Some of you might remember a popular song from the '80s called "The Final Countdown."
Two decades later, this song is still played in sports venues and used to get the crowd pumped up during the last moments of a game.
If the legislative session was a sporting event, this would be the time to play those familiar synthesized notes, because we are truly in the final countdown of the 2014 legislative session. Just a few days remain between today and Sine Die, the date when the Georgia General Assembly will adjourn for the last time in 2014.
Since we won't come together as a legislative body until next year, the pressure is on to review as many bills as possible - and the burden is definitely on legislators to make sure these bills are passed in the form that will bring the most positive impact to the state. If bills aren't carefully vetted, there could be unintended consequences that will take a significant amount of time to correct during future legislative sessions.
In the final days of the legislative session, the Senate only votes on House bills. This is because all bills signed into law must be approved by both chambers, so we are now giving another stamp of approval to bills that have already passed the House. This also means the House is only evaluating Senate bills at this time.
One of the Senate bills continuing its way through the legislative process in the House is SB 299. I have worked to strengthen watershed management guidelines for over a decade, and I am confident that SB 299 is the right step towards better water conservation practices.
The legislation clarifies minimum standards for watershed protection, empowers local government to draft customized watershed protection plans, and includes input from local officials and Environmental Protection Division representatives in order to ensure full compliance of the Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Act. This important input and feedback will allow us to ensure that strict environmental protections remain in place for the trout streams of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
SB 299 received approval from the House Environmental Quality Subcommittee and the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee last week, and I am hopeful the bill will receive full consideration before the Day 40.
The Senate passed its own fair share of House legislation last week - 35 bills to be exact - including the General FY 2015 budget. The $20.8 billion budget includes several major education line items:
• $539 increase for K-12 education, with $101 million for enrollment growth and training.
• $314 million to increase instructional days, reduce teacher furloughs or increase teacher pay.
• $14 million in capital funding to expand technology infrastructure.
• $3.6 million in technical education for books to dually enrolled students, the development of digital curricula in the area of 21st century manufacturing and other critical needs industry areas used by dual enrollment programs.
• $700,000 for the training and hire of a state autism coordinator, early intervention providers and support team members for earlier detection and diagnosis.
The General FY 2015 appropriations (budget) bill was immediately transferred back to the House because of small line item changes made by the Senate. If the House approves these changes, the bill will go to Gov. Nathan Deal's desk for his signature. If the House holds firm to their version of the bill, a conference committee made up of members from both chambers will be appointed to work out the differences.
Other bills receiving a vote in the Senate last week include:
SB 384: The America's Founding Philosophy and Principle Act would require local boards of education, beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, to recommend high school students to participate in a semester course of study in America's founding philosophy and founding principles. SB 384 passed on Crossover Day; the last day for bills to be considered in the chamber it was drafted.
SB 392: I sponsored SB 392, which would allow former military vehicles to be registered and titled without having to be in compliance with federal emissions and safety standards. Veterans' organizations, farmers, contractors and other enthusiasts will benefit from this legislation if it is approved by the House and the Governor before the end of the legislative session. SB 392 passed on Crossover Day.
HB 176: The Mobile Broadband Infrastructure Leads to Development, BILD, Act would streamline regulations governing local cell phone towers and other wireless facilities. This legislation is focused on attracting broadband companies to the state while standardizing cell phone tower regulations statewide.
HB 774: I carried HB 744, a transportation clean-up bill, in the Senate for Rep. Sam Watson, R-Moultrie. This legislation revises the process for local government contracting, changes requirements for Department of Drivers Services record-keeping, clarifies rules for traffic signals and increases maximum lawful speed limits on the federal interstate system inside of certain population numbers.
I will be holding my final town hall meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday at Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.