The People’s Business: Legislature Getting Down to Work

February 3, 2012

The 2012 General Assembly just completed its fourteenth legislative day this week. I wanted to take a chance to update you on some of the bigger news items going on in the state Senate.

We began the week by working towards efficient government with the passage of SB 223, also known as the Georgia Government and Accountability Act. If enacted, this legislation would create a Joint Legislative Sunset Advisory Committee to oversee the effectiveness of government operations and maximize every taxpayer dollar. The passage of this legislation provides a clear solution in addressing how efficient government should operate.

We also passed the “Homestead Exemption” bill (SB 117) on Monday with a vote of 51 to 0. This will reduce the risk of homeowners losing their homes during financial hardship through an exemption from levy and sale of property, ultimately increasing the amount of certain exemptions in a home. SB 117 will raise exemptions from sale or levy of real or personal property that is the debtor’s primary residence from $5,000 to $21,500. It will also increase the amount exempted for bankruptcy purposes.

On Tuesday, we passed Senate Bill 136 which allows condominium unit owners to take control of their condominium association if the original individuals responsible for developing the association fail to perform a number of requirements within thirty days. Approval to take control of the association must be granted from a superior court.

Senate Bill 300, which amends the definition of “food sales establishment”, passed Tuesday with a unanimous vote. Facilities that boil, bottle, and sell sugar cane syrup or sorghum syrup are no longer included in the definition provided that all product labels meet a number of requirements, including the statement: “This product has not been produced in a facility licensed by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.”

The Senate also took up several bills dealing with the hunting and fishing industry. Some of these bills included:

Senate Bill 307
• This bill creates a one-day salt-water shore fishing license that may be purchased by residents and non-residents for a fee of $5.00. Hunting and fishing licensees bring approximately $20 million dollars a year in revenue to our state budget.

Senate Bill 309
• The bill allows state officials to grant special hunting privileges to anyone 21 years or younger with a terminal illness, provided they have proper supervision and follow the usual rules. This bill has also come to be known as “Taylor’s Law,” in honor of Taylor Gramling the 18-year old inspiration for the bill who passed away from leukemia.

Senate Bill 301.
• This bill would repeal the current ban on statewide hunting with the use of suppressed handgun, rifle or shotgun. Sound suppressors attached to firearms are an additional tool available to help protect the shooter’s hearing, reduce noise complaints by surrounding residents, as well as increase accuracy and safety. Similar legislation has already been enacted in 15 other states, and has proven effective in helping to reduce the overall amount of noise associated with firearms. The main benefit of this legislation is to aid in the reduction of nuisance species such as coyotes and feral hogs. These problem species kill our pets, livestock and destroy our crops all over Georgia.

Standing firm on our commitment of making education reform a priority, we passed a bill that amends current law to allow a home study program to submit a declaration of intent to utilize a home study program and all attendance records to the Georgia Department of Education. This bill removes an unfunded and burdensome mandate on local school superintendents. Home schooling reports will be centralized in one location rather than at local school districts, where a large part of these reports remain untouched until a student needs proof of education in order to apply for a Georgia driver’s license. The home school community, local school superintendents and the Department of Education all support this much simpler and streamlined process.

We also passed legislation to increase the Georgia Higher Education Facilities Authority (GAHEFA) budget from $300 to $500 million. After the passage of SB 562 in 2006, students received parking decks, residence halls, dining halls and much more from the allotted $300 million. Our state boasts some of the finest higher education opportunities in our nation and these investments are vital to our continued growth.

By week’s end, we debated HB 477, which will make the renewing of insurance licenses a biannual practice rather than annual.

In addition to passing legislation, we are privileged to host various groups and organizations under the Gold Dome. On any given day, people from all over the state come to the Capitol to show their support for a special cause or interest. This week, we were fortunate to honor two very special organizations that are working diligently to make Georgia a better place for generations to come.

This week, the Senate passed a resolution proclaiming February 1st “Stop the commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Rally”. Thousands of supports rallied at the Capitol to support our agenda for a safer Georgia for our Children.

We also had the opportunity to welcome members of the Georgia Food Bank Association. They hosted an exhibit in the South Wing of the Capitol where legislators and visitors alike could gain a better understanding of the needs our state faces in combating hunger. The Second Harvest Food Bank serves over 25 million people and produces 15 million pounds of food a year for those in need.