If you listen to the pundits, you would think the only women in Georgia politics were Democrats who rally around liberal causes.
But during the Georgia General Assembly's 2005 session which ended a week ago, a new breed of women emerged under the Gold Dome: Republican women of influence.
Some of the more important pieces of legislation adopted by the Georgia House and Senate this session were bills sponsored by women moving up in the Republican Party.
For example, after much delay, the House and Senate agreed to give Gov. Sonny Perdue ethics legislation he has wanted for several years. The sponsor in the Senate was state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford.
That legislation makes public officials more accountable in Georgia and helps restore citizens' confidence in their lawmakers.
When it comes to making health insurance more affordable, state Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, the chairman of the GOP caucus in the House, was instrumental in forging a compromise to make health insurance more accessible to small businesses.
In Georgia, only 41 percent of businesses with fewer than 10 employers offer health insurance. That's because of the litany of mandates required by law. Mandates are services or procedures that must be covered in individual or small-group policies. These mandates make health insurance unaffordable for the self-employed or small business owner.
Cooper worked with state Rep. John Lunsford, R-McDonough, to forge the "Georgia Consumer Choice of Benefits Health Insurance Plan Act" which reduces the number of mandates in these policies but maintains coverage for important preventative services such as pap smears and mammograms.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to carry historic legislation in the House this year as well. I was the key sponsor of the "Women's Right to Know" bill. This legislation not only requires a 24-hour waiting period for an abortion, but it requires that abortion providers notify a woman about the pain an unborn child feels during abortion. It also would require abortion providers to discuss other alternatives such as adoption.
We also included important language in the legislation tightening up Georgia's parental notification laws. Under the new law, a young girl will have to notify at least one parent before getting an abortion.
I also co-sponsored important legislation concerning children and families -- a bill addressing how child support is allocated in divorce. The legislation requires judges to consider the income of both parents when determining child support.
We pushed this legislation to help encourage non-custodial parents to spend more time with their children. There is a provision in the proposed law that reduces payments for non-custodial parents who spend at least 100 days a year with their children. Hopefully this will encourage them to be more a part of their children's lives.
In the final weeks of the session, I agreed to sponsor House Bill 244, an election reform measure. The legislation moves judicial races and other non-partisan races to November elections. This would allow more voters to participate in judicial elections -- something now conducted during partisan primaries in summer when fewer people vote.
It also requires that candidates for statewide office, including U.S. Senate, win a majority instead of a plurality. After the 1992 U.S. Senate race in which Paul Coverdell beat Wyche Fowler in a runoff, Democrats changed state law so that to win a general election, a candidate only needed 45 percent of the vote. We believe the winner should be chosen by the majority of voters.
The bill also requires photo identification to go to the polls and cast a ballot. Because of problems with elections in other states -- and a major case of voter fraud in Dodge County in the 1990s -- we moved to require photo ID.
With Republicans now in charge of the House, Senate and governor's office, more Republican women will rise through the ranks to aid Georgians. In the House, we have women in key positions such as deputy whip, chairman of a powerful Appropriations subcommittee, and chairmen of Health and Human Services, Natural Resources and MARTA oversight committees. I serve as vice chairman of the Rules Committee.
It's a new day in Georgia, and I'm proud to be part of a group of women who know how to get the people's business done.
(State Rep. Burmeister, R-Augusta, represents parts of Columbia and Richmond counties in the Georgia House. She is also secretary of the GOP caucus in the House.)
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