Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Final Report of the Current Session

The Georgia General Assembly adjourned the final day of the session on Friday night at 11:59 p.m. It was a hectic final week with several important pieces of legislation getting enacted, while several others were held over to next year. I wanted to give a brief overview about the final week of the session and follow up with a more comprehensive wrap up in the weeks to come.

First, the General Assembly passed the final $18.6 billion FY 2010 budget on Friday evening by an overwhelming bipartisan vote in favor of the House/Senate Conference Committee’s final budget. As I have constantly stated, it was a very difficult budget cycle as the state endeavored to deal with rapidly decreasing revenues that necessitated nearly $3 billion in cuts. However, we were able to balance the budget without raising taxes, unlike countless other states going through similarly difficult times, by making difficult choices and shrinking the size of government. While the cuts will certainly be felt throughout every sector of state government, I strongly believe the final budget document protects to the greatest extent possible critical state missions such as education and public safety, while focusing the largest reductions on other areas of the state budget. As I stated, I will provide a more detailed report on the final budget in the weeks to come and welcome any questions or comments.

Two of the most important pieces of legislation to pass the General Assembly were major restructurings of our state’s two largest agencies, the Department of Human Resources and the Department of Transportation. Since being elected in 2007, I have repeatedly written about my concern over mismanagement of the DOT. I strongly believe our current system is broken, which is partially evidenced by our hopelessly overburdened transportation infrastructure in Metro-Atlanta. The current system was set up several decades ago and provides an unelected Board of thirteen individuals, with no direct accountability to the citizens of Georgia, complete and total power over every aspect of planning, funding and project delivery. In my opinion, it is good ol’ boy politics at its worst and has led to the DOT over-obligating itself to the tune of several billion dollars. The legislation passed last week will provide those that are directly accountable to Georgia’s voters, the Governor and members of the General Assembly, a greater voice in our state’s transportation system. The planning and funding process will be completely transparent, rather than the current system where the process occurs in a Board Room and is often based solely on political favors and clout.

The General Assembly also provided for a significant reorganization of the Department of Human Resources, a department that provides for an incredibly wide array of services to Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens, including abused and neglected children and the elderly. The reorganization will help to ensure a more streamlined and transparent service delivery system by breaking the massive agency into three smaller more focused and targeted agencies. It is the result of a year long Health and Human Services task force that focused its efforts on determining a more effective way to serve Georgia’s citizens.

Finally, I have received a great deal of interest and wanted to provide an update on legislation I authored to add cell phone use to the list of restrictions placed on under-18, Class-D license holders. The legislation passed the House Motor Vehicles Committee unanimously, passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, passed the Senate Public Safety Committee Unanimously, but got hung up in the Senate Rules Committee in the final days of the session without getting to the Senate floor for a vote. In the end, it was a numbers game whereby many bills didn’t make it to the House or Senate floor due to time simply running out on the session. To use a football analogy, we moved the football down inside our opponent’s five yard line but didn’t quite get it into the end zone. However, the good news for supporters of the legislation is that this is a two-year session, and the bill will still be on the five yard line when next year’s session convenes.

I am very proud to report that legislation I authored to address a gap in our child molestation statute is on its way to the Governor for signature. In addition, legislation I introduced to protect parties from costs resulting from meritless lawsuits was adopted and on its way to the Governor for signature. Also, legislation I worked on to provide our school systems greater flexibility from state mandates to help in the current economic crisis was also adopted by the House and Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature.

I look forward to providing additional information on this and other legislation addressed by the General Assembly in the weeks to come. Let me also say thank you to the numerous citizens that wrote and called me during the session. I truly enjoy the interaction with constituents and the input is absolutely invaluable.

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