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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Immediate Release:
April 20, 2011
For Information Contact:
Kallarin Richards, Deputy Director
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