Monday, January 14, 2013, Robert E. Rivers, Clerk of the House of Representatives called the Representatives-Elect of the 2013-2014 General Assembly of Georgia to order. After a prayer by the Rev. Carl D. Johnson, Robert Rivers read the Communication from the Honorable Brian Kemp, Secretary of State certifying the election results of the 2012 General Election held on November 6, 2012. The communication listed all 180 Representatives-Elect. Following the roll call, former State Representative and now Superior Court Judge of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, Roger B. Lane administrated the oath of office. This was followed by the Loyalty Oath.
The next order of business was to elect the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Representative Jan Jones, House District 47, nominated The Honorable David Ralston, House District 7 for Speaker. Representative Earl Ehrhart, House District 36, second the nomination. Representative Larry O’Neal, the Majority Leader, moved the nomination be closed. In a roll call vote Speaker Ralston was re-elected with 160 votes. The Committee of Escort chosen to escort The Speaker to the Speaker’s Stand included: Representatives John Meadows, District 5; Terry England, District 116; Jay Powell, District 171; Willie Talton, District 147; Rick Jasperse, District 11; Penny Houston, District 170; Jon Burns, District 159; Tom Dickson, District 6; Barbara Sims, District 123; Richard Smith, District 134; and myself Mike Cheokas, District 138.
The Speaker first thanked the House for his re-election and then talked about how proud he was of the previous Session’s accomplishments. Then talked about the future and what he saw as the challenges that we will face this year and concluded with his vision. Speaker Ralston challenged the House of Representatives to be greater than the sum of its members. He wants us to face these challenges and then work together to make Georgia a better place to live, a better place to work and a better place to educate our children. He said that we live in the greatest State in the Union and the greatest Country on earth and that our future, Georgia’s future will continue to shine bright. He received a well-deserved standing ovation. It is an honor for me to serve under this great leader.
Next was the nomination of Representative Jan Jones, House District 47 for Speaker Pro Tempore by Representative Richard Smith, House District 134. It was second by Representative Penny Houston, House District 170. After a move by Majority Leader, Larry O’Neal to close the nomination, Representative Jan Jones was re-elected Speaker Pro Tempore. Robert E. Rivers was re-elected as Clerk of the House of Representatives for the 2013-2014 term. Phil Tucker was re-elected Door Keeper and Kristy Lindstrom was re-elected as Messenger.
The first order of business was to notify the Senate that the House of Representatives had convened and to authorize the necessary provisions for the normal function of the General Assembly. This was done with the passage of HR 6 and HR 7 by Representative Ralston. HR 8 called for a Joint Session of the House and the Senate to hear the address by the Governor Nathan Deal. HR 9 by Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, House District 146 is a resolution adopting the Rules of the House of Representatives. It passed by a vote of 118 to 57.
On Tuesday, January 15, 2013, Legislative Day 2, Dr. Benny Tate, Pastor, Rock Springs Church, Milner, Georgia led us in prayer. After the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, bills and resolutions were introduced, read for the first time and assigned to committee. And so the process begins.
Tuesday evening I attended the Annual Meeting of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce at the Georgia World Congress Center. Chris Clark, President and CEO of the Georgia Chamber was the Master of Ceremonies. You may recall, Chris Clark spoke at the Americus-Sumter County Chamber of Commerce Quarterly Membership Luncheon this past December. Chris spoke about the great strides Georgia is making in attracting industry and jobs to Georgia. He added the support and growth in Georgia’s existing industry has added greatly to job creation. He underscored how the harbor deepening in Savannah was beneficial to the entire State. He concluded by saying that education was not only the responsibility of teachers but that business and industry need to take an active role in improving educational outcomes of our students. Margaret Spelling, former U.S. Secretary of Education was then introduced as the keynote speaker.
On Wednesday after we adjourned, I attended the organizational meeting of the Georgia Rural Caucus. There Representative Jason Shaw, District 176 was elected Caucus Chair and Representative Debbie Buckner, District 137 was elected Caucus Vice-Chair. Representative Tommy Benton, District 31 was re-elected Treasurer and Representative Jan Tankersley, District 160 was elected Caucus Secretary. The Georgia Rural Caucus is the 3rd largest Caucus in the General Assembly. It focuses on rural issues that face most of Georgia. Our program this week was presented by the Georgia Agri-Business Council and the Georgia Poultry Federation.
Visiting me in Atlanta were Mr. and Mrs. Rick Whaley. Rick is President of the Citizens Bank of Americus and Past President of the Georgia Bankers Association. Also in Atlanta were Mr. and Mrs. Tye Turner. Tye is President of SB&T in Thomasville, Georgia. They were in town for a Georgia Bankers Association meeting. While at the meeting I ran into James L. “Luke” Flatt, President and CEO of AB&T National Bank of Albany, Georgia.
Thursday, January 17, 2013, marked Legislative Day 4. It began with a Joint Session of the House and the Senate. Extra chairs were brought in to accommodate all of the attendees, which included the members of the Georgia Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.
Governor Deal‘s remarks were titled “Focus on the Foundations that Strengthen Georgia.” In his address, Governor Nathan Deal first congratulated and welcomed the members of the General Assembly. He went on to say that we were part of “the process of self-governance, whereby free people entrust to us the responsibility of preserving their freedoms, and that we must confine our actions to those things which our constituents cannot do for themselves,” as defined by our Constitution. The Governor then commented on the tremendous progress that was made last year. Saying “we have implemented innovative tax reform that incentivizes business growth, passed smart-on-crime Criminal Justice Reform and saved HOPE.” He then challenged us to go forward and focus “on the proven foundations of growing Georgia, those that keep us steady during times of uncertainty but also during times of prosperity: foremost among those are Public Safety, Education, Healthcare and Economic Development.”
In the first foundation, Public Safety the Governor wants us to capitalize on the success of last year’s Criminal Justice Reform Legislation, “that saves both lives and taxpayer dollars” and continue with Juvenile Justice Reform. He will propose legislation “designed to produce better results with juvenile offenders and divert them from the adult system.” He will “emphasize community-based, non-confinement correctional methods for low-risk offenders as an alternative to regional and state youth centers.” He will request $5 million in the FY 2014 Budget to create an incentive program that encourages communities to utilize these programs. He then said “the cost of each bed in a Youth Detention Center is in excess of $91,000 each year. We can continue to improve our State’s Justice Systems while keeping our citizens safe by reserving our prison beds for violent offenders.”
He added that he will recommend a more stringent Boating Under the Influence Law, as well as, place age limits and educational requirements for young operators or boats and personal watercraft.
The next foundation “for growing a more prosperous Georgia is education “In the Budget for FY 2014, I have added 10 days to the pre-K school year, thereby restoring it to a full 180 days and increasing the salaries of deserving teachers,” adding that the K-12 Education Budget will not be subject to the 3 percent overall reductions. “Since employment is a primary goal of education” we must focus on “programs of study that give priority to those educational paths that have a proven record of employability…my budget proposes to focus more funds within our HOPE Grant Program toward occupations where we know jobs are available and shortages actually exist,” such as commercial driver’s license, nursing, and early childhood education. “That’s Putting Your Money Where The Jobs Are!” He also is recommending a 3 percent increase in the HOPE Scholarship Program.
The next foundation he noted was Healthcare. The Governor is recommending “The Board of Community Health to apply a provider fee for hospitals, just as they currently do for nursing homes” he said that unless this is done, there will be a $700 million shortfall in the Medicaid Program. He then recommended that we add $2 million in the FY 2014 Budget to further increase the numbers of Healthcare Professionals practicing in the state.
The last foundation Governor Deal addressed was Economic Development. “The goal I have set for us is to make Georgia the No. 1 place in the country in which to do business.” He recommends $50 million in the bond package to further deepen the Savannah Harbor insuring that Savannah will remain the second largest container port on the East Coast.
He concluded his remarks by talking about Ethics in Government. Saying, “The vibrations of distrust will crack even the strongest foundations. There will always be those in the media and elsewhere who thrive on sowing the seeds of doubt and distrust and who will never recant their sinister innuendos and malicious accusations even when they are vanquished by Truth.” He said we can bolster the public trust by establishing clear rules under which elected officials must operate; rules that apply not only to members of the General Assembly but also all elected state and local officials.
He then received a standing ovation and the Joint Session was adjourned.
Visiting me at the Capitol was former page and now a successful accountant, Bud Nash. In the six years since he paged, Bud has received an Accounting Degree from the University of Georgia and a Masters from Georgia State University. He is living in Marietta with his wife Marissa and 15 month old daughter Maggie. He now works with Williams, Benator and Libby, LLC.
Thank you for choosing me to represent you in Atlanta at the State Capitol.