Monday, March 30, 2009

Week 10 Update (3/30/09)

This past week proved to be another busy one for the House of Representatives. We are set to start our last week and the pace of bills and resolutions being considered is brisk. Last week we considered several important bills.

Earlier this year, we voted on Senate Bill 83 which would have provided Georgia’s voters the ability to increase their homestead exemption by $2000, which has not been increased since the 1930s on a statewide basis, but it failed along a party line vote. This week it was reconsidered and came back up for a vote, but again fell short of the 2/3 majority vote necessary to provide for such a constitutional amendment. Unfortunately, House Democrats blocked this bill’s approval again. If passed, it would have been put before the citizens and given them an opportunity to vote to give tax relief to our homeowners during these difficult economic times.

After months of committee meetings and hearings, several bills made it through the General Assembly and to the Governor’s desk this week. If signed by Governor Perdue, these bills will become law. Some of the bills awaiting the Governor’s signature include House Bills 149 and Senate Bill 13.

Senate Bill 13 gives prosecutors in Georgia the option to seek life without parole convictions for serious criminal offenses. Under current law, the only way a prosecutor can secure a life without parole conviction is to seek the death penalty. Death penalty trials are usually very costly and take longer to complete at a greater expense to our taxpayers. Often times, prosecutors seek the death penalty just to secure the life without parole option. This change in law will allow prosecutors to seek this type of conviction directly without going for the death penalty. It will also ensure that the people who need to be locked up for the rest of their life will be sentenced quicker and reduce the cost of such trials.

House Bill 149 allows 11th and 12th grade public school students to attend a college or technical school to complete high school while receiving credit towards a higher degree. This bill, commonly called the “Move on When Ready” Act, gives public school students and their families more options to fit their individual educational needs. By allowing students to choose courses that fit their personal life goals we can foster the educational interest students need to succeed.

I am also pleased to report that House Bill 123, legislation that I authored to close a loophole in our child molestation statute, passed the Senate unanimously and now comes back to the House to be agree to one technical change that was made by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Chance has worked closely with me on this important legislation and did an excellent job presenting the bill on the Senate floor. We are one small step away from sending this bill to the Governor and providing for additional tools in the effort to protect children from predators.

As the 2009 Session comes to an end, many House and Senate bills are now closer to becoming law. Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at my Capitol office (404-651-7737). I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Week 9 Report

With Crossover Day behind us, the end of a challenging 2009 regular session draws near. The House and Senate have six legislative days remaining before we adjourn on Friday, April 3. As I have stated over and over again, this session continues to be dominated by budget discussions brought on by the historic economic downturn our state is currently facing. The shortfall in revenues will result in the largest reduction in the size of state government over a two year period in the history of the state. Last week, the House passed its version of the 2010 Budget. The measure has now been sent to the Senate where the Senate will surely adopt a differing version which will result in a conference committee meeting to iron out differences before the end of the session. As the 2010 Budget was far and away the most significant legislation adopted by the House last week, I have listed some information below about areas of the budget in which I have received the most inquiries from constituents.

Healthcare .

The budget passed by the House restores a proposed reduction of $434 million in reimbursement to hospitals and healthcare providers. The Governor continues to express concern about the ability of the State to fund expected growth in Medicaid, which will certainly come as our unemployment rate continues to rise. This will certainly be a key point of negotiation in the remaining days of the session. One issue I have heard a great deal about is the proposed elimination of the State’s supplement for school nurses and its potential impact on student health. The version passed by the House fully funds the school nurse program. The House version of the budget also maintains the current state-to-employee State Health Benefit Plan contribution ratio for current and retired employees, however, that figure may be adjusted in the Senate.


The House budget includes full funding of the state salary supplement for National Board Certified Teachers, which was initially slated for elimination in the Governor’s budget recommendation. In addition, the House budget provides that Quality Basic Education enrollment growth projections for K-12 grade and the university system will receive full
funding. Education makes up roughly 60% over our State’s budget. Virtually every agency of state government went through spending reductions of 10% or greater. The House’s 2009 and 2010 budget both have reductions of approximately 3% in the area of K-12 education, far and away the least impacted area of the state budget in terms of percentage reductions. While the economic downturn has necessitated cuts (the only other alternative is tax increases, which would be a terrible idea in this economy), I believe you will continue to see the House and Senate work to the greatest extent possible to ensure that the economy does not impact our children’s education. I pledge to represent that view throughout the remaining days of the session.

Public Safety

The safety and security of the Georgia’s citizens is one of the primary responsibility of State government. It is vital that we not allow the economic downturn to jeopardize the safety of our citizens. While economic necessity has forced some cuts in public safety, the House version of the budget funds GBI crime labs throughout the state and 23 new State Patrol cars to help keep our roads safe.

These difficult economic times certainly impacts us all in one way or another. Some important services were reduced in the FY 2009 supplemental budget and in the House’s version of the 2010 budget, and if revenues continue to diminish further cuts may be necessary. However, both budget documents represent a concerted, diligent effort to cut wasteful spending and prioritize the needs of Georgians in the face of a marked and continuing economic downturn. We are constitutionally obligated to live within our means in Georgia and balance the budget, which ensures our children are not burdened by additional State incurred debt, as our federal government is fond of doing. If there is one good thing to come from these hard times it will be a renewed appreciation for the proper limits of government and fiscal responsibility.

Serving as your representative is an honor, and I take this responsibility seriously. As the session progresses, I will continue to update you on legislation and events important to the state and our district. Please do not hesitate to contact me with your thoughts and comments by calling my office at (404) 651-7737.

Week 7 Update

(Somehow we managed to get a bit behind on Rep. Ramsey's posts.)

Last week, the General Assembly convened for Days 25, 26 and 27 of the legislative session. We are rapidly approaching Day 30, known as “Cross-Over Day” which is the last day that bills originating from the House and Senate can pass out of their respective bodies and be heard by the other body this session. Last week we considered some important measures on the floor and in committee.

For the last several years, Georgia has passed some of the strictest immigration laws in the country. Despite this, a loophole in our elections laws allowed thousands of illegal immigrants to register to vote. As a result of this problem, we passed House Bill 45, which requires all people registering to vote to prove their citizenship. Birth certificates, driver’s licenses, passports, and U.S. naturalization documents are among the numerous types of proof that will be accepted. This small step is crucial to preventing voter fraud and preserving confidence in the electoral system.

I have continually heard from people in the education community about the difficulty in finding sufficient numbers of math and science teachers to deal with Georgia’s beefed up curriculum in those areas. Every day our economy becomes more levered to science and technology and our children’s ability to compete in the global job market in the future will depend largely on their proficiency in math and science.

Our colleges are simply not producing enough teachers in these areas to meet the current need. For example, our state colleges and universities produced only one certified physics teacher and only nine chemistry teachers. We currently have a close to twenty-percent shortage of science teachers in our public schools. House Bill 280 seeks to address the problem by providing a stipend to new math and science teachers in their first five years of teaching to encourage college students to look at teaching in the area of math and science.

Members of the Appropriations Committee while the bill was being debate on the floor that the funding needed for these increases would be derived from the Board of Regents and will not be a shift from within the Department of Education. It is my hope that this incentive will encourage more teachers in these critical areas.

Last week, legislation that I have introduced on the behalf of Governor Perdue aimed at protecting innocent parties from incurring unnecessary costs when a meritless lawsuit has been introduced against them passed unanimously out of the House Judiciary Committee. The legislation would provide for a 120 day stay of discovery whenever a motion to dismiss is filed by a party aiming to get a claim against them, that they deem to be without merit, dismissed. The discovery stay will provide time for the Judge to rule on the motion before significant dollars are expended on discovery. Fairness dictates that a party should not have to bear discovery expenses (depositions, document production, etc.) if the court ultimately determines that the underlying claim lacked legal merit.

Finally, this week the House and Senate amended our previously set schedule. This new schedule will result in the General Assembly concluding the 40th and final day of the legislative session for this year on April 3.

Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at my Capitol office at (404)651-7737. I look forward to hearing from you soon.