By: Sen. Bill Hamrick (R-Carrollton)
The 2012 Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly adjourned at midnight on Thursday, March 29. It was a moment of celebration that closed months of hard work at the Capitol and one of the longest days of the 40 day period.
Although the Senate has adjourned until next January, our work as elected officials will not stop. Throughout the rest of the year, I will continue to research issues of importance and meet with constituents about their concerns in both the district and the entire state.
In January, the Senate Majority Party announced five areas of focus during the 2012 legislative session. These areas embodied the principles of responsible spending, putting Georgians back to work and providing students with a quality education. While not all of our efforts succeeded, I am very pleased with the number of bills that are now on the way to the Governor’s desk for his signature. This is legislation that will ultimately put Georgia on the road to economic recovery and contribute to the success of our state.
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. 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 defines a state charter school in the State Constitution, provides that a state charter school must be public, nonsectarian, nonreligious, and nonprofit, and regulates that the state is not allowed to divert funding from the local school district.
We also addressed the need for technological advancement in our classrooms. SB 289 requires local school systems to offer virtual instruction programs to enable students to use online and distance learning in nontraditional classrooms. The bill also 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. It also requires that a letter grade be assigned to each school and school system, and that grades are included on each school system’s annual report card.
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 a main factor when reducing staff. Similarly, SB 153 requires that written documentation be provided to teachers, administrators, and contract employees who have been terminated or suspended only for financial reasons, specifying such as the reason for their termination or suspension. Though economic times have reached into every community, every business, and effected every profession- especially our educators. It is an unfortunate circumstance when an educator must be terminated or suspended due to no fault of their own, and we are doing everything in our power to help clear the path for future employment.
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. Georgia’s economy will be better positioned to grow, create more jobs and get more Georgians back to work.
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 at record numbers and keeps climbing 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. 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. These bills were ultimately incorporated into HB 1176—the criminal justice reform bill.
Although I will now be spending most of my time in District 30, I am still working on your behalf to ensure Georgia is a place for growth—for both business and families. Please be sure to keep up with me on my social media pages.
It has been a pleasure to serve as the voice of the 30th Senate District at the Capitol during the 2012 legislative session. If there is anything I can do for you, please feel free to contact my office at any time.
Natalie Dale, Director
Jennifer Yarber, Deputy Director