The 2011 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly has officially begun. Although we were forced to take a couple of days off for the snow and ice storm that many across the state experienced, we began session Jan. 10.
It is constitutionally mandated that the General Assembly convene session on the second Monday in January, and the snow storm was not going to deter us from our responsibilities. As we conclude our first full week of the 2011 legislative session this week, many days still await us.
The first week of session our new governor, Nathan Deal, joined us in the House chambers as he gave his State of the State and budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly.
With more than a $1 billion shortfall and the loss of federal stimulus funding, we are all aware that cuts must be made from our state budget. Gov. Deal’s recommendations included reducing the size of government and focusing on the core responsibilities of state government. Other recommendations included the amended 2011 budget through June 30 of this year with an increase of $163 million and the FY2012 budget of $18.16 billion, which goes into effect July 1.
In his State of the State address, Gov. Deal noted that some of his priorities included the economy and k-12 education. The governor’s budgets plan to end teacher furloughs and keep students in school for a full year. The proposals set forth by Gov. Deal are the guidelines, almost a road map. However, members of the House and Senate also hear the budgets of all state agencies and departments and make changes accordingly.
Last week the members were not officially in session. However, the majority of members were working at the Capitol for budget hearings. Although the General Assembly as a whole was in recess, members of the Appropriations Committee were all present to begin our work on the state budget.
We held Joint Appropriations Committee hearings and each state agency and department presented their budgets. Now the House and Senate will hold separate hearings to review each in detail.
The six legislative days we have been in session have consisted mainly of procedural matters and reading of bills and resolutions. It is required that each bill be read three times on the House floor before it goes through the committee process and then back to the floor for a vote if it passes through the committee(s).
One vote of importance took place this week as the Senate unanimously overrode a veto by our former Gov. Sonny Perdue regarding Senate Bill 1. This legislation passed last session, and it would have required a zero-based budget every three to four years by our state agencies and departments.
As the bill and override came to the House, it was sent to the Rules Committee because the bill would have begun this month, although the budgetary process has already started. The House is already in the process of working on an improved version of this bill, House Bill 33. Look for it to arise again this session.
On Thursday, it was Savannah-Chatham County Day at the Capitol. We had a large turnout of many people from our area in Atlanta, and they were able to discuss issues with our local delegation of elected officials, in addition to many statewide elected officials.
I will continue to keep all of you informed throughout the 2011 legislative session. It is an honor to continue serving you in the Georgia General Assembly. Please do not hesitate to let me know your position or thoughts on issues that concern you.
Stephens, R-Savannah, serves the 164th District, which includes South Bryan. He can be reached at 226 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334 or by e-mail at email@example.com.