Last Thursday night, just before midnight, the gavel came down and brought the 2011 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly to a close. It was a tough, but in many ways, a very productive session. Earlier in the session the legislature again passed a balanced budget without raising taxes on Georgians that will ensure Georgia will remain a leader among states in terms of fiscally conservative and responsible budgeting practices. The General Assembly also took necessary action to ensure the financial solvency of the HOPE Scholarship program for future generations of college students by realigning the program with the fiscal realities of a program that was paying far more in benefits than it was receiving in lottery receipts.
I wanted to use this letter as an opportunity to give a quick update on legislation I was personally involved in that was still in doubt on the last day of the session. First, and perhaps most talked about, was HB 87, legislation I sponsored to address the social and economic consequences of illegal immigration. I am happy to report the measure received final passage by both the House and Senate on Thursday and is on the way to Governor Deal’s desk. I have never been involved in a more difficult and time consuming legislative initiative and believe the final product is one that will truly make a difference in the years ahead in the State of Georgia. I believe the bill will benefit the taxpayers, who are currently subsidizing the presence of nearly 500,000 illegal aliens in Georgia. I believe the bill will benefit our public schools, which are overcrowded and underfunded. I believe the bill will make our communities safer. I also believe it will ensure jobs are protected for U.S. citizens and LEGAL immigrants. In the waning days of the session there was a great deal of debate and discussion with the opponents of the measure, but in the end, we got the vast majority of what we wanted in the bill with the most critical provisions remaining intact. In fact, it has been called the toughest, most comprehensive bill in the country. To citizens that wrote me and other members of the legislature in support of this measure, please know the support of grass roots citizens is what made the enactment of this bill possible by allowing us to overcome the special interests that were lobbying against the bill.
Another bill that came down to the wire on Thursday that I have been working on for more than two years is a bill to allow Georgia health insurance companies to sell products to GA consumers that they sell in other states. This is a critical free-market oriented reform meant to give Georgia insurance buying families and businesses the benefits of more choice and competition in the individual insurance market. I am very happy to report that with about an hour to spare on the last night of the session we were able to secure final passage of the bill in the Georgia House. HB 47 is now on the way to Governor Deal’s desk for his signature.
Finally, a less talked about but important bill I sponsored this year also received final passage on the final day of the legislative session. Many have read in recent weeks about the proliferation of internet sweepstakes cafes around the state, including a facility right here in Fayette County. Prosecutors and cities alike have been struggling with how to address these facilities which have been exploiting what they believe is a loophole in our state’s gambling laws and have been operating what are tantamount to slot machine casinos under the guise of running legitimate sweepstakes. City officials in every city in which one of these facilities have been opened or are attempting to open have expressed concern about their impact on crime and safety and a degradation of local community standards. The bill I sponsored with other legislators, and which is now on its way to the Governor’s desk, closes the loophole that has been exploited. I worked very closely with the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia, the Georgia Municipal Association and the Attorney General’s office in crafting the language and they all believe this will address the issue we sought to address.
Thank you again for giving me the honor of serving on behalf of Fayette County in the Georgia General Assembly this year. Please never hesitate to contact me if I can be of service or address any question or concern you may have regarding your state government.