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POSTED: March 25, 2008 5:00 a.m.
What would Congress be like if Republicans and Democrats chose to be concerned with their constituents rather than their own incumbency, ego, or campaign war chest? What if the party in the majority allowed, with regularity, the party in the minority to bring decent and significant legislation to the floor for debate or even to chair committees that shape bills before the whole body considers them?
I'm proud to report that in the Georgia Senate, these are not hypothetical "what ifs," rather the daily reality of our chamber. Since the day that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle took office, the Senate has changed, and for the better.
Cagle made it immediately and abundantly clear that the chamber would operate with decorum and the utmost respect for each and every senator. He believed, as do I, that no senator is more important than another because we all represent about 160,000 Georgians who depend on us to speak and to vote on their behalf. Two Democrats received committee chairmanships. No district was penalized in the budgeting process because of the party affiliation of its senator.
As the ultimate testament to the cordiality in the body, many, if not most, bills pass the Senate with 85 percent support or higher.
To list the pieces of noteworthy legislation that the Senate passed in the last two sessions would require a number of separate articles. However, a few examples should be mentioned:
• Program budgeting - We now make sure that the expenditure of tax dollars is managed to ensure the desired results.
• Mother's right to know and ultrasound bill - This single bill will have the effect of limiting abortions by approximately 40 percent
• Tort reform - We can now limit the number of frivolous lawsuits in Georgia that result in jackpot justice.
• Stronger laws against child molesters and predators.
• Allowing the Bible to be taught in our public schools as an elective.
• Created the Georgia Virtual High School that gives students all over Georgia access to college prep and advanced learning programs via the Internet.
• Saved HOPE Scholarship program from going broke and ensured funds were properly used.
• Require school systems to spend at least 65 percent of all tax dollars for instruction inside the classroom door and not on the bureaucracy outside the classroom door.
• Created scholarships for children with special needs that can be used at any public or private school that meets the child's unique needs.
• Provide prosecutors with the same number of jury strikes as the criminal defense attorneys to strengthen the rights of victims over criminals.
• Adopted the Child Care Tax Credit Act. This will return approximately $50 million to working parents to assist with the cost of providing childcare.
• Funded $67,300,000 (not counting 2009) for land conservation grants to purchase threatened parcels of lands and buy development rights from landowners.
• Eliminated the state income tax for Georgians 65 and older who earn up to $75,000 for a couple.
• A comprehensive water plan to protect one of our most valuable natural resources.
• Stout immigration reform.
Pending this Session:
• A property tax freeze for 2008.
• Encourage more charter schools by allowing an easier process for them to be created.
• Provide scholarships for children in chronically failing schools.
• Eliminate the state's property tax ($94 million).
Sure, a legislative body needs structure. There will be a majority and there will be a minority party. No one questions that. And no one will argue that everyone should agree on all issues. Debate, discussion, and compromise are essential ingredients to make our government work.
However, when that structure and division are tinted with retributive and often petty politics, then the fabric of our republican - with a lowercase "r" - form of government tatters. But when the two work together, the amount of good that can be accomplished is virtually limitless.
I am thankful that I serve in such a body that does work together, and I hope and pray that other similar bodies, including our Congress, would take note and learn.
As always, please contact me in my office on the issues that are affecting you and your area.

Williams is Senate majority leader and 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@tommiewilliams.com.
 

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