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What a first week for me in the legislature!

1/19/2011 - Marcia and I went down on Sunday to attend the Wild Hog supper that is traditionally the night before the start of the Session. The House Agriculture committee and the GA Dept. of Ag sponsor the supper. I was part of the welcoming committee because I am part if the Ag committee. I enjoyed shaking about a thousand people’s hands and of course eating the BBQ. I have been asked, “Is the hog meat really wild hog?” Yes! It is from a farmer in Wilcox County.

According to Georgia’s Constitution, the Georgia General Assembly is required to convene for its annual 40-day legislative session each year on the second Monday in January. Well, you know what happened Sunday night; a major winter storm covered much of our state in a blanket of snow and ice, and many Georgia schools and businesses were forced to close. However, that was not an option at the State Capitol. Our State constitution and laws do not allow the General Assembly a snow day. There was no choice; the show had to go on.

Fortunately, 145 state representatives of the 180-member House were able to make it to the State Capitol. That was more than enough to meet the required quorum and to begin the 2011 session. (See some snow pictures at the Capitol on my Facebook page.) Though things may not have gone as originally planned, I was very excited to be sworn into office and soon after cast my first vote on the House floor. As part of the swearing in, we all received a special Bible recognizing this special event.

My first vote was for the election of the Speaker of the House. After hearing the nominations and speeches, Rep. David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) was re-elected Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives overwhelmingly. Next, we elected our Speaker Pro Tem, Jan Jones (R-Milton), and other House officials. This all had to be done fairly quickly since the ice storm caused Governor Deal’s inauguration to be moved into the House chamber at the last minute.

That afternoon, we all came back to the House floor for the inauguration of our state’s 82nd governor and for the swearing in of the other elected officials. During his inaugural address, Governor Nathan Deal noted that Georgia is entering a new era of smaller government and greater personal responsibility. He reminded us that while we must focus our limited resources on the state’s core missions, we cannot allow economic conditions to overshadow other issues. Among those issues, Gov. Deal specifically highlighted education and public safety as two of his top priorities.

Just two days later, on Wednesday, January 12th, the House and Senate reconvened in the House chamber for another joint session with Gov. Deal. This time, we gathered to hear the Governor’s State of the State Address. This annual speech allows the governor to convey his or her assessment of the condition of our state and its people. It usually contains a strong emphasis on the state budget because this speech is given on the same day that the governor presents his budget proposals to the General Assembly. This year, Gov. Deal noted that the two separate state budgets he was presenting, an amended budget for the fiscal year 2011 and the fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget, would include spending cuts, but also give priority to education, health services, and infrastructure development.

The House of Representatives will now take up the governor’s budget proposals in determining the state’s budget for the last half of FY 2011 and for FY 2012. On Tuesday, January 18th, members of the House and Senate Appropriation’s committees will start the process of reviewing the budgets of each state agency.. Each department head will explain their agency’s budget and answer any questions from the House and Senate members in attendance. These hearings are broadcast on the Internet for anyone to see. Go to the Georgia’s House of Representative website and follow the links.

Taxes are always an important issue we work with in the legislative process.. Fortunately, the General Assembly took a major step toward tax reform last year when it passed House Bill 1405 to create the 11-member Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians. This tax council recently completed a thorough study of Georgia’s current revenue structure and submitted its findings and recommendations for changes to our state’s tax code to state legislators. These findings and recommendations will now go to a special joint committee made up of both House and Senate members who will work together in creating new tax reform legislation. I have began reading this 85-page bill, and I look forward to learning more about these reforms as they make their way through the legislative process.

Though it was only the first week of the 2011 legislative session, it is clear that we have a very busy legislative session ahead of us. As we work through the budget process and review the tax reform recommendations, I will be confronted by many difficult decisions. But first and foremost, my job is to represent you and our neighbors at the State Capitol. To aid in that duty, I plan to send weekly updates to keep you informed during this legislative session. I also hope to hear from you about the issues facing our great state, which you feel are important. Please call my office at the Capitol in Atlanta and let me know what I can do for you. The phone number is 404-656-7859. At your service, Rick


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