Hamrick: Course is set for 2012 legislative session

By State Sen. Bill Hamrick

The 2012 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly kicked off in a way that was anything but ordinary. Just a short time after the gavel fell on Day 1, the Georgia Senate passed two bills that will ensure the right personnel are in place to provide K – 12 students with a top-tier education.

SB 38 gives the State School Superintendent of Georgia the authority to hire and dismiss employees at the Department of Education rather than delegating this task to the State School Board. Ultimately, this gives the State School Superintendent the oversight needed to build a collaborative team that promotes nothing less than educational excellence and strong leadership in Georgia. This measure passed unanimously.

SB 184 will keep superior educators in our schools and prevent them from being unfairly laid off due to a lack of seniority. Experience does not necessarily equate excellence, and it is imperative that Georgia keeps engaging and bright teachers in our classrooms. This measure passed in a 38 – 15 vote, and will head to the Governor’s desk alongside SB 38.

At the Georgia Chamber’s annual Eggs & Issues Breakfast, Governor Deal unveiled three recommendations that will bolster Georgia’s pro-business environment by providing incentives for businesses seeking to relocate or expand operations in our state. These recommendations include:

  • Eliminating the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing
  • Providing sales and use tax exemptions for construction materials used in regionally significant projects
  • Revise the Quality Jobs Tax Credit program by decreasing the creation threshold from 50 to 15 jobs

In order to compete in the global marketplace, it is critical that our state remains a favorable place for business. These three initiatives will give Georgia the extra edge when competing with surrounding states for jobs and economic development opportunities.  Small businesses will especially benefit from the revisions in the Quality Jobs Tax Credit program.

Governor Deal also presented his State of the State address earlier this week, focusing on areas such as transportation, education, and criminal justice reform. The Governor also offered a preview of the FY 2013 budget. The severe cuts of previous years have been replaced with funding that will allow our state to grow and prosper, thanks to slow and steady growth in state revenues.  Some of his budget recommendations include:

  • Appropriating an additional $146.6 million to fund enrollment growth in K-12 schools
  • Maintaining the same award amounts for the HOPE scholarship and continuing to appropriate $20 million for the needs-based one percent student loan program
  • Investing $5 million in order to create a second National Cancer Institute designated Cancer Center at Georgia Health Sciences University
  • Adding an additional $46.7 million in bonds to complete the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project in order to keep our state globally competitive
  • Utilizing $10 million to create new Accountability Courts (drug, DUI, mental health and veteran courts), a proven method of reducing costs and recidivism rates

Last session, the Georgia General Assembly passed HB 265, effectively creating the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Criminal Justice Reform, of which I was an appointed member. Georgia’s tax burden as a result of our state’s prison system has nearly doubled, and this committee was tasked with finding recommendations that would reduce overcrowding in state prisons and alleviate this nearly $1 billion weight on Georgia taxpayers.

In 2012, legislation seeking alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders will be introduced as a result of the findings by the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Criminal Justice Reform. This is not meant to dismiss the severity of the crimes committed. It is, however, meant to ensure the efficient use of our resources while properly rehabilitating those incarcerated. We are committed to making fiscally responsible choices that do not compromise public safety.

This is only the beginning, and there is much work to be done. However, at the end of the day, the Georgia General Assembly is committed to the growth and development of our state. I once again look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to pass sound legislation that solidifies our state’s reputation as a great place for business and an even better place to live.

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