Gold Dome update: Feb. 20, 2015

Published 7:00 pm Saturday, February 21, 2015

ATLANTA — The past couple of weeks have been fairly busy for legislators under the Gold Dome. Our workload is piling up as legislation increasingly makes its way out committees and onto the floor of the Senate for a vote. We have now completed 15 days of the Legislative Session and have passed seven bills on the Senate floor. We are in full swing, and I look forward to keeping you updated as we move forward at the Gold Dome.

Last week, the Senate and the House of Representatives met for a joint session to hear the Honorable Chief Justice Hugh P. Thompson of the Supreme Court of Georgia deliver his annual “State of the Judiciary” address. Chief Justice Thompson updated lawmakers on the accomplishments of the judicial branch over the last year and the challenges that lie ahead.

Georgia’s courtrooms are committed to protecting individual rights and liberties, upholding the rules of law, and providing a forum for the peaceful resolution of disputes in a system that is fair, impartial, and accessible to all. Lawmakers have been dedicated to criminal justice reform and the growth of specialty courts, specifically the Veterans Court which is the crowning achievement of those efforts. Our veterans returning home from combat with brain injuries, mental health problems, and drug and alcohol dependencies end up in the criminal justice system. Georgia currently has seven Veterans Courts which serves those who have sacrificed everything for our freedom and gives them every chance to succeed.

I was honored to welcome students from Tift County High School to the Capitol last Friday. The General Assembly did not have session that day, so the halls were quiet as I gave them a tour of their Capitol. As your State Senator, I always enjoy meeting students from my district, and I look forward to more of those opportunities.

I am proud to report that my first piece of legislation, Senate Bill 53, passed the Senate on Monday with a vote of 51-4. Before my colleague, Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, sponsored SB 65 last year, the only people able to authorize emergency examinations of individuals needing involuntary treatment were medical doctors and psychologists. Sen. Unterman’s measure allowed licensed professional counselors (LPC) to also be able to perform emergency examinations on those who are mentally ill or drug or alcohol dependent to determine if they require involuntary treatment.

SB 65 included a sunset clause that repeals the act in its entirety if not amended through legislation by March 15, 2015. My bill extended the sunset clause from March 15, 2015 to June 30, 2018. SB 53 now goes to the House where I hope it receives their favorable consideration.

The Senate approved several bills focused on protecting family structure and the safety of children this week. Senate Bill 3, the “Supporting and Strengthening Families Act,” will allow parents to temporarily transfer custodial oversight to another adult during times when extenuating circumstances impact their ability to properly care for a child. Companion bills SB 8 and SR 7 aim to bring more severe punishments to those who capitalize on the innocence of a child and establishes a fund that provides support services to these victims.

The Georgia Senate unanimously passed SB 5, which amends legal language relating to the Georgia Ports Authority’s ability to accept federal loans in Georgia’s effort to deepen the Savannah Port. The bill simply gives the Georgia Port Authority the power to indemnify the federal government from any liability that might arise during the $705 million project. This is just one more step toward making one of Georgia’s best economic-development engines even more prosperous.

The Senate Appropriations Committee worked tirelessly going over the House’s version of the Amended Fiscal Year 2015 Budget, also known as the supplemental budget. Because of their efforts, the Senate was able to pass our version of House Bill 75 on Wednesday. The Senate’s version of the supplemental budget was set at $21 billion with the Department of Revenue’s reported tax revenue growth of 3.6 percent over actual FY14 collections.  The revenue increase includes additional funding for K-12 education and public health care initiatives. If the House agrees to minor changes made by the Senate during our budget process, the bill will receive final passage and head to Governor Deal’s desk. If not, a conference committee will be appointed to negotiate the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

As we move through the 2015 Legislative Session, I will update you with new legislation as it develops. It is an honor to represent District 13 and to be a voice for South Georgia.

Greg Kirk represents the 13th Senate District which includes Crisp, Dodge, Dooly, Lee, Tift, Turner, and Worth counties and portions of Sumter and Wilcox counties. He can be reached by phone at 404-463-5258 or email at