The legislature cleared the annual Crossover Day hurdle this week with both the Senate and House working feverishly to pass bills out of their respective chambers before the midnight deadline on Thursday.
Because the event represents a milestone in the legislative process, I have chosen to deliver an update this week on Senate business and will continue the Crisis in Common Sense series next week.
Crossover Day saw the passage of nearly 30 bills in the Senate.
Most notably, we voted to pass a measure aimed at the preservation of life, called the Ethical Treatment of Human Embryos Act (SB 169). This legislation makes it clear that in Georgia, an in-vitro embryo may only be used for fertilization, or for cryopreservation to be used later for infertility treatment. This bill puts an end to destruction of human life for the purpose of research. Couples who must turn to in-vitro fertilization treatments will still have ample opportunities in Georgia to bring a child into the world. Any embryo they create will only be used to conceive life, and will be afforded protection from needless destruction.
This legislation sends the message that Georgia is a state that values the preservation of human life and the miracles that occur when life begins.
Cloning is clearly prohibited under the bill, in addition to any experimentation that combines human and non-human gametes to create a half-human, half-animal species. Georgia is home to many excellent research institutions that are making great strides in developing medical and technological advances, but we will not subject the citizens of our state to dangerous or immoral research. There is constructive testing being done in Georgia using stem cells and the bill is careful not to limit research that uses existing stem cell lines.
This legislation does not restrict research or scientific ingenuity in any way, but simply draws the line on how far we will push the boundaries of safe and ethical science.
Recognizing that the policy of spending less of our taxpayer’s money will lead to a more prosperous state, the Senate passed the FY2009 amended budget with significant cuts to government spending.
Just as families across the state are making tough decisions on how to cut back their budget, the legislature took a critical eye to its wasteful spending and cut nearly $2 billion out of state government. We are making every effort to live within our means without sacrificing service to citizens. The $18.9 billion budget protects the $428 million for the Homeowners’ Tax Relief Grants, restores cuts to mental health funds and mitigates cuts to education. We also addressed consumer protection concerns by adding four new food safety inspectors, and achieved $10.5 million in savings from lower interest rates after selling state bonds.
In a continued effort to increase government transparency, we passed legislation to grant Georgians the right to know which legislators have not filed their taxes annually. This measure comes in quick response to recent media reports that some members of the legislature have failed to file their taxes. I, like you, have always filed my taxes when and as required.
Missing, or not filing taxes, should not be an option for any Georgian, and this measure ensures that those in public service are continually held accountable.
The Georgia State Constitution currently provides each legislative body an avenue to censure, fine, imprison or expel members for misconduct.
However, confidentiality requirements under state law do not give the Department of Revenue the legal authority to release publicly the names of legislators who avoid filing taxes.
Senate Resolution 453 grants the Department of Revenue the legal authority to release such names to the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission or the House or Senate Ethics Committees. The committees can conduct an investigation of members of the General Assembly to consider if they have in fact committed misconduct by failing to file a Georgia personal income tax return.
If the committees conduct a public hearing for the misconduct, the names will become public at that time.
We also passed a bill to restructure the Department of Human Resources into three separate agencies, including the Department of Health, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Behavioral Health.
Each agency has a clear set of responsibilities and will be better able to provide needed health services to Georgians.
DHR was created 35 years ago, and since then our state has grown to encompass a greater number and variety of health issues. Restructuring DHR recognizes those needs and establishes a framework to more effectively deliver critical health services.
We still have much work ahead of us and will use the remaining days of session to pass a balanced FY2010 budget and consider legislation from the House.
The last day of session is scheduled for April 3, leaving us just a few weeks to wrap up business in Atlanta.
Sen. Chip Pearson can be reached at (404) 656-9921 or via e-mail at email@example.com.