Lasting Change Created in 40 Days

By Sen. Jim Butterworth

The 152nd Legislative Session of the Georgian General Assembly came to a close late Thursday night after nearly 14 hours of action in the Senate Chamber. The headlining issue from the last day of session was the passage of HB 87, an illegal immigration reform package. Also this week, the General Assembly adopted a balanced spending plan for FY 2012, while choosing to hold tax reform legislation until a comprehensive overhaul could be confidently passed by both chambers. Another significant victory from this session was the rescue of the HOPE program from almost certain demise.

We passed one of the most significant pieces of legislation in the final hours of the legislative session when the Senate and House reached agreement on a bill aimed at curbing illegal immigration in Georgia. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011 requires businesses with 10 or more employees to use E-Verify, the federal online program used to verify citizenship status of an immigrant. In an effort to protect small business, a provision was added that allows an extra six months before they come under the E-Verify requirement. Additionally, companies who commit “good faith” violations have 30 days to correct the error before facing penalties. In response to concerns about how the bill’s provisions would impact Georgia agriculture, the bill calls for a study of how the legislation would affect the industry and the federal guest worker program. The reform legislation also makes it a crime to knowingly transport illegal immigrants while committing another criminal offense, and allows law enforcement officers to verify a person’s immigration status while investigating a criminal suspect. The bill now goes before the governor for his approval.

Fulfilling our constitutional duty to pass a balanced budget, the legislature passed an $18.2 billion budget for the 2012 Fiscal Year. We worked diligently to successfully balance the spending plan amid a $1.5 billion shortfall. This budget falls 13.6 percent below the 2009 budget. Lawmakers prioritized spending to address the projected $273 million shortfall in the State Health Benefit Plan and to cover loans in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. The budget includes funds to improve customer service in state agencies and dedicates $12.9 million to the Department of Revenue to recover uncollected taxes. Among the budget’s bond projects are $45 million to fund reservoir development across the state and $32 million for the Savannah Harbor Deepening Project. To save money, the legislature is consolidating payroll services for a number of state agencies and programs and eliminating all state funding for the Aviation, Music and Sports halls of fame, making them self-sufficient.

Another hot topic from this session was the tax overhaul legislation. Because we could not confidently pass meaningful reform for Georgia families, the reform legislation did not move forward. Restructuring Georgia’s tax code is a major undertaking that demands patience, diligence and a thorough analysis. My concern that the fast-paced process would have unintended consequences was shared by many of my colleagues. I proudly support the perfection of this legislation in the off-session when we have more opportunity to hear from our constituents and re-evaluate the data that was used to craft this bill. Lawmakers may revisit the issue during the special session in August for redistricting and reapportionment or during the 2012 Legislative Session.

I am most proud of our victorious efforts to craft a sustainable solution for the broken HOPE Scholarship Program. I was honored to be the Senate sponsor of this legislation that ensures the financial stability of the program, which otherwise would have been bankrupted by enrollment growth and lagging lottery funds. Reforming the program now keeps Georgia on the forefront of education innovation and it ensures our children and grandchildren will benefit from this generous program. I worked with Gov. Deal and General Assembly leadership to perfect the legislation and ensure these changes were beneficial to all Georgia families.

As the Higher Education Committee chairman, a Governor’s Floor Leader and a member of the Committee on Assignments, I am proud of our work and I am excited about further accomplishments. As always, I’m honored to serve you, the 50th Senate District, this session and all year round. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns regarding legislation from this session or any other issues.

Sen. Jim Butterworth serves as chairman of the Higher Education Committee. He represents the 50th Senate District which includes Towns, Rabun, Habersham, Stephens, Banks, Franklin, and Hart counties along with a portion of White County. He can be reached by phone at 404.651.7738 or by email at

For Immediate Release:
April 20, 2011
For Information Contact:
Kallarin Richards, Deputy Director
Katie Wright, Communications Manager

Health Care Compact Heads to Governor’s Desk in Georgia

 ATLANTA (April, 18, 2011) – The Georgia General Assembly passed the Health Care Compact, making them the second state to send the Compact to its governor.  The Compact, introduced in the Senate by State Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton), would allow Georgia to join a Health Care Compact and provide Georgia the freedom and responsibility to develop health care laws. The Health Care Compact allows consumers more power to make health care decisions by returning funding and authority to state governments.

“Preserving 10th Amendment rights so states can move forward with true health care reform has been a driving force behind support across this nation for this Compact,” said Bethel.  “Here in Georgia, we deserve full authority over our health care system to provide the best and most effective services for our citizens.  It is our goal to implement free-market initiatives aimed at improving quality, increasing access, and lowering costs of health care for all Georgians.  With this compact in place, we are ensured that we can make the decisions best for every person in this state.  I thank the House and Senate for their hard work getting this compact passed and I look forward to working with Governor Deal to have it signed into law.”

The Health Care Compact is an agreement between participating states that restores authority and responsibility for health care regulation to member states.  The compact allows member states to create laws that are better suited for the state’s needs, including amendments to the federal health care law passed last year.

Georgia is the second state to send the compact to their governor for signature. The Health Care Compact has been introduced in 12 states and has passed the State House of Representatives in Montana, Missouri, and Arizona and State Senate in Oklahoma and Arizona. In addition, more than 36 states, citizen groups and state legislators are actively considering the Health Care Compact with legislative activity expected in the coming weeks.

The Georgia House version of the compact was introduced by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) and was co-sponsored by Representatives John Meadows (R-Calhoun), Tim Bearden (R-Villa Rica), Terry England (R-Auburn), Roger Williams (R-Dalton), Delvis Dutton (R- Glennville) and others. 

The Health Care Compact was introduced by the Health Care Compact Alliance, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to providing Americans more influence over decisions that govern their health care.

“The Health Care Compact gives the health care decision-making power back to the people instead of the bureaucrats in Washington. It allows greater citizen influence, more competition, and more options for health care for millions of Americans,” said Eric O’Keefe, Chairman of the Health Care Compact Alliance. “We would like to thank Sen. Bethel for introducing this important legislation that will provide the citizens of Georgia with greater control over their government and, ultimately, over their health care.”

For the Health Care Compact to become law it must be passed by both houses of the General Assembly, signed by the governor, and approved through Congress. The way health care works in a member state is not prescribed in the compact. Who and what is covered as well as the level of regulation are determined by each state after the compact is ratified.

Sen. Charlie Bethel represents the 54th Senate District, which includes Murray and Whitfield counties and portions of Catoosa and Gordon counties.  He serves as Senate Deputy Whip.

For Immediate Release:
April 18, 2011
For Information Contact:
Matt Colvin, Broadcast Director