It was a successful 2011 legislative session for my colleagues and me at the Georgia General Assembly. We accomplished many items on our agenda for this year, and some will be worked on and tackled during the next legislative session.
It is impossible to address all of our initiatives within 40 session days and four months. Our work is never over, as ideas always can be put forward to better our state, benefit the citizens, increase jobs and employment and encourage current and future businesses.
After 40 official days of session, numerous committee meetings and many debates and discussions later, the session officially has ended. Below are some of the top accomplishments of this session. It should be noted that a Special Session for Reapportionment and Redistricting has been called by Gov. Nathan Deal to begin in August.
Education has been and always will be a priority. Legislators understand the importance of adequately educating our future leaders. Our focus remains on k-12 education as well as higher education.
This session, the preservation of the Hope Scholarship Program was an essential task. House Bill 326 was passed by the General Assembly and also has been signed by Deal. The Hope Scholarship Program has been beneficial to many young students throughout our state, and it was crucial that legislators find a solution to keep the program available for students during the years to come.
The problem was that the funding required for the incoming scholarship recipients under this program was going to exceed the revenue generated from lottery proceeds, which fund the program. With the goal of saving the program, the revisions of the Hope Scholarship Program include tuition funded at about 90 percent for students with at least a 3.0 grade-point average; students with at least a 3.7 GPA will receive the Zell Miller Scholarship, which will cover 100 percent of their tuition; the elimination of funding for books and fees; and the option for low-interest loans for education.
As discussed last week, immigration reform now has passed the Georgia General Assembly and was one of the accomplishments this session.
H.B. 87 is the Illegal Immigration and Reform Act of 2011, and it will help to curtail illegal immigrants within our state by requiring businesses with more than 10 employees to enroll in the federal E-Verify program to ensure that the workers are eligible to work legally within our state.
Ensuring that the citizens of Georgia have an adequate water supply has been another focus for legislators. With a drought in previous years, it brought this issue to the forefront of many of our concerns. Water is one of the necessities of life, and the GGA passed Senate Bill 122 to help encourage our water supply in the future. It would allow public-private partnerships to be formed to fund certain water-supply and treatment projects.
Health insurance is a topic heavily debated across our country, especially with the anticipation of mandated health care coverage. Georgia was the first state to have a health care compact signed into law.
Deal signed H.B. 461 on April 20, and it would allow states to work together on health care through a legal compact. This potentially could allow states to circumvent the federal mandate on health care.
Another bill, S.B. 17, will create the Special Advisory Commission on Mandated Health Insurance Benefits, which will review proposed health-insurance mandates as well as examine the existing mandated health-insurance benefits or providers.
Also last week, I discussed H.B. 47, which would allow the citizens of Georgia to purchase policies approved in other states.
It has been an honor to serve as your state representative and to represent you both within our district and at the Capitol during the legislative session. Throughout the year, if you have any ideas, questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.
If you would like to reach me, please call me at (404) 656-5099 or write me at State Rep. Ron Stephens, 226 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA, 30334 or email me at email@example.com.