservoirs aimed at meeting Georgia’s future water needs, and $90 million in school formula funding to help replace the austerity cuts. We also included $10 million for land conservation. We funded over $50 million for trauma care to help hospitals that treat the critically injured. The FY09 budget passed 166-1 and now moves to the Senate for their consideration.  

We also passed the FY08 supplemental appropriations bill that redirects funding mainly to education and Medicaid shortfalls that are mandated by the federal government. This is the Conference report and we have transmitted the bill for the governor to sign or veto.  He has six days to decide.

In other legislative action this past week, we passed Senate Bill 350, a bill that further strengthens our laws regarding driving on a suspended license. The bill adds to the requirements for people arrested for driving with a revoked or suspended license that they will be fingerprinted and a fourth conviction within five years will result in a felony with imprisonment up to five years and a fine up to $5,000, or both. That bill passed 99-68.  We also passed legislation that will allow district attorneys to request the death penalty if jurors are in favor by a margin of 10-2.  Current law requires a unanimous verdict for the death penalty to be implemented. That bill, S.B. 145 passed 112-55.

We passed S.B. 359, a bill that would require the Georgia Department of Economic Development to create and implement a “Made in Georgia” program to promote products made in our state. That bill passed 161-1. We also passed S.B. 444, a bill that will allow the Department of Transportation to dispose of surplus property. As part of the streamlining process being adopted by the DOT, S.B. 444 will allow the DOT to sell excess property not needed for public roads to the highest sealed bidder. The bill passed 164-0.  

We passed a fairly comprehensive bill that determines how the Georgia Bureau of Investigation can use DNA samples for evidence and how that information obtained from evidence is exchanged. The bill, S.B.430 passed 130-40. Another bill dealing with the GBI would allow them to investigate identity fraud cases and grant them subpoena powers. This bill, S.B. 388, passed unanimously.

As the 2008 General Assembly session winds down, the schedule for the last six days of the session will be somewhat hectic. As usual, the most difficult issues are undergoing negotiations to determine what members of the House and Senate, as well as the governor, can agree upon.  This includes the 2009 budget, tax reform, certificate of need issues dealing with the medical community, and a host of other important legislative initiatives.

I will continue to keep you up to date on our actions as the legislative session progresses.