Sen. Jesse Stone

April 30, 2012) – Georgia’s General Assembly adjourned the 2012 Session at midnight March 29, ending months of hard work at the Capitol. It has been a remarkable journey that has led to the passage of more than 200 major bills that will contribute to the state’s economic recovery and ultimate success for Georgia .

In January, the Senate Majority Party announced five areas of focus during the 2012 legislative session. These areas embodied the principles of responsible spending, putting Georgians back to work, protecting our children and providing students with a quality education. Gov. Nathan Deal now has 40 days after Sine Die adjournment to sign, veto or let bills become law without signature.

Limited Government

During this year’s session, the Senate worked hard to reduce the overall size and scope of state government. To increase the overall productivity of Georgia ’s state-run programs, the Senate adopted HB 456, also known as the Georgia Government Accountability Act. Similar to the Senate’s version, this legislation provides a mechanism to review and determine the continued need of state-run programs through the creation of the Legislative Sunset Advi- sory Committee. The passage of this historic legislation provides a clear solution for efficient government operations and also helps maximize every taxpayer dollar.

Pro-Business Tax Reform

One of the most important things Georgia can do to attract businesses and promote job creation is revise our tax structure into one that spurs private-sector growth and welcomes investment in our state. In the final days of the 2012 Legislative Session, the Senate passed HB 386 – a comprehensive tax reform package projected to offer Georgia businesses and taxpayers nearly $262 million in tax savings over the next three years.

In order to see continued growth and get more Georgians back to work, it was imperative to revise Georgia ’s antiquated tax code by removing the sales tax levied on energy used by manufacturing facilities, an estimated savings of $150 million per year. As a result, Georgia will become even more attractive to businesses seeking to relocate or expand their operations.

This common sense legislation also kept Georgia families in mind by reducing the burden of the marriage penalty in the state income tax, eliminating the birthday tax on vehicles, and bringing back the tax holiday for school supplies. The passage of HB 386 is a tremendous victory for both Georgia ’s businesses and families.

21st Century Education Reform

Twenty-first century education reform was one of our greatest legislative priorities this session. Our classrooms and our communities are poised to thrive due in large part to a variety of bills passed dealing with how our children learn and how we support our valuable educators. With the passage of charter schools amendment, HR 1162, Georgians will have the opportunity to vote for their approval of this measure in November. HR 1162 reasserts the state’s role in public education, defines a state charter school in the State Constitution, provides that state charter schools only be public, nonsectarian, nonreligious, and nonprofit, and regulates that the state is not allowed to divert funding from the local school district for state charter schools. HB 797 is a companion bill to HR 1162; it establishes the State Charter Schools Commission as a state-level authorizing entity with the power to approve or deny petitions for state charter schools.

We also addressed the need for technological advancement in our classrooms. SB 289 requires local school systems to offer students virtual instruction program options to enable students to use online and distance learning in the nontraditional classroom and requires high school students to complete at least one of these online learning courses during their high school career.

SB 410 adopts indicators of quality of learning by students, financial efficiency, and school climate for individual schools and school systems. The legislation assigns a numerical score rating for individual schools and school systems based on student achievement, achievement gap closure, and student progress. It also requires that a letter grade be assigned to each school and school system and that grade be included on each school and school system’s annual report card. This measure will keep students’ parents informed about the overall progress of their local school systems, and it will act as a built in accountability for schools to measure their own growth.

The Senate also took necessary steps to support our valuable educators. SB 184 prohib- its local school boards from implementing a policy that allows length of teaching time to be the main factor when reducing staff. Similarly, SB 153 requires that written documentation be provided to teachers, administrators, and contract employees who have been terminated or suspended only for financial reasons, specifying the reason for their termination or suspension. Economic times have reached into every community, every business, and effected every profession- especially our educators. It is an unfortunate circumstance when an educator must be terminated or suspended due to no fault of their own, and we are doing everything in our power to help clear the path for future employment.

Fiscal Responsibility

Now more than ever, the Georgia General Assembly must take great strides to eliminate government waste and reduce expenditures. Government operations are funded by taxpayer dollars, and the Senate Majority Party drafted legislation in 2012 to ensure the continued financial responsibility of our state and to urge the federal government to adopt more fiscally sound policy. The Georgia legislature concluded the 2012 session by passing a $19.3 billion budget, keeping in line with the state’s commitment to pass balanced budget legislation each year. Our fiscal responsibility will better position Georgia ’s economy to grow, create more jobs and get more Georgians back to work.

In addition, the passage of SB 33 will assist in the legislature’s efforts to control state spending and maximize every taxpayer dollar. This zero-based budgeting bill will require thorough reevaluation of all line items in the budget every 10 years, with state agencies rotating so that not all are subject to review at one time.

While Georgia enjoys AAA bond rating through fiscally responsible habits like the state’s mandated balanced budget, the federal government does not. As a result, our national debt is at record numbers and keeps climbing higher.

The Senate passed SR 673 to petition Congress to call a Constitutional convention for the purpose of proposing a balanced budget amendment. The resolution recommends that the total of all federal appropriations made by the Congress for any fiscal year may not exceed the total of all estimated federal revenue for that fiscal year.

In a great show of bipartisan support, the Senate passed HB 1176, a comprehensive sentencing and corrections reform bill that will save Georgia taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, improve public safety and lower recidivism rates.

Protecting Our Children

The children of Georgia are our state’s greatest asset, and their innocence and future potential needs to be fiercely protected. As adults, it is our responsibility to preserve the highest quality of life for all children—even those who are yet to be born. Therefore, the Senate introduced and passed SB 316 to extend the statute of limitations on reporting sexual crimes. The Senate also passed SB 355; legislation that extends the mandatory reporting requirement for child abuse beyond those directly responsible for the child’s care. These bills were ultimately incorporated into HB 1176—the criminal justice reform bill.

HB 954 caused one of the most passionate debates of the session. I carried this bill in the Senate because of my personal beliefs to protect the rights of unborn children; this is founded on my personal loss of my son’s twin brother at 24 weeks.

The “fetal pain bill” will limit the time elective abortions can be received from 26 weeks to 20 weeks, except when a physician has deemed a pregnancy medically futile. This term means the unborn child has a profound and irremediable congenital or chromosomal abnormality that would not allow the child to live after birth.

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