We worked hard this session to balance the state budget and make necessary spending cuts while continuing to provide vital services for Georgians.
Currently, the governor’s proposed budgets contain only additions and subtractions from the previous budget. During my 11 years in the House, I have never seen a budget covering all expenditures.
To allow for a more thorough examination of our expenditures, we passed HB 33. This measure is designed to increase efficiencies and decrease wasteful spending by implementing a zero-based budgeting system. Specifically, HB 33 would allow the General Assembly to review every budgetary detail of state departments and agencies. This would allow us to fully examine every detail of the entire state budget over a six-year period.
In 2003 when the General Assembly was split between the two political parties, the Senate established its own budget office.
HB 33 would also consolidate the House Budget Office and Senate Budget Office into one Joint Legislative Budget Office. This simple change could save the state close to $1 million annually.
We also passed several pieces of legislation directed toward judicial reform. HB 265 creates the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians.
This council will study criminal justice reform during between sessions and make legislative recommendations to a joint legislative committee before the 2012 session.
The intent of HB 265 is to find solutions that will allow the state to ensure public safety while decreasing the cost of our corrections system. Georgia currently spends more than $1 billion a year and has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the nation.
However, recent studies suggest that three-fourths of the state’s prison population have drug addictions which could be treated at much lower costs than imprisonment.
For example, Georgia pays $49 per day per inmate housed in a state prison, compared to $1.50 per day for probation supervision or $16 per day for community treatment at a Day Reporting Center.
Recent complaints by our judicial system indicate that the current method of selecting jury pools is insufficient. The second judicial reform we took up involved implementing a new way of compiling lists of citizens who are eligible to serve on juries. HB 415, the Jury Composition Reform Act of 2011, does that by completely changing the way county jury pools are created and ending what is known as “forced balancing.”
Instead of requiring counties to “force balance” their jury pools to ensure gender and racial population proportionality, HB 415 would simplify the process by requiring the Council of Superior Court Clerks to establish and maintain a statewide master jury list that will be more inclusive than the county lists currently used.
The council will screen drivers’ license records, vital records, and voter registration records to create the statewide list. Each county will then get their list of eligible jurors from the council. This will not only save counties money; it will also ensure accurate jury pool lists. Additionally, HB 415 will make jury service more uniform among eligible citizens, meaning more people will be called for jury service, but we will all be called less often.
We also passed legislation that brings our state election laws into compliance with the rules of the national political parties. Specifically, HB 454 grants the Secretary of State the discretion to select the date for Georgia’s presidential primary in each presidential election year.
The presidential primary date selected by the Secretary of State would have to fall between December 1 of the year prior to a presidential election and the second Tuesday in June of the presidential election year. By granting the Secretary of State this additional flexibility, we can maximize Georgia’s role in selecting our nation’s presidential candidates.
March 16 was the 30th legislative day of the 2011 session. Known as “Crossover Day,” this critical day marked the last day for House bills to pass to the Senate and vice versa. If a bill did not pass to the other chamber by the end of Crossover Day, it is dead for this session. The remaining 10 legislative days will see the House considering legislation that has already been passed by the Senate.
Finally, let me tell you about some amazing men and women who were honored this week at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. A group of 20 soldiers and civilians supported the rest and recuperation needs of more than 166,500 troops who traveled through our state last year.
While the House was tied up with “Crossover Day,” Representative Lynn Smith served as an honorary representative of the state of Georgia and the Georgia House of Representatives. She presented these 20 military and civilian personnel with an official copy of House Resolution 528 and letters of recognition from House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. She also gave a Georgia state flag that had been flown over the State Capitol to the United Services Organization (USO).
Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 401 Capitol Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30334; phone (404) 657-7857; fax (404) 463-2044; e-mail email@example.com.