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40 Days at the Capitol- Installment 11

By   /   April 8, 2012  /   Comments Off

To our readers:   State Senator Buddy Carter (R- Pooler) will be reporting each week during the Legislative Session.  The session began January 9, 2012 and is expected to last until the latter days of March. .

Day 38 (Monday, March 26, 2012):  Finally, the last few days of the 2012 session are here!  In my eight years of serving in the legislature, this is the first time we have had an established schedule that we could plan around and all of us, especially small business owners like myself, are very thankful.  As one would imagine, the last week is chaotic with legislators and lobbyists running around trying to get their legislation passed.  I begin the morning with yet another House rules committee meeting where I am successful in getting three of my last four bills on the calendar for tomorrow.

Afterwards, we have a Senate Health and Human Services Committee meeting where we finish up the last few House bills on our agenda.  As we head into session at 1PM we have 31 bills on the calendar and we are all wondering how we will finish such a full load today.  Things start out well as we click off the first nine bills, all of which are non-controversial, quickly.

HB 954, the fetal pain bill, is a different story as it is easily one of the most controversial bills we have had not only this session, but in many years. This bill creates a legislative finding that there is substantial evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by at least 20 weeks after fertilization.  The legislation asserts that the state should protect the lives of unborn children from the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates they are capable of feeling pain and prohibits abortions in cases in which the probable gestational age of the unborn child has been determined to be 20 weeks or more.

We spend a full five hours debating this bill, with emotions running high on both sides of the issue and with little or no room for compromise.  A total of nine amendments are offered with two passing and the bill is now sent back to the House for an agree/disagree judgment.  After recessing for a much needed break for dinner, we come back in at 8:00 PM and work till midnight to finish our calendar.          

Day 39 (Tuesday, March 27, 2012):  After a few hours of sleep, we’re right back here again at 8:00 AM sharp as we have 71 bills on our calendar today.  Although some are critical of having so many bills on the calendar at one time, it is important to understand that most of the work on bills is done in committees and by the time they reach the floor that have been mostly perfected.  Bills such as HB 954 that was debated for over five hours yesterday, are highly controversial and can never be perfected to everyone’s satisfaction.

After a long two hour caucus meeting to review all the bills, we go in at 10AM and the fireworks start almost immediately as we vote to “engross” a number of tax bills.  A vote to “engross” a bill means that no amendments can be added to the bill while it is being debated on the floor. This is a procedural move, generally undertaken by the majority party, in order to assure that no unwanted amendments are proposed that may end up forcing members to vote on that they are uncomfortable with.  After spending almost an hour on voting to engross about twelve bills, we finally take up our first bill of the day, HB 743, which extends the motor fuel exemption for public and campus transportation as well as the local sales tax exemption for jet fuel at Hartsfield.  Somewhat unexpectedly, there is much debate on this bill, particularly from legislators in the Atlanta area, and the bill takes up 1 & ½ hours of our time.

As we break for lunch at 12:30PM we have completed 3 bills and have 68 left on our calendar.  During our lunch break, I am honored to attend the signing into law of the synthetic marijuana bill, SB 370, by Governor Nathan Deal.  This bill has been named “Chase’s Law” after Chase Burnett, a 19 year old from Peachtree City, who died earlier this year from the effects of this drug.  After lunch we hit a pretty good pace with a few speed bumps along the way, including some local politics involving redistricting in the Augusta area.  After breaking for dinner, we are back in and work till 10PM before tabling about 26 bills, saving them for the 40th and last day.

Day 40 (Thursday, March 29, 2012):  Many people consider this to be the most dangerous day of the year in the State of Georgia.  The 40th day of the session, Sine Die as it is referred to, is a day when victory can be gained, hearts can be broken, and the future of our state can be influenced.  There are 236 legislators, numerous lobbyists, and countless citizens who have an interest in at least one bill that is being considered today.

For me personally, I have had a very good session but still have two bills that I have worked tirelessly on this session that are up in the air.  While we bring a number of bills left over from Tuesday off of the table, most of our work today is with agrees/disagrees.  This is when a bill is sent from one chamber to the other and is changed from its original version.  If it is changed then it is sent back to the other chamber where it can either be agreed to or disagreed to.  If it is disagreed to, a conference committee of 3 members from each chamber is appointed to try and work out the differences.

To say that this is a stressful day is an understatement.  Things are moving so fast that it is difficult to follow each bill carefully, especially when you are working on your own bills trying to get them passed.  A few of the major bills, such as HB 954, the fetal pain bill, garners the attention of almost everyone, but for the most part, unless you have a special interest in a bill it is both important and difficult to keep up with any changes.

As the time grows closer to midnight, the pressure mounts and it becomes increasingly obvious that I am not going to be successful in passing two of my bills that I have worked so hard on this session.

While I am extremely disappointed that these two bills have failed, I am not alone and we all must realize that not all legislation, even good legislation, always passes.  Overall this has been an extremely successful session as we have passed tax reform, balanced our budget and handled numerous other major issues.  As the clock strikes midnight, we Sine Die and the 2012 session of the Georgia State Legislature is history.  As paper flies through the air and shouts of joy are yelled, I am reminded what an honor it is to represent the citizens of the First District in the State Senate.              

       Senator Buddy Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building (C.L.O.B.) Room 301-A, Atlanta, GA, 30334.  His Capitol office number is 404-656-5109. You can connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/buddycarterga or follow him on Twitter @Buddy_Carter. 
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