Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rep. Matt Ramsey Praises Signing of HB 123, Closing Loophole in Georgia's Child Molestation Statute

Yesterday, Governor Sonny Perdue signed House Bill 123 into law. This legislation was authored by Representative Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) to close a loophole in Georgia’s child molestation statute.

House Bill 123 fixes a problem created by a mid-nineties Georgia Supreme Court ruling in which the Court, in a close decision, interpreted the statutory definition of child molestation to require that a perpetrator be physically present with a victim in order to be prosecuted for child molestation.

“The Court’s ruling created a barrier that limited prosecutors' ability to go after predators that subject children to lewd acts via electronic means such as webcams or live streaming video. It was an unusual result in that it meant an offender that commits a lewd act in the presence of a child can be prosecuted for molestation, whereas another person who induces a child to watch the exact same act on a webcam cannot, despite the fact that the impact on the child is the same. HB 123 corrected this flaw,” said Rep. Ramsey. “Our laws must keep up with technological changes and in this case that means closing a loophole that allows predators to use technology to prey upon our children.”

Rep. Ramsey was joined at the signing ceremony by two of the legislation’s co-sponsors, Representative Mark Williams (R-Jesup) and Representative Kevin Levitas (D-Atlanta). Judge Christopher Edwards, District Attorney for the Griffin Judicial Circuit Scott Ballard and his Chief Assistant District Attorney Randy Coggin were also present at the signing.

“I truly appreciate Judge Edwards for bringing the issue to my attention and to Scott Ballard and Randy Coggin for their efforts throughout the legislative session, including participation in several committee hearings, in support of this bill,” said Rep. Ramsey.

The legislation was carried in the Senate by State Senator Ronnie Chance and passed the House and Senate overwhelmingly with bi-partisan support.
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Monday, April 27, 2009

Session Wrap Up

The General Assembly adjourned for the year on April 3. I have previously written an update on several initiatives that were passed during the last week of the session. However, I wanted to follow up with information on some additional measures that were passed by the General Assembly and are on the Governor’s desk awaiting signature. Facing the toughest economic times in recent memory, the 2009 General Assembly Session proved to be a successful one for Georgians. In addition to passing a balanced budget and addressing the governance of DOT, the legislature addressed several important policy areas, including tax relief, education and our state’s trauma network.

Over the past year a statewide task force of educators, policy makers, school administrators and other education policy experts have worked to identify issues that need to be addressed in Georgia’s public education system. One of the most critical problems identified by the task force is a shortage of math and science teachers. In recent years, Georgia has beefed up its math and science curriculum to ensure our students come out of high school ready to compete in college and in the job market in a world that gets more levered to technology every day. However, currently there is a shortage of between 15%-20%, depending on the subject, of the number of teachers necessary to teach this new math and science curriculum. According to the task force, the shortage of math and science teachers is, by far, the greatest area of needs in terms of teacher recruitment. To underscore the problem, Georgia’s colleges last year only produced one physics teacher and nine chemistry teachers.

To address the issue, several legislators, including myself, introduced a measure to provide pay incentives to math and science teachers in an effort to encourage college students that excel in math and science to consider teaching as a possible occupation, rather than other opportunities. This is a market-based, common sense approach to employee recruitment that has been used successfully in the private sector forever. Simply put, if you have a need that is not being met at a given salary and benefit level, you must enhance the salary and benefits to incent additional prospective employees to consider the position. This will benefit all of Georgia’s students as they move out of high school and into college or the workforce. Further, this is an economic development issue, in that it will help make sure Georgia continues to have the kind of technically proficient workforce that will entice technology based companies to invest in and bring jobs to Georgia in the decades to come.

Tax relief for Georgians was a key issue for the General Assembly this year. It is critical in these difficult economic times that we provide measures aimed at helping financially strapped families and businesses, while encouraging economic activity, job growth and increased investment in our economy. The General Assembly passed a measure that will prevent property tax assessments from increasing at all over the next two years to help Georgians who are already struggling with out of control property tax bills. In addition, the House and Senate passed the Jobs Opportunity and Business Success Act (JOBS Act), which was introduced as a package of legislation to create, expand and attract jobs for Georgians. By combining a series of tax cuts, fee suspensions and incentives to hire unemployed Georgians this legislation actually encourages private sector economic activity, rather than the federal government’s version of a stimulus plan that seemed only focused on using taxpayer dollars to stimulate the growth of the size of the federal government.

Finally, the General Assembly worked to provide for a more robust trauma care system in this state. Georgia has the worst per-capita access to Level I trauma care in the southeastern United States. We are losing thousands of lives every year in Georgia because individuals involved in traumatic accidents are not treated quickly enough to mitigate the physical harm caused by the accident. In that regard, the Legislature and Governor Perdue worked together to craft the “Super Speeder” legislation that provides for enhanced fines for excessive speeding, reckless driving, habitual DUI offenders and other dangerous driving activities that are the leading causes of traumatic accidents on our roads. As one of Governor Perdue’s floor leaders, I was significantly involved in the passage of this legislation out of the House. The increased fines are intended to make drivers think twice before excessively speeding or engaging in other dangerous driving activities that endanger all of our families every day on Georgia’s roads. The additional funding derived from the violators of these laws will be used to help fund a statewide trauma care network that will benefit any Georgian that suffers a traumatic accident.

I believe the legislature implemented a number of common-sense measures this session that will benefit millions of Georgians. The information above is but a few of these bills. I welcome any questions from constituents on these or any other matters relevant to our state government. As I’ve said before, thank you so much for the opportunity to serve this great community in the General Assembly.

Matt Ramsey

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Final Report of the Current Session

The Georgia General Assembly adjourned the final day of the session on Friday night at 11:59 p.m. It was a hectic final week with several important pieces of legislation getting enacted, while several others were held over to next year. I wanted to give a brief overview about the final week of the session and follow up with a more comprehensive wrap up in the weeks to come.

First, the General Assembly passed the final $18.6 billion FY 2010 budget on Friday evening by an overwhelming bipartisan vote in favor of the House/Senate Conference Committee’s final budget. As I have constantly stated, it was a very difficult budget cycle as the state endeavored to deal with rapidly decreasing revenues that necessitated nearly $3 billion in cuts. However, we were able to balance the budget without raising taxes, unlike countless other states going through similarly difficult times, by making difficult choices and shrinking the size of government. While the cuts will certainly be felt throughout every sector of state government, I strongly believe the final budget document protects to the greatest extent possible critical state missions such as education and public safety, while focusing the largest reductions on other areas of the state budget. As I stated, I will provide a more detailed report on the final budget in the weeks to come and welcome any questions or comments.

Two of the most important pieces of legislation to pass the General Assembly were major restructurings of our state’s two largest agencies, the Department of Human Resources and the Department of Transportation. Since being elected in 2007, I have repeatedly written about my concern over mismanagement of the DOT. I strongly believe our current system is broken, which is partially evidenced by our hopelessly overburdened transportation infrastructure in Metro-Atlanta. The current system was set up several decades ago and provides an unelected Board of thirteen individuals, with no direct accountability to the citizens of Georgia, complete and total power over every aspect of planning, funding and project delivery. In my opinion, it is good ol’ boy politics at its worst and has led to the DOT over-obligating itself to the tune of several billion dollars. The legislation passed last week will provide those that are directly accountable to Georgia’s voters, the Governor and members of the General Assembly, a greater voice in our state’s transportation system. The planning and funding process will be completely transparent, rather than the current system where the process occurs in a Board Room and is often based solely on political favors and clout.

The General Assembly also provided for a significant reorganization of the Department of Human Resources, a department that provides for an incredibly wide array of services to Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens, including abused and neglected children and the elderly. The reorganization will help to ensure a more streamlined and transparent service delivery system by breaking the massive agency into three smaller more focused and targeted agencies. It is the result of a year long Health and Human Services task force that focused its efforts on determining a more effective way to serve Georgia’s citizens.

Finally, I have received a great deal of interest and wanted to provide an update on legislation I authored to add cell phone use to the list of restrictions placed on under-18, Class-D license holders. The legislation passed the House Motor Vehicles Committee unanimously, passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, passed the Senate Public Safety Committee Unanimously, but got hung up in the Senate Rules Committee in the final days of the session without getting to the Senate floor for a vote. In the end, it was a numbers game whereby many bills didn’t make it to the House or Senate floor due to time simply running out on the session. To use a football analogy, we moved the football down inside our opponent’s five yard line but didn’t quite get it into the end zone. However, the good news for supporters of the legislation is that this is a two-year session, and the bill will still be on the five yard line when next year’s session convenes.

I am very proud to report that legislation I authored to address a gap in our child molestation statute is on its way to the Governor for signature. In addition, legislation I introduced to protect parties from costs resulting from meritless lawsuits was adopted and on its way to the Governor for signature. Also, legislation I worked on to provide our school systems greater flexibility from state mandates to help in the current economic crisis was also adopted by the House and Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature.

I look forward to providing additional information on this and other legislation addressed by the General Assembly in the weeks to come. Let me also say thank you to the numerous citizens that wrote and called me during the session. I truly enjoy the interaction with constituents and the input is absolutely invaluable.
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Monday, March 30, 2009

Week 10 Update (3/30/09)

This past week proved to be another busy one for the House of Representatives. We are set to start our last week and the pace of bills and resolutions being considered is brisk. Last week we considered several important bills.

Earlier this year, we voted on Senate Bill 83 which would have provided Georgia’s voters the ability to increase their homestead exemption by $2000, which has not been increased since the 1930s on a statewide basis, but it failed along a party line vote. This week it was reconsidered and came back up for a vote, but again fell short of the 2/3 majority vote necessary to provide for such a constitutional amendment. Unfortunately, House Democrats blocked this bill’s approval again. If passed, it would have been put before the citizens and given them an opportunity to vote to give tax relief to our homeowners during these difficult economic times.

After months of committee meetings and hearings, several bills made it through the General Assembly and to the Governor’s desk this week. If signed by Governor Perdue, these bills will become law. Some of the bills awaiting the Governor’s signature include House Bills 149 and Senate Bill 13.

Senate Bill 13 gives prosecutors in Georgia the option to seek life without parole convictions for serious criminal offenses. Under current law, the only way a prosecutor can secure a life without parole conviction is to seek the death penalty. Death penalty trials are usually very costly and take longer to complete at a greater expense to our taxpayers. Often times, prosecutors seek the death penalty just to secure the life without parole option. This change in law will allow prosecutors to seek this type of conviction directly without going for the death penalty. It will also ensure that the people who need to be locked up for the rest of their life will be sentenced quicker and reduce the cost of such trials.

House Bill 149 allows 11th and 12th grade public school students to attend a college or technical school to complete high school while receiving credit towards a higher degree. This bill, commonly called the “Move on When Ready” Act, gives public school students and their families more options to fit their individual educational needs. By allowing students to choose courses that fit their personal life goals we can foster the educational interest students need to succeed.

I am also pleased to report that House Bill 123, legislation that I authored to close a loophole in our child molestation statute, passed the Senate unanimously and now comes back to the House to be agree to one technical change that was made by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Chance has worked closely with me on this important legislation and did an excellent job presenting the bill on the Senate floor. We are one small step away from sending this bill to the Governor and providing for additional tools in the effort to protect children from predators.

As the 2009 Session comes to an end, many House and Senate bills are now closer to becoming law. Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at my Capitol office (404-651-7737). I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Week 9 Report

With Crossover Day behind us, the end of a challenging 2009 regular session draws near. The House and Senate have six legislative days remaining before we adjourn on Friday, April 3. As I have stated over and over again, this session continues to be dominated by budget discussions brought on by the historic economic downturn our state is currently facing. The shortfall in revenues will result in the largest reduction in the size of state government over a two year period in the history of the state. Last week, the House passed its version of the 2010 Budget. The measure has now been sent to the Senate where the Senate will surely adopt a differing version which will result in a conference committee meeting to iron out differences before the end of the session. As the 2010 Budget was far and away the most significant legislation adopted by the House last week, I have listed some information below about areas of the budget in which I have received the most inquiries from constituents.

Healthcare .

The budget passed by the House restores a proposed reduction of $434 million in reimbursement to hospitals and healthcare providers. The Governor continues to express concern about the ability of the State to fund expected growth in Medicaid, which will certainly come as our unemployment rate continues to rise. This will certainly be a key point of negotiation in the remaining days of the session. One issue I have heard a great deal about is the proposed elimination of the State’s supplement for school nurses and its potential impact on student health. The version passed by the House fully funds the school nurse program. The House version of the budget also maintains the current state-to-employee State Health Benefit Plan contribution ratio for current and retired employees, however, that figure may be adjusted in the Senate.


The House budget includes full funding of the state salary supplement for National Board Certified Teachers, which was initially slated for elimination in the Governor’s budget recommendation. In addition, the House budget provides that Quality Basic Education enrollment growth projections for K-12 grade and the university system will receive full
funding. Education makes up roughly 60% over our State’s budget. Virtually every agency of state government went through spending reductions of 10% or greater. The House’s 2009 and 2010 budget both have reductions of approximately 3% in the area of K-12 education, far and away the least impacted area of the state budget in terms of percentage reductions. While the economic downturn has necessitated cuts (the only other alternative is tax increases, which would be a terrible idea in this economy), I believe you will continue to see the House and Senate work to the greatest extent possible to ensure that the economy does not impact our children’s education. I pledge to represent that view throughout the remaining days of the session.

Public Safety

The safety and security of the Georgia’s citizens is one of the primary responsibility of State government. It is vital that we not allow the economic downturn to jeopardize the safety of our citizens. While economic necessity has forced some cuts in public safety, the House version of the budget funds GBI crime labs throughout the state and 23 new State Patrol cars to help keep our roads safe.

These difficult economic times certainly impacts us all in one way or another. Some important services were reduced in the FY 2009 supplemental budget and in the House’s version of the 2010 budget, and if revenues continue to diminish further cuts may be necessary. However, both budget documents represent a concerted, diligent effort to cut wasteful spending and prioritize the needs of Georgians in the face of a marked and continuing economic downturn. We are constitutionally obligated to live within our means in Georgia and balance the budget, which ensures our children are not burdened by additional State incurred debt, as our federal government is fond of doing. If there is one good thing to come from these hard times it will be a renewed appreciation for the proper limits of government and fiscal responsibility.

Serving as your representative is an honor, and I take this responsibility
seriously. As the session progresses, I will continue to update you on legislation
and events important to the state and our district. Please do not hesitate to
contact me with your thoughts and comments by calling my office at (404) 651-7737.

Week 7 Update

(Somehow we managed to get a bit behind on Rep. Ramsey's posts.)

Last week, the General Assembly convened for Days 25, 26 and 27 of the legislative session. We are rapidly approaching Day 30, known as “Cross-Over Day” which is the last day that bills originating from the House and Senate can pass out of their respective bodies and be heard by the other body this session. Last week we considered some important measures on the floor and in committee.

For the last several years, Georgia has passed some of the strictest immigration laws in the country. Despite this, a loophole in our elections laws allowed thousands of illegal immigrants to register to vote. As a result of this problem, we passed House Bill 45, which requires all people registering to vote to prove their citizenship. Birth certificates, driver’s licenses, passports, and U.S. naturalization documents are among the numerous types of proof that will be accepted. This small step is crucial to preventing voter fraud and preserving confidence in the electoral system.

I have continually heard from people in the education community about the difficulty in finding sufficient numbers of math and science teachers to deal with Georgia’s beefed up curriculum in those areas. Every day our economy becomes more levered to science and technology and our children’s ability to compete in the global job market in the future will depend largely on their proficiency in math and science.

Our colleges are simply not producing enough teachers in these areas to meet the current need. For example, our state colleges and universities produced only one certified physics teacher and only nine chemistry teachers. We currently have a close to twenty-percent shortage of science teachers in our public schools. House Bill 280 seeks to address the problem by providing a stipend to new math and science teachers in their first five years of teaching to encourage college students to look at teaching in the area of math and science.

Members of the Appropriations Committee while the bill was being debate on the floor that the funding needed for these increases would be derived from the Board of Regents and will not be a shift from within the Department of Education. It is my hope that this incentive will encourage more teachers in these critical areas.

Last week, legislation that I have introduced on the behalf of Governor Perdue aimed at protecting innocent parties from incurring unnecessary costs when a meritless lawsuit has been introduced against them passed unanimously out of the House Judiciary Committee. The legislation would provide for a 120 day stay of discovery whenever a motion to dismiss is filed by a party aiming to get a claim against them, that they deem to be without merit, dismissed. The discovery stay will provide time for the Judge to rule on the motion before significant dollars are expended on discovery. Fairness dictates that a party should not have to bear discovery expenses (depositions, document production, etc.) if the court ultimately determines that the underlying claim lacked legal merit.

Finally, this week the House and Senate amended our previously set schedule. This new schedule will result in the General Assembly concluding the 40th and final day of the legislative session for this year on April 3.

Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at my Capitol office at (404)651-7737. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Week 3 Update

This past week was the third full week the General Assembly was in session, and Friday marked the fifteenth legislative day out of a Constitutional maximum of forty. The big news of the week was the announcement at the end of the week of the official state revenue numbers for the month of January. Governor Perdue announced that the revenues in January 2009 were close to fifteen percent (over $250 million) less than the revenues in January 2008. This was one of the largest year-over-year monthly decreases in our state’s history and significantly less than the revenue estimate for the month. What this means, in real dollar terms, is that the General Assembly will likely need to cut as much as $3 billion, rather than the previously estimated $2 billion in reductions, to balance the budget.

Because of the rapid deterioration in revenues, a resolution was adopted on Friday setting our schedule for the rest of the session. The House and Senate leadership determined that it was prudent to set a schedule which reserves five legislative days in the event that revenues continue to drop precipitously between now and the end of the fiscal year in June. This will allow the General Assembly to come back into session and make any necessary budget adjustments in the months to come. In order to save these days, it will require the legislature to finish our business by the thirty-fifth day of the legislative session.

Given the revenue difficulties brought on by the economy, it is important that all levels of government use their discretion to allocate dollars to critical needs. Recognizing this fact, Governor Perdue is working to provide relief from expenditure controls to give maximum flexibility to school systems in their effort to ensure classroom instruction is not diminished during this difficult time. In that regard, I have introduced legislation on behalf of Governor Perdue that will provide relief from several state budgetary restrictions for this school year and next school year. It should be heard by the Education Committee in the coming week. It is absolutely critical that we work to ensure that our children’s education is not impacted by the current budgetary limitations. I strongly believe that is the sentiment of the Governor and my colleagues in the General Assembly.

On Friday of last week, I presented my “cell phone bill” before a subcommittee of the Motor Vehicles Committee. This bill, if adopted, will prohibit cell phone use by 16 and 17-year-old drivers. The hearing went well, with the Medical Association of Georgia, AAA, and other groups testifying in favor of my legislation. I am hopeful a vote will occur in another committee meeting in the days ahead. Also, my legislation to strengthen the child molestation statute will be heard in subcommittee this upcoming week. I will provide updates on both pieces of legislation in the weeks ahead.

While the budget news is not good, I believe a good and important discussion is being brought on by the economic difficulties. Because revenues are significantly diminished, all levels of government are being forced to truly assess and evaluate the necessity of all programs and services. On the state level, budget cuts are necessary; however, when the economy improves, Georgia’s government will be more lean and efficient because of this experience, which is the silver lining to the economic black cloud hanging over us.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns. I look forward to interacting with the members of this great community.

Matt Ramsey

Monday, January 19, 2009

Week 1 Report

Last week the 2009 Georgia General Assembly was gaveled into session. The first day the entire body was sworn in by the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. It is truly an honor to serve this community, and again swearing the oath to uphold the Constitution was an incredibly humbling moment.

Let me again thank the voters of Fayette County for the opportunity to serve this wonderful community. It was a particularly exciting day for me, as my wife and five-year-old daughter accompanied me to the swearing in. My daughter held the Bible for me when I was sworn in, which was a really exciting moment for my family, although, the high point for my daughter was pushing the “yes” button and lighting up the green light next to my name in the chamber when we took a roll call attendance vote to begin the day.

The first week of a two year session is typically light on legislative business. That is primarily due to the fact that people are just beginning to introduce bills and committees are not constituted until the end of the week when the Committee on Assignments makes committee assignments. I was excited to learn that I will again get to serve on the Non-Civil Judiciary Committee. This committee writes all the legislation that deals with criminal justice issues. It is a wonderful committee, as it allows me to work on critical community safety issues.

This week, I introduced legislation to deal with a problem created in the child molestation statute by the Georgia Supreme Court. In a controversial and close decision, the Court recently construed the child molestation statute in a way that, in my opinion, ignores the Legislature’s intent and puts numerous child molestation prosecutions in jeopardy. My bill will address the problem created by this ruling and ensure prosecutors have every tool necessary to go after these predators. It will be heard by the Judiciary Committee on which I serve.

I was also excited to learn I will be serving on the Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee, under the leadership of my friend Chairman John Yates. Chairman Yates has long been an advocate for the rights of the brave men and women that serve or have served our country in the armed forces and I look forward to working with him in that effort. I will also be serving as the Secretary of the Human Relations and Aging, which works on issues created by our rapidly aging population, and on the Regulated Industries Committee.

The big event of the week from a substantive policy standpoint was Governor Perdue’s “State of the State” speech on Wednesday. It is the first opportunity for the public and members of the General Assembly to hear Governor Perdue’s legislative agenda for this session. He outlined proposals in areas such as tort reform, local school board governance and reform of the Georgia DOT. I look forward to seeing the details of all of his proposals as the session gets underway and we begin to see the nuts and bolts of these measures.

Governor Perdue also outlined his requested budget. Obviously, the biggest challenge facing the legislature this year will be addressing our massive budget shortfall created by declining revenues. We are required by the Constitution to balance the budget, and that is exactly what we will do. While we will be undergoing significant belt-tightening, which will certainly be felt across all sectors of state government, we should all take heart that Georgia is a state that lives within its means. Now that Governor Perdue has proposed his budget, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will meet this upcoming week to begin hearings as they start the process of writing the budget. I will provide updates as details of the budget begin to come out.

It is my intention to again write regular columns in an effort to keep the community informed during this session of the General Assembly. As always, please never hesitate to write or call with any questions or opinions. Let me also say a special thanks to all that have responded to the citizen survey that I mailed out in December. In this difficult time where resources are limited and government certainly cannot be all things to all people, I believe it is more important than ever for policy makers to reach out to their constituents for input on their priorities. I have been extremely impressed by the rate of response and very much appreciate all of the thoughtful comments and opinions. This information will be invaluable to me during this and future sessions.

Matt Ramsey
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