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January 18--  Georgia Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams of Lyons provides an update on the state legislature.

{mosimage}"Last week, legislators from across our great state gathered at the State Capitol to begin the 2012 legislative session. Since our last session, our economy has begun to show signs of healing and stabilization. However, we are not out of the woods yet, so our focus needs to continue to be on job creation. Citizens expect us to use our time wisely and get to work on the important issues facing our state, and that is exactly what we are doing in the State Senate.

On the first day of the session, a typically uneventful one, we attacked our work with a great sense of urgency by passing two bills which focus on education reform in Georgia. I authored Senate Bill 184 to amend the current law so as to require a local school board to primarily consider a teacher’s effectiveness in advancing student achievements when considering whom to lay off in a reduction of force implementation.  The amount of time a teacher has been employed cannot be the primary or determining factor. The bill also establishes the Professional Learning Rules Task Force, who will review the current professional learning rules for educators and provide suggestions for revision of the rules. Positive steps toward lasting education reform, like Senate Bill 184, remain vital to the advancement of our education system. I am encouraged by the support this bill has received by my colleagues, and am confident that education reform will continue to be at the top of our “to-do list” this legislative session.

Governor Deal has asked the legislature to eliminate the sales tax on energy for manufactures.  This will help us attract more manufacturing jobs to our state and provide much needed help to our existing manufacturing industry in Georgia.

The Governor has also launched a new skilled labor advancement initiative called “Go Build Georgia.”   This initiative will help Georgia’s skilled trade industries and will open up new opportunities for students entering the job market.

Our most pressing task is to balance the state budget amidst a projected 1 billion dollar budget shortfall. Passing a balanced state budget is our most important task at hand, as well as the only task that we are required to fulfill under the Georgia Constitution. Unlike the federal government, our state constitution mandates a balanced budget that requires us to live within our means. To reduce state spending, we will have to make some challenging decisions this fiscal year, as stimulus funds, reserves and one-time funds are no longer available. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Over the past several months, state revenue collections have steadily increased, and will help us to replenish the state’s “rainy day” reserve.

In addition to balancing the state budget and pushing tax reform measures, one of the key strategies for economic recovery will be to focus on job creation. In recent years, Georgia has quickly become an attractive destination for companies to do business. With accessibility to one of the nation’s busiest airports, as well as close proximity to some of the nation’s leading Fortune 500 companies - including Home Depot, Delta and Coca-Cola - Georgia has become one of the top ten states in the country to conduct business.

As session continues throughout the next few months, I will be spending a lot of time at the Capitol, working for you and the citizens of this state. That being said, I would love to hear from you if you have any particular issues you wish to have addressed. I look forward to continuing my service on behalf of you and the people of Georgia."