Notes from the Senate

00heathheadshotbigATLANTA (February 27, 2009)— Georgia’s ranking in education and transportation leave much to be desired. Georgia’s high school graduation rates are still 49th in the nation, and recent reports state that Georgia is 12th in the nation of the worst states for transportation. Both education and transportation have dramatic effects on a state’s economy and development. This week I was proud to stand with my Republican colleagues in true education and transportation reform.

Georgians continue to lose valuable time with their families and at their jobs because they are sitting in traffic. We can no longer tolerate this gridlock. Despite putting billions of dollars into the Department of Transportation, nothing has changed. It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or otherwise, if you’re sitting in traffic you just want the problem solved.

The Transforming Transportation Investment Act (Senate Bill 200) passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee this week. Under SB 200, the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) will be merged and all functions, duties, responsibilities, and obligations of the authorities will be transferred to a newly created State Transportation Authority (STA).

It’s time to get Georgia moving on transportation issues and this bill does just that. The legislature will have a much greater say in mapping the future of transportation for Georgia and be able to ensure transportation dollars are spent in an efficient and strategic manner. This bill provides a framework with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, clear directives on establishing a statewide transportation strategy, and an understandable and equitable funding process. It creates an atmosphere of accountability and efficiency. This is the first major step in solving transportation problems and delivering real transportation relief for Georgians.

The School Board Governance Bill (Senate Bill 84), which I carried on behalf of Governor Perdue, passed from the Senate Floor this Wednesday. This is a good bill, because it creates better standards for school board members. It ensures our children a quality education by preventing mishaps and taking action if those representing them, school boards, are failing. It now moves on to the House for consideration, and I anticipate a quick passage followed by the Governor’s signature.

In addition to education and transportation reform, I was successful in reaching across party lines and working with the trial lawyers to protect rural landowners from certain civil liabilities. Senate Bill 75 passed unanimously through the Senate Judiciary Committee and allows landowners who charge admission to hunt or fish for the purpose of agritourism on their property to be immune from civil liability. This is only applicable if the landowners’ conduct does not constitute gross negligence or misconduct, the landowner posts a warning sign explaining the limited liability at the property’s entry point, and the paying customer has signed a liability waiver.

I introduced this bill last year, and although it passed out of the Senate, it got held up in the House Judiciary Committee. Reaching an agreement with the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association is truly a rare occurrence. Gaining bi-partisan support has taken countless hours but is worth it to provide Georgia’s citizens with tools they need for economic growth and diversity.

Sen. Bill Heath serves as Chairman of the Retirement Committee and Governor Sonny Perdue’s Floor Leader in the Senate. He represents the 31st Senate District which consists of Haralson and Polk counties and portions of Bartow and Paulding counties. He may be reached at 404.651.7738 or by email at