Last week saw the 2011 term of the Georgia General Assembly gavel into session. However, it was certainly the most unusual start to a legislative session in my short career. There was tremendous uncertainty with the weather on the eve of session as snow and ice began to fall. However, the Georgia Constitution does not have any provision for bad weather and states we SHALL convene on the second Monday in January. With that in mind I set off for what turned out to be a four hours plus roundtrip commute to Atlanta on Monday to be sworn in myself and to see the inauguration of Georgia’s 82nd Governor, Nathan Deal, which had to be hastily moved inside to the House chambers due to the bad weather. Governor Deal gave an excellent speech which set out many of his goals and aspirations for his impending first term.
Governor Deal’s inaugural speech on Monday was followed on Wednesday by his first state of the State address before a joint session of the House and Senate. The state of the State address is historically primarily focused on the Governor’s budget recommendations and this year’s speech by Governor Deal was no different. Taken in the aggregate, his budget calls for an average spending reduction of roughly 7 % per agency, however, his recommendations certainly did not call for straight across the board cuts. Governor Deal in his speech underlined his intention to hold state funding for K-12 education harmless. Governor Deal’s budget also calls for the elimination of 14,000 state government positions, many of which are already vacant. This is definitely a good step in continuing the efforts the General Assembly have advanced in recent years to reduce the size of state government. Now that the Governor has unveiled his suggested FY 2011 amended and FY 2012 full year budgets the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will begin this week holding agency by agency hearings to review his requested budget and begin the process of authoring the appropriations bills for the General Assembly to consider in the weeks ahead.
Wednesday was the General Assembly’s second and final legislative day of the week and I introduced my first bill of the session before we adjourned that afternoon. The measure is House Bill 47 and is very similar to legislation I authored last year to allow health insurance companies to offer health insurance products that they sell in other states to Georgians. The measure passed the House last year mostly along party lines, however, stalled in the Senate Rules Committee before it could be considered by the full Senate before the end of the session. In my opinion it is a critical free-market oriented reform that will provide the hundreds of thousands of Georgians that only have access to insurance through the individual market a much greater opportunity to find a policy that fits their specific needs. This is particularly important in light of the Obama Administration’s health care reform measure that imposes a mandate on every American to buy health insurance. It is critical that we as state policy makers remove barriers to competition and put more power in the hands of the Georgia insurance buying consumers.
Due to my position in House leadership I serve on the Committee on Assignments which is tasked with making committee assignments for every member of the State House. Much of my time at the Capitol last week was spent in meetings with that Committee working to get House standing committees set for the next two years. On Friday Speaker Ralston announced the slate of Committee Chairmen and Committee positions for 2011-2012. I was honored to be appointed to serve as the Vice-Chairman of the House Reapportionment Committee. I look forward to working with the Chair of that Committee, Roger Lane (R-Darien), and all of its members over the next year to do the constitutionally mandated once-a-decade process of redrawing Georgia’s State House and Senate and Congressional legislative lines to reflect population shifts that have occurred over the past ten years. I was also appointed to serve as the Vice-Chairman of the Special Rules Committee and as a member on the House Appropriations and Ethics Committees. In addition, I will continue to serve on the House Judiciary Non-Civil and Regulated Industries Committees, as I did last term.
Next week the House and Senate are out of session so that joint Appropriations Committee hearings can be held. Over the next few weeks the legislative pace will pick up as more legislation is introduced and committees begin to meet. I look forward to providing regular legislative updates so that the citizens of this community remain informed on the goings on at their State Capitol. As always, I encourage any feedback or questions and hope citizens will call on me if I can be of any service to them.