Sunday, February 3, 2008

General Assembly Update, Week 1

It was with great excitement and an overwhelming sense of responsibility that I took my seat on Monday in the State House as the 2008 General Assembly session was gaveled in by the Speaker of the House. In the first week of session I had the opportunity to work on several issues that are of great importance to Fayette County and our State. I plan to write periodic updates during the legislative session in an effort to keep the community informed as to what is going on in the General Assembly this year.

As I said would be the case during my campaign, the first and most pressing legislation to be taken up by the General Assembly this year is a comprehensive statewide water management plan. This week I joined my colleagues in the House and Senate in voting overwhelmingly to pass a water plan. We are one of the last states in the country to put a statewide management plan in place and the current drought underscores how badly we need to take a comprehensive approach to water policy in Georgia. The plan calls for a complete assessment of our current water sources in Georgia, along with economic and population forecasts to determine how much water is currently available and how much water will be necessary in the years to come.

After completion of the assessment, which will identify water needs around the state, regional water councils will draft and implement water plans. These plans will identify the management practices local governments in each region will employ to ensure that regional water and wastewater needs are met now and into the future. The water plan describes a number of management techniques regional water councils and local governments can use in meeting long-term water needs. These include better management of demand for water (e.g., water conservation), adding supply and storage capacity (e.g., reservoir construction), and more efficient methods of returning water to our rivers and streams.

The Speaker of the House has also announced his full support of follow-on legislation to be taken up this session, which will provide significant new funding for the construction of reservoirs, along with a streamlining of the permitting process. While the water plan is not a silver bullet that will bring immediate rain, nor will it fill our lakes and reservoirs overnight, it does mark an important beginning of a process of establishing a state water policy that will prepare us for future droughts. Needless to say, such a policy is long overdue.

Upon being sworn in, I was assigned to several committees, including the House Judiciary (Non-Civil) Committee. I am honored to receive this assignment and excited that it will give me an opportunity to work directly on the type of criminal justice legislation that will have a real impact on efforts to keep our community safe. Last Tuesday at my first committee meeting, we took up legislation to impose residency restrictions on sexual offenders in Georgia. The measure provides that individuals on the sexual offender list will be barred from living or working within 1000 feet of places where minors congregate, including schools and day care centers. The law was originally passed in 2006 but was later struck down by the Supreme Court. The legislation approved by our committee Tuesday is crafted to answer the concerns of the Court and pass constitutional muster if challenged again. The committee heard from the law enforcement community, which testified that the bill would be an important tool in keeping our children safe from sexual predators.

I have personally spoken to our Sheriff and District Attorney and both strongly support this legislation, as do I. As a parent of young children, I am convinced that this is good policy that will help protect the children of our State. I actively participated in the debate and voted with the majority in passing the bill out of committee and look forward to working with my colleagues to quickly bring the legislation up for a vote on the floor of the House.

During the same hearing I also joined my colleagues on the Committee in unanimously approving tough new penalties for individuals involved in dog fighting in Georgia. We need to end this barbaric practice in our State and this legislation will send a strong message to anyone involved that Georgia will not tolerate these type of inhumane activities.

It was an eventful first week with some important accomplishments, but there is still much work to do. I hope this update has been informative.

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