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Racing against the clock
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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.

Day 35 (March 23): As we begin the final two weeks of the 2009 legislative session, much of the work is being done behind the scenes.

With Senate and House committees meeting throughout the day and night, legislators can be seen literally running through the halls of the Capitol in order to attend a meeting. Whether it’s to present a bill that you’re carrying, make certain that you’re present to vote for or against a bill or be present to be counted as part of a quorum, committee meetings are extremely important during this time of year. Needless to say, tensions are high as legislators race against the clock to get their work done.  

In the House today we pass SB 122 that splits the Georgia Retiree Health Benefit fund into two new Retiree Health Benefit Funds, one for state employees and the other for school personnel. This will insure that contributions made on behalf of a particular employee group are only used to cover the health care expenditures of that group’s retirees. Meanwhile, across the hall in the capitol, the Senate approves HB 228 that will restructure the mammoth Department of Human Resources (DHR).  

HB 228 had previously been approved by the House a few weeks ago and now will come back because of changes made in the Senate.  If the changes are not agreed to by the House, a conference committee of House and Senate members will be appointed to work out the differences.  

The Senate also passes HB 277 today, the bill to generate funding for transportation infrastructure improvements, and makes major changes that will require it to come back to the House for a vote of agree or disagree. Since it will surely not be agreed to by the House, a conference committee will be appointed to work on this bill as well.                     

Day 36 (March 25):
A lengthy debate is held on the House floor today on SB 83, a bill that will provide an additional state-wide homestead exemption of $2,000 beginning in 2009. This is the second time we have had a chance to vote on this modest property tax break for taxpayers and, as was the case earlier, the bill fails to receive the two-thirds majority needed for a constitutional amendment.  

Also on the rules calendar today is SB 13 that ensures that those accused of crimes may be sentenced to life without parole even if prosecutors choose not to seek the death penalty. Whereas current law requires punishment either by death or life imprisonment with the possibility of parole, SB 13 allows a sentence of life without parole for murder and passes unanimously.  

In yet another attempt to make Georgia the toughest state in the nation when it comes to dealing with sex offenders, SB 14 is passed today. This bill prohibits any person who is on the National Sex Offender Registry or the state sexual offender registry from being eligible to stand for election or serve on a local board of education.  

Two other bills that pass today are SB 44 and SB 210. SB 44 will require school systems to give “preference” to products manufactured in Georgia when purchasing supplies, equipment and food. An amendment to the bill to include a prohibition on schools purchasing food products that have been genetically altered was withdrawn. Meanwhile, SB 210 allows home schooled students to participate in honors programs with public and private high schools in Georgia.  

Day 37 (March 26): Georgians who have prescription insurance are big winners today as SB 123 is passed by the House with a vote of 160-1. SB 123 regulates and permits licenses to pharmacy benefits managers (PBM) by the Commissioner of Insurance including license requirements and filing fees. PBMs are the companies that administer prescription benefits for insurance companies and are responsible for setting formularies and requiring prior approvals for certain drugs. This much-needed legislation will now be sent to the governor
for his signature. 

As was the case yesterday with SB 14, the legislature continues to crack down on sexual predators as SB 69 is debated and passed. Current law requires that reports of suspicions of child sexual exploitation be made by a parent or guardian. This bill will allow and require persons such as teachers, counselors, and nurses to report suspicions of child sexual exploitation.

Across the hall in the Senate, HB 261 that gives home buyers a one-time income tax credit equal to 1.2 percent of the purchase price of a residence or $3,600, whichever is less, passes out easily.                                             

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.