The People’s Business: Crossover Day

March 16, 2009

The Georgia General Assembly worked diligently this week on passing important pieces of legislation before midnight on the thirtieth legislative day. This event represents a milestone in the legislative process as bills must “cross over” into the opposite chamber in order to have the chance to become law this year. Because we are in the first year of the two-year legislative session, bills that didn’t make “cross over” are still able to be considered next year. The General Assembly has worked hard to deliver a balanced budget while cutting nearly $2 billion from the original 2009 budget. Much like Georgia families, we’ve cut our own budgets to live within our means in tough economic times.

In addition to tackling the budget, the Senate passed a bill to limit liability for landowners that open their property for people to hunt and fish. Agritourism is a profitable industry in Georgia, and the bill encourages more landowners to allow hunters and fishers on their property without the fear of being sued for accidents. SB 75 requires landowners are required to post warning signs on their property, and participants must sign a waiver.

We passed a bill to expand the eligibility of inmates to participate in a transitional center or work release program upon their final year of incarceration. This bill is designed to carefully reintroduce inmates into society and help give them the tools to get back on their feet without falling back into a life of crime. Currently only 51% of the prison population have ever had a job. Under SB 193, the Department of Corrections is authorized to decide who should be eligible for such a program based on their behavior.

While SB 161, Ava’s Law, was tabled, we plan to create a study committee in its place to explore solutions for enhanced insurance coverage for medically necessary, evidenced based treatments for autism. Like many of you, I have been personally touched by autism through my great-niece, Ava. Before undergoing treatment, her ability to communicate could be described as limited, at best, and now you would hardly be able to tell she is autistic. I have seen firsthand the importance of early intervention, which enables those with autism to make significant progress through therapy and treatments in order to lead meaningful and productive lives. With early diagnosis and intervention, the overall cost of treatment can be reduced by two-thirds over an individual with autism’s lifetime.

The Senate has passed many bills in favor of property owners. This week we passed a bill to enable property owners to go directly into arbitration over property assessments rather than going through the regular lengthy government process. It removes government bureaucratic layers, providing property owners more flexible options for resolving assessment disputes and achieving fair arbitration.

Accountability and transparency in government has been an overall theme of the 2009 Legislative Session. A lot of attention has centered recently on the news that some elected members of the legislature have failed to pay their taxes. I believe this is totally unacceptable and that like you, elected officials should be held accountable. This week, the Senate passed an amendment authorizing the Department of Revenue to release the names of legislators who have not paid their taxes. Once names are public, the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission can conduct an investigation to take action for those guilty of tax evasion.

Finally, the Senate passed the Ethical Treatment of Embryos Act which affords human embryos protection under the laws of the state of Georgia. While the bill does not restrict scientific research, it serves three important functions. First it prevents the destruction of human embryos for research purposes. Further it prohibits human genes from being mixed with animals genes. Lastly it requires embryos be created for the purpose of making babies, not for research. Human life is to be preserved, cherished and protected. We value life at all stages.

It is an honor to serve my fellow citizens of the 19th district in the state Senate.

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Sen. Tommie Williams serves as President Pro Tempore. He represents the 19th Senate District, which includes Appling, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Toombs, Wayne, and Wheeler counties and a portion of Liberty and Tattnall counties. He can be reached at 404.656.0089 or by email at tommie.williams@Senate.ga.gov.