It is official, the 2010 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly adjourned Sine Die and came to an end midnight on Thursday, April 29. After spending months devoting our time and commitment in Atlanta under the Gold Dome. After being in session for 40 legislative days spread out over four months, continual committee meetings, agreements and disagreements, the members which represent people from all over our state came together and finished the work of the people. The two days of session this week the members worked into the late hours passing legislation. Key pieces of legislation were passed this week, including: the passage of the final Fiscal Year 2011 budget, possible trauma care funding, a ban on texting while driving, clarification on carrying firearms, and the Healthy Georgians Act of 2010.
The General Assembly passed a trimmed $17.9 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2011. The conference committee reached a negotiation on the budget after working strenuously on it for over a week. With less money, and a state budget that has been greatly reduced, it was quite an accomplishment.
The legislature passed legislation this week as a safety precaution for our drivers across the state. The bill, which is a combination of two separate bills (HB 23 & SB 360), will not allow anyone under the age of 18 to use a cell phone while behind the wheel. In addition to this, it would prohibit texting while driving for everyone while behind the wheel. Evidence has shown that texting while driving is distracting and people are more likely to get into an accident. It caught texting while driving and not involved in an accident, the fine would be $150; however, if someone gets into an accident and it is discovered they were texting, the fine will be doubled and there will be a one point violation on your driving record. Georgia joins around 20 other states that have also banned texting while driving.
Funding trauma care in the state of Georgia has been an issue that arises yearly. Senate Resolution 277 passed this week and it will be a statewide referendum which will go on the ballot in November and the decision will be left up to the voters. It would place a $10 surcharge on certain motor vehicle registrations in the state. If passed by voters, it will have the potential to bring in around $80 million a year to existing trauma care centers in the state. Statewide trauma care funding is essential because we want to ensure that citizens have the emergency care available that is needed.
The Healthy Georgians Act of 2010, Senate Bill 411, also passed the General Assembly this week. This Act would allow insurers to offer wellness and health improvement programs with awards and/or incentives to be available to those with health insurance plans. Before, it would have been considered an unfair trade practice to offer incentives for wellness and health improvement and this legislation would change that. Also, attached to this legislation was an Amendment to the bill which would prohibit mandatory participation in any healthcare system. Due to the federal Health Care Reform that passed, the members of the General Assembly want to give Georgians the option to opt out and not be mandated to purchase health insurance if they chose not to do so.
In an effort to give greater rights to our property owners and to expand those rights, the legislature passed Property Tax Reform, Senate Bill 346. This bill will protect taxpaying property owners by guaranteeing their right to appeal assessments and protecting them from unfair tax assessments.
Expanding gun rights is of importance to the people in our state. SB 308 passed the legislature and would clarify where licensed gun owners can carry their firearms. This bill will permit guns to be in the vehicles in parking lots of colleges, court houses, and jails. It would also eliminate the 1,000-foot limitation on guns and schools at colleges. The legislative session has ended; however, please feel free to contact me at any time should you have any questions, ideas, or concerns. I will be concluding the weekly update next week with a session wrap up highlighting key legislation passed this session.
Please do not hesitate to let me know your position or thoughts on issues that concern you. If you would like to reach me, please call me at (404) 656-5099 or write me at: State Rep. Ron Stephens, 228 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rep. Stephens (R-Garden City) represents the Fleming area of Liberty County as well as portions of Chatham County.