The 2011 General Assembly marked my seventh year as a legislator. Every year, I learn something new or am reminded of something along the way. This year certainly was no different. Here are a few things I either learned or was reminded of:
From Rabun Gap to Tybee Island, Georgia legislators understand the importance of deepening the Savannah Harbor. SR 312, a resolution I sponsored endorsing efforts to deepen the port of Savannah, passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House by a vote of 167-3. With only three nay votes between the two chambers, it’s easy to see that legislators understand the importance of the economic development project.
Perhaps more important is the $32 million in bonds that were included in this year’s budget, bringing our total commitment so far to approximately $135 million. Additionally, I was touched by the kindness of many legislators who told me how important the project is to their districts and asked what they could do to help.
Government — state or federal — never should pay 100 percent of anything. One of the most popular and successful programs in our state is the HOPE scholarship, which is funded by lottery proceeds.
Over the years, enrollment and tuition at our state’s colleges and universities have increased, making it difficult for lottery proceeds to keep up with expenses. In fact, during the past few years, the lottery has been paying out more than it brings in, causing us to have to use reserves to meet obligations. Unless changed, we would deplete all of our reserves by 2013, making the state unable to meet its obligations.
In order to save the program, it became necessary for us to decouple the HOPE scholarship from tuition and base the scholarship amount annually on lottery revenues for those HOPE recipients maintaining 3.0-3.6 grade point averages. Starting in fall 2011, these students will receive 90 percent of the fiscal year
2011 standard tuition rate.
While it is unfortunate, the reality is that something had to be done. How can receiving 90 percent of one’s tuition possibly be viewed as unfair? When you’re accustomed to receiving 100 percent, I suspect it can.
Approximately 60 percent of all traumatic injuries involve burns. HB 307 added burn centers to Georgia’s trauma network, allowing the two burn-care centers in our state that admit at least 300 patients annually to receive funds from the trauma commission.
One of these two burn centers is the Joseph M. Still burn center in Augusta, where many of the patients from the Feb. 7, 2008, Imperial Sugar blast in Port Wentworth were treated. We never will forget the great service the health-care professionals at the burn centers and Memorial Health University Medical Center provided during this tragedy.
Just because you believe illegal immigration is wrong and violators should be punished doesn’t mean you’re heartless or uncompassionate toward your fellow man. While I don’t pretend to speak for everyone who voted in favor of HB 87, I will say that without exception, those legislators I conferred with regarding illegal immigration are concerned about all human beings, but also are concerned with the estimated $2.4 billion to $2.6 billion that illegal immigration costs our state.
If at first — or the first five or six times — you don’t succeed, try again. Outdoor advertisers finally got their way this year as HB 179 passed. It will allow billboard owners to cut trees in the public right-of-way if those trees block their signs.
Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building, room 301-A, Atlanta, Ga., 30334. His Capitol office number is 404-656-5109.