Although major legislation has begun to make its way out of respective committees while others bills have cleared votes in either the House or Senate, State Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassvile, noted that a slower pace is not necessarily a bad thing.
"It's been good. We've had about half the legislation as we normally have which I think is a good thing for the people of Georgia," Loudermilk said. "We're averaging about three to four bills a day in the Senate."
This pace, said Loudermilk, allows for better understanding and fuller comprehension of what's before them.
Key items emerging recently have included immigration and the HOPE Scholarship Program. A House version of the immigration bill was passed Thursday before heading to Senate chambers. Known as the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011, HB 87 would require businesses with five or more employees to be E-Verify registered and check the immigration status of new hires.
"It does give some provisions for phasing in, especially in the case where we have a lot of migrant workers, not just in south Georgia, but also that are used in various types of industries. It is going to take some time to do the E-Verify and get compliant with this new regulation. Overall it was a good bill, it's never exactly what we want but I think based on what we need to do it was a pretty good bill," said State Rep. Paul Battles, R-Cartersville.
The bill also would give local law enforcement the authorization to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of committing a crime, including a traffic violation, and unable to provide a driver's license or other valid identification.
"These are people that are probably well meaning but many are here illegally and they are definitely taking advantage of our government services but yet they are not necessarily participating in paying taxes or supporting the government," Loudermilk said. "We've got to get a handle on the number of illegal immigrants who are just a huge drain on our government services, everything from education to hospitals."
Serving on the Education Committee, Battles deals directly with decisions concerning the education system, however the proposed bill outlining cuts to keep the fledgling Hope program alive came from Gov. Nathan Deal.
As presented, the bill would raise minimum student standards for the full Hope scholarship while those missing the new mark could qualify for a percentage of the awarded amount. Battles added that recipients of the Hope grant awarded to technical college students will not be as heavily affected as the Hope scholarship due to award amount differences.
A challenge facing the Hope program and lottery-funded education has been pre-kindergarten classes. Although nothing is absolute at this time, Battles has seen promise for an opportunity to continue fully-funding Pre-K in its entirety. The only difference may result in larger class sizes, if the matter is addressed accordingly.
"There's a possibility that we are going to be able to fund the full Pre-K day. It might be a slight increase of two per classroom, the number of students they might have, but it would keep it fully funded for the six and a-half-hours they have presently," Battles said, adding that K-12 would see some budget cuts as expected. "There are going to be some cuts in K-12, but I think most all of the school systems have made some adjustments recognizing that this is going to happen so they've pretty much adjusted for that."
Among controversial issues brought forth this year was a bill allowing for local control of Sunday sales of packaged alcohol. The bill, however, never found the needed support to come to vote and hence remains in the Senate where it originated. After an informal poll found the bill had little support, a vote was not taken.
"It's controversial enough to where it would take a significant amount of time on the Senate floor in debating because you're going to have passionate arguments on both sides of that issue," Loudermilk said.
Although there is the possibility of the issue being revived, Battles noted that there has been a lack of support for the bill in the House as well.
A bill concerning billboards also has gained a lot of publicity for allowing billboard owners to clear-cut trees blocking their ads within a 350 foot right-of-way. Battles, however, said the legislation is misunderstood and is actually an improvement over current laws.
The new law would place more stringent regulations on billboard owners concerning content and maintenance along with steeper penalties for non-compliance. A minimum height has been set at 75 feet and emphasis is placed on local county and municipal control over billboards. Above all, the bill absolves the state of maintenance costs involving billboard right-of-ways.
"The billboard industry will have to pay 100 percent for maintenance and upkeep for those sites and right-of-ways they have. Whereas now, under the present law, it is costing the state of Georgia well over $1 million a year to keep up the right-of-ways," Battles said. "With this new legislation it does not cost the state of Georgia one penny. ... It was a good bill, a lot of people just didn't understand it completely. It's much, much better than what we have on the books right now."
Both Battles and Loudermilk have worked on or supported bills in their respective chambers. Battles has sponsored HB 321, the Georgia Tourism Development Act, to attract tourism projects by allowing for a 25 percent tax credit for the first 10 years of qualifying projects. A similar bill, surrounded by speculation of an indoor ski attraction for Bartow, was vetoed last year by then Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Loudermilk has worked to pass pro-life bills as well as SB 98, a concealed carry provision allowing concealed carry license holders to carry in more places.
Now, over half-way through the 2011 session, lawmakers expect to see major issues rise again in the next two weeks including tax reform and initial budget proposals.
To find and read legislation, go to www.legis.ga.gov and click on "Search Legislation."