Thanks to a cooperative spirit between both the Senate and House throughout session, the FY09 amended budget was sent to the governor with agreed-upon changes from both chambers. Fulfilling the legislature's constitutional requirement to balance the state budget before the end of the fiscal year, House Bill 118 passed out of the Senate easily with no opposing votes. The bill addresses these tough economic times by including a reduction in state government by almost $2 billion, the $428 million protected for Homeowners' Tax Relief Grants and cuts to state legislative office budgets by 8 percent. The budget also restores the mental health funds, addresses consumer protection by providing for four new food safety inspectors and achieves $10.5 million in savings from lower interest rates after selling state bonds.
The Senate also passed legislation this week that requires all written and oral driver's license exams to be conducted only in English. The bill specifies that no person will be issued a temporary license or permit by examination in foreign language. Driver's license exams are currently given in 12 different languages in the state. However, because traffic signs and advisements are written in English, drivers need to be able to read English in order to safely drive on Georgia roads.
I also took MARTA to task this week for harassing concealed gun permit holders, who bring a lawfully concealed weapon into a MARTA station. HB 89 from the 2008 legislative session provided for legally concealed weapons to be carried on mass transit in Georgia. Several months ago and with no provocation, MARTA detained a licensed individual and confiscated his pistol for 30 minutes at the Avondale station. They now face a federal law suit that will cost taxpayers a great deal of money in the end. Sloppy management, poorly led law enforcement and general ineptness continue to plague MARTA.
Many other significant pieces of legislation were passed and delivered to the House for continued debate and deliberation. We in the Senate will now turn our attention to House legislation as we approach the final days of the 2009 session, scheduled to end April 3. We have much work left to accomplish, but I am proud of the accomplishments we have made in the Senate so far. We have addressed economic hardship in our state's spending, yet found ways to provide for public safety, increased access to health care and many other ways to improve the quality of life for Georgia's citizens in a fiscally responsible manner.
Sen. John Douglas serves as chairman of the veterans, military and homeland security committee. He represents the 17th Senate District which includes Newton County and portions of Henry, Rockdale, Spalding and Walton counties. He may be reached by phone at (404) 656-0503 or by e-mail a firstname.lastname@example.org.