The Georgia General Assembly will gather on Jan. 14 for its annual session to discuss a number of issues concerning the state.
During this session, some of the key issues that will be discussed will be the 2013-2014 budget, which will begin on July 1; existing Medicaid financing that is set to run out this year; ethics dealing with putting a cap on lobbyists spending lawmakers at $100; the juvenile justice system and its community programs; guns in schools in the wake of the December massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school; and a number of other topics that remain on the table for discussion.
State legislators representing Newton County and the surrounding areas took a moment to discuss some of their main focuses for this year's upcoming session. At the root of discussion was the 2013-2014 budget for the state, but several other issues are on these elected officials agendas.
State Rep. Doug Holt
Holt said he has several items of legislation that he was working on. He explained what he was pushing for in Newton County and what other pieces of legislation would be hot topics of discussion.
"Certainly the most important is dealing with this power line and eminent domain issue that we are seeing down in Mansfield, Holt said. "It's a complex one but it's a very eminent domain and very significant power and I take it very seriously. It looks like I may ultimately have multiple bills on the topic.
"I've had some things drafted and I am still drafting on others and I will look to see what I can get going as we get into the session and that's my main focus for this session.
"Our budget is going to be front and center. State revenues are starting to recover in the last year or so, but they nonetheless are well below they were before the recession and the state's population has kept reeling on a per capital basis even lower in that sense. But, it's going to be a real tight budget and a number of agencies have already been asked by the governor to plan on reductions.
"Then of course the other issue is with the implementation with the federal healthcare act and the existing realization that we've got a Medicaid shortfall that we've got to deal with.
"I think ethics is going to have to see some legislating. I don't know if it will be individual smaller bills or one large packet, but certainly that referendum that was on both party primaries back in July made it pretty clear that there is a very solid ground swell in support of that.
"Of course the T-SPLOST failed back last summer and we need to really focus ourselves on the most important projects and figure out which ones have the greatest bang for the buck," Holt said.
State Sen. Ronald Ramsey
Ramsey said everyone is concerned about the impact the fiscal cliff will have on the ability to file taxes, but that's mainly a federal issue. He also said he plans on discussing an elementary schools protection act in the wake of the Newtown massacre.
"I understand the local school districts are strapped for funds and don't have the ability to add staff. But I want us to be able to do whatever we can in being more proactive in protecting elementary schools," Ramsey said. "I'm proposing legislation that would allow local school boards to allow principals to employ an individual who would otherwise be a paraprofessional, hire someone who is POST certified. More than likely this would be someone who is a retired police officer or a young police officer.
Ramsey also said he's looking to pass legislation dealing with pardons and paroles.
"I'm refilling legislation I passed through the ethics committee in the past that would require the board of pardons and paroles to issue a restoration of voting rights after having served felony convictions," Ramsey said.
Rep. Pamela Dickerson
Dickerson said she had already pre-filed two bills that did not make it out of the chambers last year - a bill to increase the penalties for cyber bullying and a bill on the laws regulating donated food service.
Sen. Rick Jeffares
Jeffares echoed other officials saying the budget would be a big focus during this year's session and that there will be a few cleanup bills presented.
"There's going to be some minor changes to the immigration bill that we passed last year. There's going to be some cleanup bills for that. Other than that, because of the shootings we've had, there's some people working on bills about guns, I can't tell you if it's for or against. I just know they're working on them, Jeffares said.
"I've got one bill that I'm going to be introducing, about the Superior Court Clerks getting a $25 fee every time they do a passport to goes directly to them, Jeffares said.
"I feel like they're county employees. They're using county copying machines and everything else. They shouldn't be getting that fee.
"I got several others that I'm working on that I really don't want to talk about, but one thing I will be doing this year, I'll be doing a weekly newsletter, to keep everybody abreast of what's going on."
Rockdale News Editor Michelle Kim contributed information to this report.