• March 25: We had 25 bills on the calendar, and the first one called up was one that I was carrying, House Bill 36. This bill, which was sponsored in the House by Rep. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, adds red drum to the list of Georgia game fish, meaning that it can no longer be bought or sold on the open market. While presenting the bill, I shared my personal experiences of fishing for red drum, or spottail bass as we called them, while I was growing up in Coastal Georgia and how important it is for us to protect this fish for future generations to enjoy. The bill passed, 38-12.
Also passing was House Resolution 4, which corrects the almost 200-year-old survey errors along Georgia’s northern border. HR4 proposes a settlement of the boundary dispute and clarifies Georgia’s access to the Tennessee River. If no settlement is reached with Tennessee, the attorney general is directed to sue for the extension of the boundary line 1.1 miles north to the 35th parallel.
As is often the case, we got bogged down with two of the 25 bills on the calendar. We spent twice as much time with HB 246, which deals with health benefits, and HB 361, which deals with labor unions, as with the other 23 bills combined. As we finished up around
7:30 p.m., I escorted Tyler Melvin, my page for the day, and his mom, Trisha, to their car as they headed home to Pooler after a full day’s work.
• March 26: This was one of the busiest days of the session, with a total of 66 bills on the agenda and, as fate would have it, the whip was absent, so I presented the report. After spending 1 1/2 hours in our caucus meeting, we convened at 10 a.m. and spent the first few hours debating local legislation dealing with Fulton County, where Atlanta is located.
Next, I was involved in a heated debate on the floor regarding HB 132, a bill transferring administrative oversight of pharmacists and dentists from the secretary of state to the Department of Community Health. Thankfully, the bill passed, 45-8. In a game of cat and mouse with the House chamber, the lieutenant governor decided that Senate bills were not moving fast enough in the House and asked senators to table all bills except for the governor’s legislation. That effectively left 41 of the original 66 bills for day 40.
• March 28: Sine Die, the 40th and last day of the session, is called the most dangerous day of the session — and with good reason. Not only did we have the 41 bills left from the previous session, but we also had agree/disagrees coming over from the House during the day and amendments being added left and right.
Although we all had important legislation we were involved with, the top three issues were the fiscal-year 14 budget, the ethics bill and the gun-control bill. After lunch we approved HB 106, the FY14 budget that calls for an expected $19.9 billion in revenue. While we are disappointed that some projects didn’t make the final cut, the Savannah area has to be considered a winner in the budget as another $50 million in bonds was committed to the Savannah Harbor deepening project and $4.5 million was committed to the Armstrong Atlantic State University Hinesville project.
I presented six bills and was fortunate to have five of them pass. The final bill, Senate Bill 134, a bill to recognize prescriptions from out-of-state practitioners, was amended and sent to the House, where the amendment was ruled non-germane, meaning that it is not relevant to the underlying bill. This move sent the bill back to the Senate and, unfortunately, it was not called up again and died.
The ethics bill, HB 142, finally was ready after months of negotiations and, although not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, passed, 56-0.
One of the big regrets for those of us who are strong Second Amendment proponents was that an agreement on the gun bill was not reached, and no legislation was passed this year.
Nevertheless, it was a good session and, as the clock struck midnight, the doors of both chambers opened, and the lieutenant governor and speaker of the house gaveled the 2013 session to end, sine die.
Carter can be reached at 421-B State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334. His Capitol office number is 404-656-5109. You can connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/buddycarterga or follow him on Twitter @Buddy_Carter.