3/26/2013 - by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega)
The Georgia General Assembly is in the very last days of the 2013 legislative session. Although many people simply refer to the last day as Day 40, it is also known as Sine Die. The last day of the legislative session can be very long, but it is also full of tradition.
Sine Die is Latin for "without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing.” In other words, the General Assembly is not going to meet again to consider legislation until January 2014. Even if a special summer legislative session is called, the meaning remains the same—the General Assembly will not meet for another day in the general legislative session.
On Sine Die, the House and Senate remain in their respective chambers to deliberate and vote on important pieces of legislation until midnight. We are constitutionally mandated to end every legislative session on or before midnight on Day 40. At this time, the large wooden doors of the Senate chamber are opened to allow the President of the Senate—the Lt. Governor—and the Speaker of the House to adjourn at exactly the same time.
During the last few days of the legislative session, the Senate passed several significant bills that will greatly impact state operations and infrastructure. The reason for the late passage of these bills is not because of procrastination; it’s because each one of these bills required more than just a few days of review. These were bills that needed to be vetted and carefully reviewed by all 56 state senators, budget and finance professionals, legislative counsel and most importantly, the constituents who hold a special interest in the bill.
Fiscal Year 2014 Budget
The Senate passed their version of the FY 2014 budget, which is set at $19.8 billion. Because the Senate version is different from the House version, particularly in key areas such as education, Medicaid growth, water supply projects and transportation infrastructure, a conference committee will be appointed to negotiate a final version of the bill.
The Senate also took bold action and voted on a historic ethics proposal that builds on the $100 gift cap resolution passed by our chamber in January. The Senate substitute to HB 142 allows individual bodies to set their own ethics policy that falls within certain requirements, eliminates loopholes for special groups and protects citizens who are expressing their constitutionally protected views from burdensome registration and reporting requirements. Any entity that fails to set an individual ethics policy will automatically have a gift cap limit of $0. Ethics reform has been a top priority for the Senate since Day 1 of the legislative session, and I am proud of the Senate’s efforts to present a clearly defined solution.
The Senate passed a landmark juvenile justice reform bill that calls for substantial changes in the state’s juvenile court proceedings. The legislation is based on recommendations and years of work by the Governor’s Special Council on Justice Reform and calls for well-defined articles outlining a juvenile’s right to procedural due process, family preservation and proper representation. HB 242 will now transfer back to the House for the approval of minor changes made in the Senate Judiciary committee.
Other important bills that passed the Senate include:
HB 350: This bill requires that all childcare center directors and employees, as well as all Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) employees, pass a national fingerprint records check every five years.
HB 349: Areas such as the Court of Appeals process and the punishment for serious violent felonies were addressed in HB 349, a clean-up bill to last year’s criminal justice bill.
HB 372: This legislation revises eligibility requirements for the HOPE grant at technical colleges by lowering the required GPA from 3.0 to 2.0. In addition, HB 372 also defines what kind of institutions can be called “technical colleges” and “community colleges” for the purpose of utilizing the HOPE grant.
HB 131: Students who are taking dual credit courses will be treated in the same manner as advanced placement and international baccalaureate students when determining HOPE eligibility.
I was pleased to host several groups from District 51 at the Capitol this week, including members of the White County High School WTVN Warrior TV broadcast team, who were recognized with SR 562 for their first place win at the 2013 Student Television National Convention. It was also an honor to host sixth-grader Remington Youngblood, who is the founder of the nonprofit Change 4 Georgia. Change 4 Georgia is a community service program that provides students with opportunities to thank soldiers for their service and sacrifice. It is always great to honor the accomplishments of goal-oriented and driven young adults!
I also welcomed Roberto Roy to the Senate chamber last week. Mr. Roy asked the Senate to support the dredging of the Savannah port, and explained how Panama Canal has lost both business and revenue because the canal expansion remains unfinished. It is important that Georgia moves forward on this project in order to avoid a similar challenge. After the Senate adjourned for the day, I participated in a lengthy discussion with Mr. Roy and Governor Deal in the Governor’s office about the importance of the port expansion.
The legislative session will come to an end on March 28, and although I am looking forward to being back in the district, there will still be a lot of post-session work to do. I plan on reviewing worthy pieces of legislation that fell short of approval finding ways to make them better and stronger. I welcome your feedback on any of these bills, so please feel free to contact my office at any time.
Before I close, I’d also like to take this opportunity to wish everyone in District 51 a happy and wonderful Easter holiday!