We have completed the first week of the 2008 legislative session, and so far things are moving quickly.
Both Gov. Sonny Perdue and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle have outlined their legislative priorities for this year's session, focusing on four main issues: water, transportation, education and healthcare.
Looking ahead, it is clear that these are the main issues we will be working on through the session.
As Georgia remains in the grip of a severe drought, the Legislature is developing a statewide water management plan to ensure that our natural resources are well managed for future generations.
The General Assembly last week passed Senate Resolution 701, also known as the Statewide Water Management Plan. I decided to vote against adopting SR 701 because it was unclear as it related to inter-basin transfer on the Savannah River.
To the contrary, I believe that the Environmental Protection Division could make inter-basin transfer happen, especially without oversight from the Legislature. I was voting to protect the Savannah River Basin from the thirst of Atlanta, and would be happy to support legislation that gives oversight to the Legislature on this crucial issue.
I also would like to address the issue of the gun bill that was passed in the Senate earlier this week, House Bill 89. Believing strongly in support of our Second Amendment rights, I voted in support of HB 89. Included in the bill was respect for our property rights.
The Legislature is dedicated to studying and implementing solutions to Georgia's transportation issues this session. During the interim, the Senate and House worked together on the Joint Study Committee on Transportation Funding to examine potential answers to the state's traffic problems.
Among the ideas discussed that might be before the General Assembly this year are the establishment of a State Infrastructure Bank to finance transportation projects, the creation of a Transportation Mobility Trust Fund that also would provide dedicated funding to transportation projects, enhancement of the design/build process, the possibility of managed lanes during rush hour traffic on interstates, and the expansion of public/private initiatives.
Perdue also recommended the creation of a Transportation Infrastructure Bank that would provide low-interest loans to local governments and agencies to complete essential transportation projects.
In 2007, the General Assembly took important steps to improve our system of education with the passage of the Charter Systems Act, the Special Needs Scholarship and the further implementation of graduation coaches. We are seeing positive results as Georgia's high school graduation rates are higher than ever.
In fiscal year 2008, Perdue added $21.3 million for graduation coaches in each middle school. He recently recommended that public schools be given some of the flexibility that charter schools enjoy through new contracts between the state and local school systems. In addition, he also has proposed $65 million to fund transportation and technology needs for schools.
This year we will look at several issues affecting healthcare in Georgia, including the governor's proposed initiative of his Health Insurance Partnership, which attempts to help small business owners in Georgia provide private health insurance to their employees.
Under the partnership, the cost of the coverage would be shared between the employee, the employer and the government. This partnership allows the state to pay a portion of these health insurance costs in premiums on the front end, instead of paying the uninsured claims on the back end. Cagle also has a few initiatives, including the Georgia Health Marketplace and the Healthcare Safety Net, a statewide trauma network.
his week, the Legislature is adjourned for annual budget hearings on the FY 08 amended budget and FY 09 budget, in which members of the Senate and House appropriations committees meet to hear from agency heads and others on their budgetary concerns.
I am grateful for your support and I take this opportunity to serve you very seriously. I feel honored to serve in the state Senate and have enjoyed working with the lieutenant governor and the Republican Caucus.
Of course, I will continue to value the friendships and experiences I gained during my service in the House, and am excited to get to work on business in the Senate in order to pass strong and comprehensive legislation to benefit my constituents.
Bill Jackson represents the 24th District in the Georgia state Senate.
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