Week 1 legislative update: Stark fiscal choices ahead

Matt Ramsey's picture

On Monday, Jan. 10, the state legislature convened for Day One of the 2010 session. In many ways it was an historic day.

During November and December, a variety of disturbing events occurred that led to the resignation of the former Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson. That meant that for the second time in as many years the House had to elect a new speaker and a new speaker pro tem on the first day of session.

In a bipartisan vote, the House elected David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) as our new speaker and Jan Jones (R-Alpharetta) as our new speaker pro tem. They are both outstanding and conscientious legislators.

The election of Jan Jones to the number two leadership position was ground-breaking, as she is now the highest ranking female lawmaker in the history of the Georgia Legislature. I am confident in their ability to lead the legislature through what will surely be a challenging session.

On Wednesday, Georgia’s representatives, senators, state constitutional officers and members of the Georgia Court of Appeals and Georgia Supreme Court gathered in the House Chamber to hear Governor Perdue deliver his eighth and final State of the State Address.

Gov. Perdue selected his current and former House and Senate floor leaders to serve as his Committee of Escort to lead him into the chamber. Senator Chance and I were honored to be a part of that group.

The governor’s speech struck the proper balance between optimism and realism by pointing out our state’s many blessings, while recognizing the difficult times and tough choices that must be made in the weeks and years to come. He called on the members of the House and Senate to make the difficult choices today to avoid saddling additional undue burdens on future generations of Georgians. I could not agree with that sentiment more wholeheartedly.

As is typical in the first week of a session, the volume of legislation on the floor of the House was light; however, committees began meeting in earnest.

The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, on which I serve, met this week to consider several measures. We unanimously passed out a bill that will provide school systems greater and more efficient access to our state’s sexual offender registry to ensure systems can properly vet their employees.

The committee also heard legislation by Rep. Tom Rice which seeks to insure that individuals that are required to attend defensive driving school as part of a sentencing reduction agreement are doing so at licensed schools. This measure also passed out with only one dissenting vote.

Two bills were assigned to my subcommittee for future consideration. My subcommittee held an initial hearing on the Crime Victims Bill of Rights. This measure will address procedural gaps that have developed due to judicial and statutory decisions to insure victims of crime are afforded protections throughout the adjudication and sentencing of the criminal defendants that victimized them.

This includes insuring victims are provided notification when such individuals are released on bail. I look forward to working on this bill and moving it forward.

House Bill 615, a bill by Tim Bearden to provide additional 2nd Amendment protections to licensed Georgia gun owners, was also referred to my subcommittee. I look forward to hearing this measure in the weeks to come.

On Friday, Gov. Perdue released his proposed 2010 mid-year budget adjustment and 2011 fiscal year budget. This is the first step in a session-long budget process. The 2010 mid-year budget will require spending reductions of over $1 billion from the 2010 budget we passed at the end of the last session. This is necessary due to a much greater than anticipated decline in state revenue.

The week of Jan. 18-22 the legislature is out of session so that the House Appropriations Committee can begin holding hearings on the governor’s budget proposal as the committee begins putting together its budget for consideration on the floor of the House.

I look forward to working with my colleagues to again produce a balanced budget without raising taxes on Georgia’s families or businesses, many of which are struggling with decreased income or even job loss in this economy.

As always, I hope to hear from the citizens of this community often in the weeks ahead. I am always available to answer questions and welcome and appreciate your input on issues of importance to the state of Georgia.

[Matt Ramsey represents District 72 in the General Assembly. He is an attorney with Warner, Hooper & Ramsey in Peachtree City. His email is Matt.Ramsey@house.ga.gov.]