Day 15 (Monday, Feb. 11): Although we go into session today at 10 a.m., we suspend roll call until 11 a.m. in order to allow our newest member, Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge), to be sworn in and participate in today’s session. Sen. Burke has been a practicing physician for 25 years and brings a wealth of health care experience to our chamber.
Of the two bills we have on the calendar today, SB 65, authorizing licensed professional counselors (LPCs) to perform emergency evaluations of persons who are mentally ill or alcohol dependent, generates the most debate. Currently only physicians, psychologists, clinical social workers and clinical nurse specialists in psychiatric/mental health can perform this function. The author argues that many areas of rural Georgia are underserved with these health care professionals and that adding LPCs would help alleviate many problems. The bill passes by a vote of 51-2.
Also today, SB 66, increasing the maximum penalty for contempt of court from $500 to $1,000, passes. Judges who spoke in favor of this bill in committee noted that the ability to levy higher fines would assist them in maintaining order in their courtrooms. The bill passes by a vote of 42-9.
Later in the day, I again present non-partisan legislation to the Ethics committee, although this time I agree to withdraw SB 7 dealing with county commissioners. I am elated that all of the bills to allow counties, if they so desire, to change the election of coroner, tax commissioner, clerk of superior court, sheriff, district attorney and solicitors general are passed by the committee.
The day ends with the joyous news of the birth of Isabella Chance, the newest daughter of Majority Leader Ronnie Chance and his lovely wife, Cressida.
Day 16 (Tuesday, Feb. 12): HB 55, a very important and time-sensitive bill allowing investigators to conduct wiretapping statewide regardless of the county where the warrant was issued, is on our agenda today.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that wiretap evidence obtained outside of the jurisdiction where the warrant authorizing the wiretap was issued cannot be used in a criminal prosecution. This ruling has caused some ongoing investigations into drug trafficking to be suspended indefinitely until this matter is resolved. The bill passes 48-6 and now goes to the governor for his signature.
We honor a number of groups today including the Georgia Farm Bureau Federation, the Girl Scouts and the DENTAC command from Fort Stewart. Today is also Georgia Day as we celebrate the 281st birthday of our great state. It is a pleasure to welcome former State Senator Ed Zipperer and Ottawa Farms owner Pete Waller to the Capitol — it’s always good to see folks from back home.
Early in the afternoon I chair the first meeting this session of the Public Safety committee, where we pass out SB 74 allowing those aged 18-21 who have military training to obtain a concealed weapons permit. Later, I am successful in passing out SB 10, requiring continued education for nurses, and SB 13, requiring mandatory reporting by nurses, out of the Health and Human Services committee.
Day 17 (Wednesday, Feb. 13): As is Senate tradition, freshman Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) is grilled unmercifully today as he presents his first bill before the Chamber. The affable, vertically-challenged young senator from south Georgia does an outstanding job of presenting SB 91, a bill that repeals the Emerging Crops Fund Act. This act is no longer necessary since similar funds are already available for farmers and it has yet to be appropriated.
After he endures an onslaught of good-natured ribbing, the senator’s bill passes unanimously.
We honor both Gwinnett and Henry counties today as well as commend the Lupus Foundation of America for the outstanding work that they do in our state. Later in the day I present SB11, reestablishing the Georgia Geospatial Advisory Council, to the Natural Resources Committee where it receives a positive vote. This council plays an important role in helping to coordinate the state’s geographical information systems program between local, county and state agencies.
The afternoon is full of meetings as we are in high gear with legislation, and groups for and against certain bills are all clamoring for attention.
Day 18 (Thursday, Feb. 14): The day starts early as we have a 7 a.m. breakfast with over 700 pharmacists and pharmacy students from across the state who are here for VIP (Very Involved Pharmacist) Day at the Capitol. This incredible showing of support from my chosen profession makes me very proud as a sea of white lab coats floods the halls of the Capitol. It is also “Dawgs at the Dome” day as we welcome representatives from my alma mater, the University of Georgia, to the Capitol.
Later in the morning as we go into session, we honor retiring President Dr. Michael Adams. Dr. Adams has served as UGA president since 1997, during which time UGA has been recognized as one of the nation’s top 20 public research universities for eight of the past 10 years and its athletic teams have won 27 national championships and 58 Southeastern Conference titles.
We have two bills on the calendar today — SB 97, authorizing the creation of the Agricultural Commodity Commission for Beef, and SB 87, repealing the roadside Markets Incentive Program that is no longer being funded. The afternoon is spent with other chairmen of appropriations sub-committees as we prepare the Senate’s version of the FY13 amended budget. The FY13 amended budget is expected to be on the agenda early next week as we quickly approach the halfway point of this very fast-paced session.
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.