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Legislative Session is moving ahead
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The 2012 Legislative Session is moving forward at a rapid pace under the Gold Dome as we begin to move bills through the legislative process. In just a few short weeks, we've already made great progress toward passing legislation that responds to our citizens' needs.

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting with commissioners of the Union, White and Dawson County delegations at the Association of County Commissioners Legislative Conference where we discussed issues relevant to the county's needs.

Friends from Ellijay visited the Capitol for the Homebuilders Association luncheon. I enjoyed having lunch with Phil Forrest, Charles Chastain and David Johnston where we discussed the many issues facing the housing industry in North Georgia.

In an effort to further eliminate waste and reduce the size of the state government, I proudly co-sponsored the Georgia Government Accountability Act, SB 223, which passed the Senate last week by a vote of 37-12.

If enacted, the legislation would create a Joint Legislative Sunset Advisory Committee to oversee the efficiency of government operations and maximize every taxpayer dollar by eliminating unnecessary government agencies.

SB 223 will now travel to the House of Represen-tatives for a vote.

On Tuesday afternoon, the State and Local Government Operations Committee met to discuss SB 340, a bill I sponsored pertaining to the expiration and extension of covenants and restrictions in neighborhoods across the state.

Members of the Coosawattee River Resort Association from Ellijay joined in committee discussions to offer their support for the bill.

Under current law, covenants will have to be renewed 20 years after zoning laws take effect. There are some restrictive covenants in Georgia that do not have a renewal clause, and therefore cause serious concern for property owners who could soon find out that their protections no longer exist.

If passed, the bill would allow existing covenants to run forever or be renewed in accordance with the terms of their covenants.

The legislation does not take control from Georgia's counties or cities. It merely "grandfathers in" pre-existing covenants; providing homeowners with the added security of knowing their property rights will remain the same from when they first purchased their property.

Currently, there are 63 Georgia counties without established zoning ordinances. With this provision in place, homeowners will be offered greater protection against future zoning ordinances adopted by municipalities.

SB 340 passed through the committee unanimously, and will soon head to the Senate Chamber for debate.

A similar bill has started in the house as well. I want to thank David Durgan, Kype Probst and Don Murray for traveling to the State Capitol on three different days to testify on the importance of this legislation on behalf of the 7,500 homeowners of the Coosawattee River Resort Property Owners Association in Gilmer County.

Proposals to restructure funding to Georgia's HOPE scholarship continues to get the attention of the press.

I believe Gov. Nathan Deal wants to wait another year to monitor the results of last year's changes to the HOPE program.

As we move forward, we must proceed with caution in order to protect one of the most generous providers of merit-based educational aid in the nation.

Since its inception, Georgia's HOPE scholarship program has served more than 1.2 billion students and has provided more than $5 billion in benefits to students throughout the state.

Surging tuition costs over the past several years have placed a major burden on the HOPE Scholarship program. In addition, long-term underfunding of the program by the Georgia Lottery Corporation, dramatic increases in college tuition, and an increase in the total number of students claiming HOPE awards have all been cited as major contributors of the financial crisis currently facing the scholarship.

One proposal under consideration this session, is a bill I am a co-sponsor of to redirect all unclaimed lottery winnings directly to the Hope Scholarship. The unclaimed funds currently go back to the Lottery Commission.

Tax reform is still a high priority for the Georgia General Assembly. With that in mind, legislators are meeting frequently to discuss the possibility of eliminating the state sales tax on energy for manufacturing businesses in Georgia.

In recent months, industry experts have informed us that a solution must be found in order to fund this key exemption for manufacturing companies from across the state.

Other topics of discussion recently in the Senate were bills relating to metal theft, broadband competitiveness, out-of-state car tags, boating regulations in state parks, saltwater fishing permits, automobile lemon law fees, the execution and filing of wage garnishments, the use of silencers on guns, attendance records for home-schooled children and ethics reform.

Sen. Steve Gooch can be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via e-mail at