Last week the 2009 Georgia General Assembly was gaveled into session. The first day the entire body was sworn in by the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. It is truly an honor to serve this community, and again swearing the oath to uphold the Constitution was an incredibly humbling moment.
Let me again thank the voters of Fayette County for the opportunity to serve this wonderful community. It was a particularly exciting day for me, as my wife and five-year-old daughter accompanied me to the swearing in. My daughter held the Bible for me when I was sworn in, which was a really exciting moment for my family, although, the high point for my daughter was pushing the “yes” button and lighting up the green light next to my name in the chamber when we took a roll call attendance vote to begin the day.
The first week of a two year session is typically light on legislative business. That is primarily due to the fact that people are just beginning to introduce bills and committees are not constituted until the end of the week when the Committee on Assignments makes committee assignments. I was excited to learn that I will again get to serve on the Non-Civil Judiciary Committee. This committee writes all the legislation that deals with criminal justice issues. It is a wonderful committee, as it allows me to work on critical community safety issues.
This week, I introduced legislation to deal with a problem created in the child molestation statute by the Georgia Supreme Court. In a controversial and close decision, the Court recently construed the child molestation statute in a way that, in my opinion, ignores the Legislature’s intent and puts numerous child molestation prosecutions in jeopardy. My bill will address the problem created by this ruling and ensure prosecutors have every tool necessary to go after these predators. It will be heard by the Judiciary Committee on which I serve.
I was also excited to learn I will be serving on the Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee, under the leadership of my friend Chairman John Yates. Chairman Yates has long been an advocate for the rights of the brave men and women that serve or have served our country in the armed forces and I look forward to working with him in that effort. I will also be serving as the Secretary of the Human Relations and Aging, which works on issues created by our rapidly aging population, and on the Regulated Industries Committee.
The big event of the week from a substantive policy standpoint was Governor Perdue’s “State of the State” speech on Wednesday. It is the first opportunity for the public and members of the General Assembly to hear Governor Perdue’s legislative agenda for this session. He outlined proposals in areas such as tort reform, local school board governance and reform of the Georgia DOT. I look forward to seeing the details of all of his proposals as the session gets underway and we begin to see the nuts and bolts of these measures.
Governor Perdue also outlined his requested budget. Obviously, the biggest challenge facing the legislature this year will be addressing our massive budget shortfall created by declining revenues. We are required by the Constitution to balance the budget, and that is exactly what we will do. While we will be undergoing significant belt-tightening, which will certainly be felt across all sectors of state government, we should all take heart that Georgia is a state that lives within its means. Now that Governor Perdue has proposed his budget, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will meet this upcoming week to begin hearings as they start the process of writing the budget. I will provide updates as details of the budget begin to come out.
It is my intention to again write regular columns in an effort to keep the community informed during this session of the General Assembly. As always, please never hesitate to write or call with any questions or opinions. Let me also say a special thanks to all that have responded to the citizen survey that I mailed out in December. In this difficult time where resources are limited and government certainly cannot be all things to all people, I believe it is more important than ever for policy makers to reach out to their constituents for input on their priorities. I have been extremely impressed by the rate of response and very much appreciate all of the thoughtful comments and opinions. This information will be invaluable to me during this and future sessions.