Sine die! It is now official, the Georgia General Assembly has completed the 2011 legislative session. The session began on Jan. 10 with an icy snow storm that blanketed much of our state, including the Capitol. However, that did not deter the members of the legislature from doing their job and serving on your behalf. Forty legislative session days later, the adjournment of the 2011 session ended at around 11:40 p.m. April 14.
The longest days of the session take place in the final week. For three days, members of the legislature listened to hours of debate as the House considered and voted on bills. Noteworthy legislation passed this week included: the passage of the Fiscal Year 2012 budget for the state, immigration reform, changes to the ethics law, the option to purchase individual health policies approved in other states, and the local option for Sunday sales of packaged adult beverages.
During this last week, numerous votes were made by the House in the form of either agreements or disagreements to changes made in the legislation. If an amendment is added to a bill and passes, the bill must then go back to the other chamber for consideration of the amendment. Often times, to work out differences in legislation, conference committees including members from each chamber are set up. If an agreement is reached, each chamber votes on the Conference Committee report.
The state budget for Fiscal Year 2012 includes a revised revenue estimate of $18.3 billion. The differences were worked out and agreed upon by the members of the legislature and the House passed the Conference Committee Report 143-32.
Legislation addressing illegal immigration in our state has passed both chambers. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011, H.B. 87, will require businesses with more than 10 employees to enroll in a federal program called E-Verify, which will identify if a worker is eligible to legally work here in the U.S. Additionally, this legislation would allow state and local police to check the immigration status of certain suspects.
Last year the Georgia legislature passed sweeping ethics reform to allow more openness and full disclosure. To further clarify the state’s ethic law, a change to the law was added as an amendment to S.B. 160. The amendment requires lobbyists to disclose money spent on state employees. Currently, money spent on legislators must be disclosed and this would extend that requirement to their staff and any other state employees. This bill will also allow utility companies to contribute to campaigns as they are not currently able to do so.
Health insurance has been a hot topic across our country and within our state. H.B. 47 passed and will allow insurance companies to sell in Georgia individual health plans that have been approved by other states.
The option for local communities to decide whether or not packaged alcohol will be sold on Sundays has now passed the legislature and is headed to Gov. Nathan Deal. I favored this legislation and it passed the House 127-44.
All of the bills passed this session will now go to Gov. Deal, and he has 40 days to either sign the legislation into law or veto the legislation. Also, he can do neither of the two, and the bill will become law without his signature.
What began with a snow storm and ended in the spring, the 2011 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly has now come to an end. Next week will be the final wrap-up, which will highlight the key bills passed this session.
It has been an honor to serve as your State Representative and to represent you both within our district and at the State 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.