Reps. Mabra, Fludd talk state budget, juvenile justice

Representatives Ronnie Mabra (L) and Virgil Fludd at town hall meeting in Tyrone. Photo/Ben Nelms.

Tyrone Elementary School was the setting March 23 for a legislative town hall meeting sponsored by Rep. Virgil Fludd (D-64) and freshman Rep. Ronnie Mabra (D-63). The general thrust of the town hall meeting was to provide an overview of some of the legislation under consideration before the session ends later this week. A sampling of those topics included the budget, juvenile justice reform, ethics reform and the updated gun carry bill.

Fludd, in addressing the state’s finances, noted that hashing out a consensus on the budget is an intricate process that involves a conference committee made up of three members of the House and three from the Senate. The budget this year comes with approximately $20 billion in state revenues and a nearly equal amount from federal sources.

The good news, said Fludd, is that state revenues could see an increase of approximately 3 percent, enabling legislators to increase funding in areas such as pre-kindergarten and for other education issues such as K-12 and college maintenance and operations and construction.

Fludd said the budget is also expected to include $50 million for widening and deepening the Savannah harbor. He said the Panama Canal in Central America is being deepened to accommodate larger ships in 2014. Fludd said the work in Savannah is needed to prevent those ships from accessing others ports that can accommodate them.

Mabra, in commenting on the work of the House Judiciary Committee, noted the wide-ranging support for House Bill 242 that would reform juvenile justice procedures.

“The state is spending $90,000 per year on a minor (in the state’s youth development centers). With this bill the judge will have flexibility and the discretion on whether or not to incarcerate for a minor offense,” Mabra said, adding that serious offenders will continue to be incarcerated while minor offenders not incarcerated will be required to participate in services such as counseling. “This is a good bill that will help the communities.”

On the topic of ethics reform, Fludd said the Senate and the House have their own versions of the bill. A problem with the idea of establishing a $100 maximum contribution on things such as buying a legislator’s meal is that it is per event, Fludd said.

“That’s the fallacy,” Fludd said, noting that under that criteria, someone could buy his breakfast, then his lunch and his dinner later in the same day and still be within the law. “So there’s a lot we have to resolve. I think we’re chasing the wrong rabbit. There’s a lot more money in campaign finance than there is in (buying) a dinner or Braves’ tickets.”

Mabra also gave his take on the bill, saying ethics reform should clarify the issues and make it easy and straightforward to follow.

Mabra in addressing the gun-carry bill said the Senate adopted most of the features contained in the House version. Depending on the final outcome later this week, the bill permits guns to be carried in churches and bars if the property owner allows it but not in courthouses, Mabra said.

Fludd also noted that what is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the bill is that it would allow guns in the classrooms and parking lots of college campuses, but not at sporting events or in dorms.

Mabra also used the town hall meeting to give his impression as a freshman representative. Mabra described the session as a significant learning experience.

“I didn’t know how things would work. When I got there I found that it doesn’t work like a textbook,” Mabra said of the various committees, the people running those committees and the politics inherent to the legislative process. “You have to work with people no matter what. They have their own interests, their own constituents. I learned that reaching out to people and getting their thoughts goes a long way. There’s a lot of work that goes on there. There really is. And there’s a whole lot of information and it’s difficult to analyze if you don’t do it the right way.”

Also commenting on the legislative session that is nearing an end, Fludd said, “New or not, it’s a learning experience. Ronnie has caught on fast, listening to people and representing Fayette County. You can have good ideas but you’ve got to have people support you. You have to find key stakeholders and those hiding in the shadows.”

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