Over the past 40 legislative days, we worked to create just, beneficial laws that will make Georgia a better state today and for future generations. I can say with confidence that I am pleased with the outcome of this session. The Senate, more often than not, worked as a cohesive body with one goal in mind- progress and growth for working Georgians. With individuals reaching across party lines to do what is best for Georgians, we successfully addressed each issue that we dedicated ourselves to during the first week of the session: limited government, pro-business tax reform, 21st century education reform, fiscal responsibility in government and protecting our children.
During this year's session, the Senate worked hard to reduce the overall size and scope of state government, especially as it pertains to the overall productivity of Georgia's state-run programs.To further support these goals, the Senate adopted HB 456, also known as the Georgia Government Accountability Act. Similar to the Senate's version, this legislation provides a mechanism to determine the continued need for state-run programs through the creation of the Legislative Sunset Advisory Committee. The passage of this historic legislation provides a clear solution to ensuring efficient government operation and the maximization of every taxpayer dollar.
Pro-business tax reform
One of the most important things Georgia can do to attract businesses and promote job creation is revise our tax structure into one that spurs private-sector growth and welcomes investment in our state. In the final days of the 2012 Legislative Session and after nearly two years of work, the Senate passed HB 386 - a comprehensive tax reform package projected to offer Georgia businesses and taxpayers nearly $262 million in tax savings over the next three years.
In order to see continued growth and get more Georgians back to work, it was imperative to revise Georgia's antiquated tax code by removing the tax levied on energy used in manufacturing, an estimated savings of approximately $150 million per year. As a result, Georgia will become even more attractive to businesses seeking to relocate or expand their operations.
This common sense legislation also kept Georgia families in mind by reducing the burden of the marriage penalty in the state income tax, eliminating the birthday (ad valorem) tax on automobiles, and bringing back the sales tax holiday for school supplies. The passage of HB 386 is a tremendous victory for both Georgia businesses and families and is a clear indication that our state is moving forward with the times.
21st Century education reform
21st century education reform was one of our greatest legislative priorities this session. Due in part to the passage of a variety of bills dealing with how our children learn and how we support our valuable educators, classrooms and communities, we are poised to thrive. With the passage of the charter schools amendment, HR 1162, Georgians will have the opportunity to vote to approve this measure in November. HR 1162 reasserts the state's role in public education, defines a state charter school in the State Constitution, provides that a state charter school only be public, nonsectarian, nonreligious, and nonprofit, and regulates that the state is not allowed to lower its current funding to the local school systems. HB 797 passed this week and aides HR 1162 by creating the State Charter Schools Commission as a state-level authorizing entity with the power to approve or deny petitions for state charter schools.
We also addressed the need for technological advancement in our classrooms. SB 289 requires local school systems to offer students virtual instruction program options to enable students to use online and distance learning in the nontraditional classroom and requires high school students to complete at least one of these online learning courses.
Parents will be empowered with extensive knowledge about progress made by school systems due to the passage of SB 410. The bill adopts indicators of quality of learning by students, financial efficiency, and school climate for individual schools and school systems. The legislation assigns a numerical score rating for individual schools and school systems based on student achievement, achievement gap closure, and student progress. It also requires that a letter grade be assigned to each school and school system. This grade must be included on each school and school system's annual report card.
The Senate also took necessary steps to support our valuable educators. SB 184 prohibits local school boards from implementing a policy that allows length of teaching time to be a main factor when reducing staff. Similarly, SB 153 requires that written documentation be provided to teachers, administrators, and contract employees specifically specifying that they have been terminated or suspended solely for financial reasons. Tough economic times have hit nearly every community, business, and profession. Our educators have not been immune to this economic pressure. It is an unfortunate circumstance when an educator must be terminated or suspended due to no fault of their own, and we are doing everything in our power to avoid damaging the records of our quality educators.
Now more than ever, the Georgia General Assembly must take great strides to eliminate government waste and reduce expenditures. Realizing that government operations are funded by hard-earned taxpayer dollars, the Senate Majority Party drafted legislation in 2012 to ensure the continued financial responsibility of our state and to urge the federal government to adopt more fiscally-responsible policies. The Georgia Legislature concluded the 2012 session by passing a $19.3 billion dollar budget, keeping in line with the state's commitment to keep spending equal to or below revenues. Georgia's economy will be better positioned to grow, create more jobs and get more Georgians back to work.
In addition, the passage of SB 33 will assist in the Legislature's efforts to control state spending and maximize every taxpayer dollar. This zero-based budgeting bill will require the thorough re-evaluation of all line items in the budget at least once every ten years, with state agencies being rotated so that not all are subject to review at one time.
The State of Georgia requires the General Assembly to pass a balanced budget and does not allow for deficit spending each year. This fiscally responsible measure is not required by the federal government. As a result, our national debt is setting record numbers and continues to climb higher and higher each day.
The Senate passed SR 673 to petition Congress to call a Constitutional convention for the purpose of proposing a balanced budget amendment. The resolution recommends that the total of all federal appropriations made by the Congress for any fiscal year may not exceed the total of all estimated federal revenue for that fiscal year.
Additionally, in a great show of bipartisan support, the Senate passed HB 1176, a comprehensive sentencing and corrections reform bill designed to save Georgia taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, improve public safety and lower recidivism rates.
Protecting our children
The children of Georgia are our state's greatest asset, and their innocence and future potential needs to be fiercely protected. As adults, it is our responsibility to preserve the highest quality of life for all children-even those who are yet to be born. Some individuals are not ready to report a brutal crime against them as a child until he or she is well into adulthood. Therefore, the Senate introduced and passed SB 316 to extend the statute of limitations on reporting sexual crimes until the victim's 28th birthday and until the victim's 33rd birthday in cases involving childhood rape. The Senate also passed SB 355, legislation that extends the mandatory reporting requirement for child abuse beyond those directly responsible for the child's care. Unfortunately, these bills were stalled in the House.
HB 954 caused one of the most passionate debates of the session. HB 954 will prohibit abortions when the probable gestational age of the unborn child is found to be 20 weeks or more, except when a physician has deemed a pregnancy "medically futile." This term means the unborn child has a profound and irremediable congenital or chromosomal abnormality that would not allow the child to live after birth.
This session, it has been a special honor for me to serve the citizens of Georgia and my constituents in the 31st District. As Co-Chair of the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Revenue Structure, I have helped lay the foundation for tax reform in our state and I am hopeful that we will continue to see positive change in this area. If you have any ideas for specific legislation or issues you would like for me to address over the next few months, please feel free to reach out to me. Together, we must work together to build a bright future for our state and our nation. May God bless you and the great state of Georgia.