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Tackling rising jail ranks
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To our readers: State Sen. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) will be reporting each week during the Legislative Session.  The session began Jan. 10, 2011 and is expected to last until the latter days of March.

Day 14 (Feb. 15, 2011): The Capitol is abuzz today with the disappointing news that the President’s budget did not include funding for the deepening of the Savannah Harbor. Members of the state legislature consider this to be one of the top priorities of any economic development project in the state and appear to be undeterred by this temporary setback, pledging to work even harder to ensure the project becomes a reality.

Another major topic in the Senate today is Sunday sales of alcohol, which continues to be discussed among this very deliberative body.  Poll results from the weekend are reviewed and a caucus vote on whether to bring the issue to the Senate floor is scheduled for tomorrow. As we go into session today, I am prepared to present SR84, a constitutional amendment to allow the state to enter into multi-year leases, and SB37, the legislation that describes how the multi-year leasing process will work.

However, as I enter the chamber, I am approached by the minority caucus chairman, who requests that the legislation be delayed until I can meet with them to discuss any issues they may have. Later in the session, I text my three sons to let them know that we are honoring one of their favorite bands today. Widespread Panic, a popular band from Athens that my sons have followed for many years, is welcomed and honored for their success and many contributions that they have made to our state. As I get my picture taken with members of the band, I can’t help but think of how cool my sons will think I am to have had my picture taken with one of their favorite bands.

Day 15 (Feb. 16): I begin the day by meeting with members of the minority caucus to discuss SR84 and SB37. After a good meeting with the caucus members, we head into session today and after honoring a few great Georgians, such as long time University of Georgia tennis coach Dan Magill, we join our House colleagues across the hall for a joint session to hear the State of the Judiciary address by Chief Justice Carol Hunstein of the Georgia Supreme Court.

Echoing the same concerns as Gov. Nathan Deal brought out in his State of the State address only a month earlier, Chief Justice Hunstein says that the state can’t afford the costs of incarcerating so many inmates in the prison system and calls for a sentencing revamp and the increased use of drug courts and other venues for dealing with non-violent offenders. These comments are of particular interest to me as the new chairman of the Senate State Institutions and Property committee where I now have responsibility of overseeing the state’s prison system.  Later in the afternoon I present SB 36, a bill creating the Prescription Monitoring Program, before full committee and am delighted that it passes unanimously.

Day 16 (Feb. 17, 2011): Deciding to concentrate on more important issues such as HOPE, jobs and the budget, Republican leadership announces today that a caucus whip count has resulted in the Sunday sales of alcohol issue being abandoned for this session. Later in the morning, along with other pharmacy caucus members, I have the opportunity to meet with Gil Kerlikowski, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control (ONDCP), who has traveled from Washington, D.C., to offer his support of SB36, the Prescription Monitoring Program.

As we go into session today, I present SR84 and SB37, the multi-year leasing legislation to the full Senate and am happy to have both bills pass with only 2 nay votes. Later in the afternoon I meet with leaders of the Appropriations committee to present recommendations for the FY11 amended budget for the Department of Corrections and Prisons and Parole, two areas that I have the responsibility of overseeing.

Sen. Buddy Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building (CLOB) Room 301-A, Atlanta, GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109.