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At the halfway point of the 2014 legislative session
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The Georgia General Assembly is now halfway through the 40-day legislative session and just days away from a significant deadline. The 30th day of the legislative session - also known as Crossover Day - is the last day for Senate bills to transfer to the House for consideration, and vice versa.

We are now deep into the committee process and each committee is reviewing its assigned bills. It's important that each bill is carefully vetted to make sure it's impact will be positive for all Georgians, and that these same bills are free of unintended consequences or negative impact.

The Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court delivers the State of the Judiciary address to the Georgia General Assembly each year. The event was observed by a joint session of the Senate and House last week. During the address, Chief Justice Hugh P. Thompson highlighted the lack of accessibility to legal services in Georgia, especially among poor and rural populations. Because of inadequate legal services, courts statewide are seeing an increase in the number of people representing themselves.

Thompson also provided an update on the Criminal Justice and Juvenile Justice reforms passed in recent years and outlined one of the greatest successes in the history of Georgia's judicial system: The expansion of accountability courts. These courts save taxpayer money and increase public safety by reducing the number of non-violent repeat offenders through treatment and strict accountability measures.

The Senate took legislative action on a number of bills in several different policy areas last week. These bills will now transfer to the House for consideration or to the Governor's desk for his signature. Some of the most notable bills include:

House Bill 399

The legislation changes existing law regarding local possession or use of properties for airports. The bill ensures airport stores and kiosks are not subject to ad valorem taxation, provided the local interest in that specific store or kiosk creates an estate in land.

Status: On Governor's desk.

House Bill 743

The Senate's version of the Amended Fiscal Year 2014 Budget, also known as the supplemental budget, was set $20.2 billion and included increases for K-12 education, child welfare services and health care for teachers. If the House agrees to minor changes made by the Senate during our budget process, the bill will receive final passage and go to the Governor's desk. If not, a conference committee will be appointed to negotiate the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

Status: Passed Senate; House to review Senate's adjustments.

Senate Bill 240

The legislation would allow non-profit museums to manufacture and distribute samples of distilled spirits if an annual permit is obtained.

Status: Passed Senate; under consideration in House.

Senate Bill 283

SB 283 would allow public school systems to educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations and greetings without policy constraints. This bill allows students and adults to participate in each other's religions and teaches cultural tolerance, while taking away the fear of legal retribution. No matter the holiday, we all deserve to have the freedom to acknowledge these traditions in our public schools without fear of litigation.

Status: Passed Senate; under consideration in House.

Senate Bill 286

Wineries would be allowed to purchase distilled spirits directly from a manufacturer in order to blend the spirits with wine and produce fortified wine. SB 286 also exempts fortified wines and farm wineries from the definition of contraband wine/contraband wine producers.

Status: Passed Senate; under consideration in House.

Senate Bill 288

SB 288 would require all interscholastic athletic agencies to annually provide a copy of the previous year's finances to all members. The report must cover all activities and include a summary of assets, liabilities, incomes and operating expenses.

Status: Passed Senate; under consideration in House.

Senate Resolution 736

SR 736 calls for a convention of the states to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution, specifically to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress. We have watched the Federal Government spend beyond its means for far too long; spending hard-earned taxpayer dollars on frivolous programs and services. It's time we send a clear message demanding fiscal responsibility to Washington, D.C., and this legislation does just that.

Status: Passed Senate; under consideration in House.

I will be holding a town hall meeting at 10 a.m. Feb. 15 at Ma Gooch's restaurant in Cleveland. I will be providing an update on the 2014 legislative session and invite anyone who would like to attend.

I encourage anyone with questions about the bills mentioned above, or any other legislation, to contact my office at any time. As always, it is an honor and a privilege to represent District 51 at the Georgia State Capitol.

Sen. Steve Gooch serves as chairman of the Transportation Committee. He represents the 51st Senate District, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties. He may be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via email at