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The importance of legislative committees
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In every middle school government class, there is a lesson about how a bill becomes a law-complete with charts, diagrams and textbook chapters.

We spent many hours as students reviewing and memorizing the process, and of course, passed the quizzes with flying colors. But with age sometimes comes a fuzzy recollection of those important lessons we learned so many years ago, and the one step of the process I am asked about the most is when a bill goes to committee. What is the function of committees? Who serves on the committee? Why are committee reviews necessary?

The Georgia General Assembly has only 40 days to consider the merits of hundreds of bills, and committees are the heart of the legislative process.

Committees perform functions that the Senate and the House could not do efficiently as one giant body and do the fact-finding groundwork by studying bills in closer detail.

The legislative session would need to be much longer if the fact-finding and testimony for each and every bill happened on the chamber floor.

Bills are sent to committees depending on the topic in order to be reviewed by legislators and to allow citizens and key stakeholders to offer words of support or opposition. Currently, there are 27 standing committees in the Senate impacting areas such as education, ethics, health care, public safety and transportation.

As a former DOT board member and previous secretary of the Senate Transportation Committee, I am looking forward to leading the discussion about Georgia's transportation needs as chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.

In addition to serving as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, I will also serve as vice chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee, as an ex-officio member of the Senate Rules Committee and as a member of the Senate Appropriations and Natural Resources Committees.

Bills that will likely be debated in committee during the 2013 legislative session include:

SR 8: This Senate Resolution would phase out the Georgia State Income Tax by reducing the rate by .5 percent every year until the year 2027. I am a co-sponsor of this bill because I believe that Georgians deserve to take home more of their hard-earned paychecks and that reducing the tax burden will promote economic growth within our state.

SB 70: In an effort to be mindful of state resources, I am sponsoring a "design build" bill that will speed up the delivery of Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) projects and save taxpayer money. This bill will revise the types of projects eligible for design-build contracts and the procurement process that follows.

One important bill has already worked through both the House and Senate and is headed to Gov. Nathan Deal's desk for his signature. Senate Bill 24, passed by the Senate during the first week of the legislative session, was given final approval by the House on February 1 by a vote of 147 - 18. SB 24 will authorize the Board of Community Health to close gaps in the state budget and ensure the continued functioning of Georgia's healthcare delivery system.

By giving the Board of Community Health authority to administer the financing program, Georgia will have the flexibility needed to react quickly to potential future changes in federal health care policy. At the same time, the Senate approved amendments to strengthen legislative scrutiny and oversight.

The House also introduced an ethics bill this past week that would ban most lobbyist spending entirely and further define individuals and groups that fall under the term "lobbyist."

This bill is not the same as the $100 gift cap the Senate incorporated in our rules during the first week of session. I am looking forward to reviewing the bill in more detail and continuing the conversation about ethics reform.

Every year, the Georgia General Assembly is required to pass a balanced budget, but the appropriations bill is a very long and cumbersome piece of legislation.

In order to fully understand the bill's impact, subcommittees will closely review the bill by topic throughout the next few weeks. The process is one of the most important components of the legislative session because it safeguard's Georgia's fiscal health.

I was glad to see several local chambers of commerce at Georgia Tourism Day at the Capitol. These groups do a tremendous amount of work to showcase Georgia's state parks, historical sites and other tourism attractions, and deserve much applause and recognition for their efforts.

It was also an honor and a privilege to welcome and honor the Georgia National Guard last week for their service to our country. Thank you for protecting our core values and for your bravery and sacrifice.

If you have any questions about Senate committees, the legislative process or the budget, please feel free to come on out to Ma Gooch's restaurant in Cleveland on Saturday.

I really enjoy talking with my constituents and hearing what is on your mind, and I'm looking forward to meeting with folks from White County and the surrounding areas at 8 a.m. for breakfast. All are welcome.

If you are unable to make it on Feb. 9, feel free to contact my office at any time to talk about pending legislation or to address other concerns in our district - my door and phone lines are always open.

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 e-mail at