State Sen. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) is reporting each week during the legislative session.
Day 35 (Wednesday, March 20): Although we have not been in session since Thursday of last week, there has been much work to do during the interim. After working on the FY14 budget on Friday, most of us were back yesterday for other committee meetings, proving that the old saying “the session lasts 40 days and 80 nights” is true.
This morning starts early with a House Rules meeting to request one of my Senate bills to be placed on their calendar, followed by a caucus meeting. After going into session at 10 a.m., I rush down to the governor’s office to witness the swearing-in of our newest member of the Board of Regents, Don Waters from Savannah. Aside from being a good friend, Don is a successful businessman with much experience in higher education who will do an outstanding job representing our area.
As chairman of the Public Safety committee, I also have the honor today of presenting Deputy Jason Michael Ross of the Coweta County Sheriff’s Department with the Valor Service Award from the Peace Officers Association of Georgia. In September 2011, upon arriving on the scene of a head-on collision that resulted in the vehicle catching fire, Deputy Ross took action by extinguishing the flames then freeing the driver, all the while speaking to her in calm, reassuring tones even as he himself suffered burns on his face and arms.
We have five bills on the calendar today, including HB 164 which extends the sales tax exemption for aircraft parts used specifically in maintenance or repair. This is an important bill to the Savannah area as it helps keep Gulfstream Aerospace competitive by not requiring its customers pay sales tax, as is the case in other states. The bill passes by a vote of 39-12.
Day 36 (Thursday, March 21): After an Appropriations meeting at 8 a.m. where we pass out the FY14 budget, I run downstairs to a meeting of the Chatham County delegation in Chairman Ron Stephens’ office. Chairman Stephens is the dean of our delegation and does an excellent job of keeping us abreast of issues back home. Next, I appear before the House rules committee to request more of my bills to be considered before going to our daily caucus meeting.
Today we welcome Roberto Roy, Minister of the Panama Canal, to the Senate. A Georgia Tech graduate, Mr. Roy shares with the Senate the importance of supporting the dredging of the Savannah port due to the expansion of the Panama Canal.
As we get closer to the end of the session, our workload is increasing as we have 16 bills on the calendar today. Unfortunately, many of the bills we consider today remind us of the sometimes harsh society we live in. For instance, HB 126 prohibits individuals from obstructing the duties of a park ranger, making it a misdemeanor for an individual to knowingly or willfully hinder a park ranger from fulfilling their duties.
Although it passes easily, it is still disappointing to think that this type of legislation is needed. Also passing is HB 141, which requires certain establishments to post information on how trafficking victims can receive help from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC). Again, while we would like to think these types of things don’t happen in our state, the truth is that they do and we must do all we can to combat them.
We also pass HB178, the Georgia Pain Management Clinic Act, requiring pain management clinics to be licensed by the Georgia Composite Medical Board and owned by physicians licensed to practice in Georgia. This legislation is needed to combat the proliferation of “pill mills” in our state and passes by a vote of 44-5.
Finally, we pass HB 242, a landmark juvenile justice reform bill that calls for substantial changes in the state’s juvenile court proceedings. Before leaving for the day, I chair a meeting of the Senate Public Safety committee where we pass out two house bills.
Day 37 (Friday, March 22): We begin our session today by honoring the Atlanta Falcons and their owner, Arthur Blank. Since purchasing the Falcons, the Home Depot co-founder has turned the franchise into one of the most successful in the National Football Conference. In fact, over the last five years, only one team has won more regular-season games than the Falcons.
We also honor the memory of longtime political reporter Dick Pettys, who covered the state Capitol beat for over three decades. In both a joyous and sad occasion, we honor two members of the Senate staff who are retiring this year. Secretary of the Senate Bob Ewing, who is retiring after 34 years of service, and Deputy Secretary of the Senate Jeffrey Foley, who is retiring after 28 years, are both beloved members of the Senate family who will be deeply missed.
In another busy day, we have 15 bills on our calendar today, including HB 106, the FY14 budget. The proposed $19.8 billion budget brings us back to the same revenue projection as we had in 2008. Among the bonding projects that are included in the budget are $50 million for the Savannah Harbor deepening project and $2.4 million for Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Liberty Center in Hinesville. After passing unanimously, the rules are suspended and the budget is immediately transmitted to the House so that three conferees can be appointed by both chambers and they can begin negotiations for a final product this weekend.
Passing unanimously today is the Senate substitute to HB 142, dealing with ethics reform. This historic proposal builds on the $100 gift cap resolution passed by the Senate on day one of the session this year and eliminates loopholes for special groups while protecting citizens who are expressing their constitutionally-protected views from burdensome registration and reporting requirements.
After arriving at the Capitol this morning at 8 a.m., I finally leave 12 hours later, heading to Moultrie for my nephew’s wedding.
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.