To our readers: State Sen. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) will be reporting each week during the Legislative Session. The session began Jan. 11 and is expected to last until the latter days of March.
Day 5 (Jan. 25): After taking last week off for agency heads to present their budgets to the Appropriation committees of the House and Senate, we are back in session today. As expected, the budget news is not good as the 2010 budget has now been reduced to $17.4 billion. It’s hard to believe that only 18 months ago, that same budget was set at $21.2 billion.
In order to achieve further cuts, the governor has proposed three more furlough days for all state employees. If this happens, most state employees will have taken anywhere between six and 12 furlough days during this fiscal year. To set an example and share in the sacrifice, most House and Senate members volunteered to take an additional six furlough days without pay prior to the end of this fiscal year, bringing to 11 the total unpaid furlough days for legislators during this fiscal year.
Day 6 (Jan. 26): Today is Tourism Day at the Capitol, and we welcome representatives from the tourism industry to the Senate chambers. It is estimated that the tourism industry brings in $34 billion and 240,000 jobs to our state. Aside from the budget, the subject of job creation will dominate this year’s legislative session. With Georgia’s unemployment rate having exceeded the national average for 24 of the last 25 months and with one out of every 10 Georgians out of work at this time, job creation is vital to our state.
To the governor’s credit, he has recognized this and has taken steps to address this in his 2011 budget proposal as he has earmarked nearly $190 million to projects associated with the Georgia Ports Authority. Along with $68 million in the general budget for deepening the Savannah Harbor, the governor has proposed $121 million in bonds for improving roadways around the Garden City terminal. Recognized as one of the economic engines of the state, the ports are being heavily relied upon to generate jobs for the future.
Day 7 (Jan. 27): For many Capitol insiders, today is a day they thought they would never see. In a historic, and often times emotional event, the newly-elected Speaker of the House was invited to speak to the state Senate during a legislative session. Speaker David Ralston served in the state Senate from 1992-98 and is the first former state senator in the history of the state to be elected Speaker. He was joined by 20 other former state senators who came to witness this unprecedented event.
Although it may seem mundane to some, the significance of this occasion and the opportunity for better House-Senate relations in the future is viewed by many as one of the best things to happen in state government in quite some time. Also today, health insurance reform legislation was introduced that would among other things, prohibit insurance companies from unjustly cancelling policies and extends coverage to dependents up to age 25, regardless of whether they are full-time students. It also eliminates placing annual and lifetime caps on insurance policies and expands access and lower costs for small businesses to offer affordable group options to their employees.
Day 8 (Jan. 28): For the second consecutive day, we welcome a distinguished former colleague back to the Senate as former state senator and newly-elected mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed addresses us today. Mayor Reed resigned his Senate seat at the end of the last session to run for mayor of Atlanta and made the short walk up from Atlanta City Hall to address us today.
We also hear our first bill of this session as SB 306 which makes it legal to use a hands-free communication device, such as a Bluetooth, to communicate while operating a motor vehicle is passed without opposition. Committee work has also hit full gear as the legislative pace has picked up substantially.
Sen. Buddy Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building (CLOB) Room 302-B, Atlanta GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is (404)656-5109.