March 18: Day 39 of the legislative session can be as busy, if not busier, than day 40. Proof of this is the fact that we have 83 bills on the calendar today.
Although bills go through the committee process and are vetted thoroughly, in the Senate we begin our day by reviewing every bill on the calendar in our morning caucus meeting. At the Capitol, the Senate is known as the deliberative body and I have found this to be true during my service in this body.
As we go into session at 10 a.m. I have the honor of once again introducing the Pastor of the Day. Dr. Charles Gardner from First United Methodist Church of Atlanta is again our guest and, as always, delivers an inspiring message.
Today is busy for all of us as we try to piece together last-minute details of various bills we are involved with. In my case, I am working with Rep. Al Williams, D-Hinesville, on local legislation involving the de-annexation of property from the city of Hinesville, as well as Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, involving a bill dealing with the licensure of out of state physicians.
I am also working diligently to have HB 707, the Georgia Health Care Freedom Act, added to another bill. This is the same bill as SB 334 that I authored and passed through committee in the Senate but did not get to the floor for a vote. It is an anti-Obamacare bill and vitally important to stopping this job killing federal legislation that threatens to ruin the greatest health care system in the world.
Fortunately, after literally weeks of negotiations with the Governor’s office and other departments, we are successful in adding HB 707 to another bill and getting it passed. While it is not everything we wanted, it is a victory for conservatives and will help to defeat the worst federal legislation passed in decades.
Although we do not get to all 83 bills today, we do manage to hear 45 of them, including final passage of the 2015 budget. The $20.8 billion budget accounts for state spending from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015, and includes around $916 million of new revenue for education expenses and $35 million to complete the state’s portion of the Savannah Harbor project.
Also passing today is HB 549, which was authored by Rep. Jon Burns, R-Newington, and is carried in the Senate by Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville. This bill requires any person releasing substances in state waters to notify the Environmental Protection Agency (EPD) immediately, who in turn is to notify the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) if the substance is deemed hazardous. This legislation was introduced as a result of the hazardous spill in the Ogeechee River a few years ago that resulted in the worse fish kill in Georgia history.
One of the few bills to fail today is HB 643, the Georgia Civil Practice Act, also known as the E-discovery bill. HB 643 would have allowed trial lawyers to request and receive copies of electronically-stored information during the discovery process in legal proceedings. The bill fails by a vote of 25-20.
HB 990, which would give oversight of expanding Medicaid to the state legislature passed by a vote of 35-19, largely along party lines.
March 20: Sine die — the 40th and last day of the 2014 session. Not only is this the last day of the session, but it is also the last session day of my 10-year state legislative career. It has been an honor and privilege for me to serve the citizens of Effingham, Chatham, Bryan and Liberty counties during this time. Although we are all extremely busy, the day is an emotional one for me as I can’t help but reflect on the memories of this tremendous experience.
The 40th day of a session is also a very important day and requires that all legislators pay close attention to what is going on around them. We have a number of bills on the calendar today that we failed to hear on day 39, as well as agrees/disagrees — a process where bills are negotiated between the House and Senate. While all bills require close attention, agrees/disagrees are particularly dangerous and require close scrutiny.
Perhaps the most controversial bill of the day, and some may say of the session, is HB 60, the Weapons Carry bill that expands gun rights for registered gun owners.
Also passing today is HB 251 that bans the sale of nicotine products and vapor products, such as e-cigarettes, to minors.
HB 697, the Zell Miller Grant Scholarship, passes by a vote of 56-0 and will cover full tuition for students enrolled in technical colleges who achieve and maintain a minimum 3.5 GPA.
A bill not passing today is HB 757, which would have allowed the use of solar energy on conservation valuation (CUVA) property.
One of the more hotly debated bills is HB 772, which calls for drug testing for applicants and recipients of public assistance and requires electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards for food stamp benefits to display a photo of the recipient. The bill passed by a vote of 29-22.
As is Senate tradition, each retiring senator is given the opportunity to preside over the presentation of a bill and I preside over the presentation of HB 783. This bill, presented by Sen. Tyler Harper, R-Ocilla, clarifies that a person’s hunting privileges will only be suspended if convicted of hunting under the influence.
As fate would have it, the last bill taken up at 11:56 p.m. is SB 134, a bill that I am sponsoring that recognizes physicians licensed outside of Georgia.
As the clock strikes midnight, the House and Senate adjourn in unison and the 2014 session of the Georgia Legislature is completed.
Carter can be reached at 421-B State Capitol, Atlanta, GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is 404-656-5109.