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Highlighted items on their way to Round 2 after the ‘Crossover’

We reached an important point in the 2011 session on Wednesday, March 16. “Crossover Day,” the 13th day of the session is the last day a bill passed by either chamber can be considered by the other chamber.
The House passed several pieces of legislation last week and a few are highlighted below. One bill of significant importance involved zero-based budgeting and would require all state departments and agencies to periodically justify their spending. A similar bill was passed last year and was vetoed by former Governor, Sonny Perdue. House Bill 33 passed 126 to 45 and would begin in January of 2012 by providing zero-based budgeting in the State of Georgia. It authorizes the Joint Fiscal Affairs Subcommittee to require certain departments and agencies to submit a zero-based budget at least once every six years. The information submitted and reviewed includes:  an analysis of the two previous fiscal years, fiscal spending plans, purpose statements, and the efficiencies of the programs within the agency.  The goal of this legislation is to increase accountability and transparency within the agencies and departments of the State of Georgia. 
House Bill 275 passed 160 to 1 and would clarify which health care providers are allowed to honor do-not-resuscitate orders from patients and would now include nursing homes. 
House Bill 256 passed 161 to 2 and would allow the fees on prepaid wireless purchases (75 cents per transaction) be split among the 911 centers in the state.  
In addition to reforming our state’s budget process, we also passed legislation to create the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians. This council will study criminal justice reform during the interim and make legislative recommendations to a joint legislative committee before the 2012 session.  The intent of this bill, HB 265, is to find solutions that will allow the state to ensure public safety while decreasing the cost of our corrections system. It is imperative that we look at these reforms.  Georgia currently spends more than $1 billion a year and has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the nation. However, recent studies suggest that an estimated three-fourths of the state’s prison population is believed to have some type of drug addiction, which could be treated at much lower costs than imprisonment.  For example, Georgia pays $49 per day per inmate housed in a state prison, compared to $1.50 per day for probation supervision or $16 per day for community treatment at a Day Reporting Center.
The second judicial reform that we took up last week involved implementing a new way of compiling lists of citizens who are eligible to serve on juries.  HB 415, the Jury Composition Reform Act of 2011, does this by completely changing the way county jury pools are created and ending what is known as “forced balancing.” Instead of requiring counties to “force balance” their jury pools to ensure gender and racial population proportionality, HB 415 would simplify the process by requiring the Council of Superior Court Clerks to establish and maintain a statewide master jury list that will be more inclusive than the county lists currently used. The Council will screen drivers’ license records, vital records, and voter registration records to create the statewide list. Each county will then get their list of eligible jurors from the Council. This will not only save counties money, but it will also ensure accurate jury pool lists. Additionally, HB 415 will make jury service more uniform among eligible citizens, meaning more people will be called for jury service, but we will all be called less often.
Along with measures to reform our justice system, we passed legislation that brings our state election laws into compliance with the rules of the national political parties. Specifically, House Bill 454 grants the Secretary of State the discretion to select the date for Georgia’s presidential primary in each presidential election year. The presidential primary date selected by the Secretary of State would have to fall between Dec. 1 of the year prior to a presidential election and the second Tuesday in June of the presidential election year. By granting the Secretary of State this additional flexibility, we can maximize Georgia’s role in selecting our nation’s presidential candidates. 
Another bill passed this week, House Bill 503, shifts the burden of paying for forensic medical exams of victims of sexual assault from the local law enforcement agency to the Georgia Crime Victims Emergency Fund. 
The aforementioned bills have passed the House, in addition to others, and will now make their way through the Senate committee process. If passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, these bills will become law.
Now that Crossover Day has passed, the remaining 10 legislative days will be used to consider legislation already passed by the Senate. Please let me know if you have any comments or questions regarding Senate legislation. As the Senate bills begin to make their way through the House committee process, I will be sure to consider your comments. You can reach me at my capitol office at 404-656-5099 or email me at jon.burns@house.ga.gov. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your representative.

Jon Burns represents Screven County as part of his District 157 of the Georgia State House of Representatives.