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A Look at the 2012 Legislative Session

 By Sen. Tommie Williams

April 5-- The Majority Party spent this legislative session carefully crafting legislation to focus on ideas and concepts that would benefit all Georgians. In January, we unveiled the agenda of initiatives we strived to accomplish for the 2012 session.  As the final gavel struck at midnight on March 29th, we were confident that all of these goals had been achieved through hard work and dedication.  By combining the traditional concepts of limited government and fiscal responsibility, we also introduced the tax reform package, numerous bills to protect our children and reform education; therefore as members of the Majority Party we were pleased with the accomplishments of the 2012 session. 

Limited Government

During this year’s session, the Senate worked hard to reduce the overall size and scope of state government, especially as it pertains to the overall productivity of Georgia’s state-run programs.  Currently Georgia has the lowest per capita spending of any state in the country. To further support these goals, the Senate adopted HB 456, also known as the Georgia Government Accountability Act. Similar to the Senate’s version, this legislation provides a mechanism to determine the continued need of state-run programs through the creation of the Legislative Sunset Advisory Committee. The passage of this historic legislation provides a clear solution for efficient government operations and also helps maximize every taxpayer dollar.

Pro-Business Tax Reform

One of the most important things Georgia can do to attract businesses and promote job creation is revise our tax structure into one that spurs private-sector growth and welcomes investment in our state. In the final days of the 2012 Legislative Session, the Senate passed HB 386 – a comprehensive tax reform package projected to offer Georgia businesses and taxpayers nearly $262 million in tax savings over the next three years.

In order to see continued growth and get more Georgians back to work, it was imperative to revise Georgia’s antiquated tax code by removing the tax levied on manufacturing facilities, an estimated savings of approximately $150 million per year. As a result, Georgia will become even more attractive to businesses seeking to relocate or expand their operations.

This common sense legislation also kept Georgia families in mind by reducing the burden of the marriage penalty in the state income tax, eliminating the birthday tax, and bringing back the tax holiday for school supplies. The passage of HB 386 is a tremendous victory for both Georgia’s businesses and families, and is a clear indication that Georgia is moving forward with the times. 

21st Century Education Reform

21st century education reform was one of our greatest legislative priorities this session.  Our classrooms and our communities are poised to thrive due in large part to a variety of bills passed dealing with how our children learn and how we support our valuable educators. With the passage of charter schools amendment, HR 1162, Georgians will have the opportunity to vote to approve this measure in November. HR 1162 reasserts the state’s role in public education, defines a state charter school in the State Constitution, provides that a state charter schools only be public, nonsectarian, nonreligious, and nonprofit, and regulates that the state is not allowed to lower extra funding to local school systems. HB 797 passed this week and aides HR 1162 by creating the State Charter Schools Commission as a state-level authorizing entity with the power to approve or deny petitions for state charter schools.

We also addressed the need for technological advancement in our classrooms. SB 289 requires local school systems to offer students virtual instruction program options to enable students to use online and distance learning in the nontraditional classroom and requires high school students to complete at least one of these online learning courses.

Parents will be empowered with extensive knowledge on progress made by school system due to the passage of SB 410. The bill adopts indicators of quality of learning by students, financial efficiency, and school climate for individual schools and school systems. The legislation assigns a numerical score rating for individual schools and school systems based on student achievement, achievement gap closure, and student progress.  The bill also supports the waiver that Georgia was granted from having to comply with AYP.

The Senate also took necessary steps to support our valuable educators. SB 184 prohibits local school boards from implementing a policy that allows length of teaching time to be only factor when reducing staff.

Fiscal Responsibility

Now more than ever, the Georgia General Assembly must take great strides to eliminate government waste and reduce expenditures. Government operations are funded by taxpayer dollars, and the Senate Majority Party drafted legislation in 2012 to ensure the continued financial responsibility of our state and to urge the federal government to adopt more fiscally sound policy. The Georgia legislature concluded the 2012 session by passing a $19.3 billion dollar budget, keeping in line with the state’s commitment to pass balanced budget legislation each year. Per capita state government spending is about 20 percent less than it was a decade ago.

In addition, the passage of SB 33 will assist in the legislature’s efforts to control state spending and maximize every taxpayer dollar. This zero-based budgeting bill will require the thorough re-evaluation of all line items in the budget every ten years, with state agencies being rotated so that not all are subject to review at one time.

Although the State of Georgia requires the General Assembly to pass a balanced budget that does not allow for deficit spending each year, this fiscally responsible measure is not required by the federal government. As a result, our national debt is at record numbers and continues to climb higher.

The Senate passed SR 673 to petition Congress to call a Constitutional convention for the purpose of proposing a balanced budget amendment. The resolution recommends that the total of all federal appropriations made by the Congress for any fiscal year may not exceed that total of all estimated federal revenue for that fiscal year.

In a great show of bipartisan support, the Senate passed HB 1176, a comprehensive sentencing and corrections reform bill that will save Georgia taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, improve public safety and lower recidivism rates

Protecting Our Children

The children of Georgia are our state’s greatest asset, and their innocence and future potential needs to be fiercely protected. As adults, it is our responsibility to preserve the highest quality of life for all children—even those who are yet to be born. Under current law, some individuals are not ready to report a brutal crime against them as a child until he or she is well into adulthood. Therefore, the Senate introduced and passed SB 316 to extend the statute of limitations on reporting sexual crimes until the victim’s 28th birthday, and until the victim’s 33rd birthday in cases involving childhood rape. The Senate also passed SB 355; legislation that extends the mandatory reporting requirement for child abuse beyond those directly responsible for the child’s care. Unfortunately, these bills were stalled in the House.

HB 954 caused one of the most passionate debates of the session. HB 954 will prohibit abortions when the probable gestational age of the unborn child is found to be 20 weeks or more, except when a physician has deemed a pregnancy “medically futile.” This term means the unborn child has a profound and irremediable congenital or chromosomal abnormality that would not allow the child to live after birth.

This year the General Assembly passed meaningful and valuable legislation that continues to benefit, protect, and advance the current and future citizens of Georgia.   This session provided the necessary measures to continue to make Georgia the best state possible.  I am humbled to continue to represent each of you at the State Capitol. I remain committed to supporting legislation that will further benefit each and every citizen of Georgia.  It is my honor to serve you in the State Senate each year, and I encourage you to contact me throughout the year to let me know what I can do for you.