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With long days done, General Assembly concludes legislative session

Sine Die!
It is now official, the Georgia General Assembly has completed the 2011 legislative session. The session began on Jan. 10 with a icy snow storm that blanketed much of our state, including the State Capitol; however, that did not deter the members of the legislature from doing our job and serving on your behalf. Forty legislative session days later, the adjournment of the 2011 session ended at around 11:40 p.m. on April 14. 
The longest days of the session take place in the final week.  For three days, members of the legislature listened to hours of debate as the House considered and voted on bills. Noteworthy legislation passed this week included: the passage of the Fiscal Year 2012 budget for the state, immigration reform, changes to the ethics law, the option to purchase individual health policies approved in other states, and the local option for Sunday sales of packaged adult beverages.
During this last week, numerous votes were made by the House in the form of either agreements or disagreements to changes made in the legislation. If an Amendment is added to a bill and passes, the bill must then go back to the other chamber for consideration of the Amendment. Often times, to work out differences in legislation, conference committees including members from each chamber are set up.  If an agreement is reached, each chamber votes on the Conference Committee report. 
The state budget for Fiscal Year 2012, House Bill 78, has passed the General Assembly and includes a revised revenue estimate of $18.3 billion. The differences were worked out and agreed upon by the members of the legislature and the House passed the Conference Committee Report 143 to 32.
Legislation targeting illegal immigrants in our state has passed both chambers.  The Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011, House Bill 87, would require businesses with more than 10 employees to enroll in a federal program called E-Verify which would identify if a worker is eligible to legally work here in the United States. Additionally, this legislation would allow state and local police to check the immigration status of certain suspects. 
Last year the Georgia legislature passed sweeping ethics reform to allow more openness and full disclosure. To further clarify the state’s ethic law, a change to the law was added as an Amendment to Senate Bill 160. The Amendment would require lobbyists to disclose money spent on state employees.  Currently, money spent on legislators must be disclosed and this would extend that requirement to their staff and any other state employees. This bill would also allow utility companies to contribute to campaigns as they are not currently able to do so.
Health insurance has been a hot topic across our country and within our state. House Bill 47 passed and would allow insurance companies to sell individual health plans in Georgia that have been approved by other states.  
A highly debated subject for years in Georgia has been whether or not packaged alcohol should be sold on Sundays. Senate Bill 10 has passed through the General Assembly and is now headed to Governor Deal. This bill will allow local communities to vote on whether the sales of alcohol will be allowed on Sundays in their areas. Although I did not favor this legislation, it passed the House 127 to 44.  This bill will not automatically permit the sale of packaged alcohol on Sundays, rather it would force the decision down on local elected officials as to whether or not they want to put it on the ballot in a local referendum.
All of the bills passed this session will now go to Governor Deal and he has 40 days to either sign the  legislation into law, veto the legislation, or can do neither of the previous and the bill will become law without his signature.   
What began with a snow storm and ended in the Spring, the 2011 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly has now come to an end. Next week will be the final wrap-up which will highlight the key bills passed this session. 
It has been an honor to serve as your state representative and to represent you both within our district and at the State Capitol during the legislative session.  Throughout the year, if you have any ideas, questions, or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you would like to reach me, please call me at (404) 656-5099 or write to me at: State Rep. Jon Burns, 18 Capitol Square, 228 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mail me at jon.burns@house.ga.gov.

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