Your Georgia Desk
Legislature Reaches Halfway Point of Session
Under the Gold Dome in Atlanta, we’ve just passed the half-way point in this year’s legislative session. While meeting with constituents, I’m often asked exactly what we do on a day-to-day basis.
Most people know that after a bill is introduced, it is referred to a committee, where public hearings are held to solicit input from citizens and other interested parties affected by the proposed law. Bills are discussed and often amended or changed in the committee process. Eventually the bills are either defeated or passed out of committee and sent to the Senate floor for a full vote. So far, only 23 bills out of 181 introduced have been passed on the Senate floor. The remaining bills are under consideration in various committees.
There are 27 Senate committees ranging from Agriculture to Judiciary, from Education to Retirement. The committee process utilizes the input of our many Senators’ varied backgrounds – and we have a wide variety of backgrounds in the Georgia State Senate. This is the advantage of Georgia’s citizen legislature. We are part-time public servants who hold real jobs in the real world. This gives each of us tangible experience that we can bring to the Capitol to help us enact sound policy.
It is in the committees where the personal, professional, and educational expertise of the various committee members is best utilized to fine tune bills into what will become effective laws. Many people feel that the Georgia Capitol is filled with lawyers – and nine of the 10 members of the Judiciary Committee, for example, are lawyers. But when you look at the Senate as a whole, only 10 of 56 Senators are lawyers. About half of the Senators are business executives with expertise in construction, insurance, the automotive industry, etc. We have six farmers, two of whom – Sen. Bill Heath and Sen. Frank Ginn – are also engineers. We have two physicians and a dentist; two car dealership owners, several home builders, and an underground utilities contractor. A great example of our varied backgrounds is freshman Sen. Greg Kirk, who holds a master’s degree in psychology, is a real estate businessman, and an ordained minister.
These are some other great examples of experience and expertise at work in the Capitol:
- The Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee is chaired by Sen. John Wilkinson, a retired teacher and farmer who formerly chaired the Georgia Department of Education’s agriculture education programs. Three other farmers serve on that committee.
- The Appropriations Committee Chairman, Sen. Jack Hill, is a retired grocer who can do more math in his head than some people can do with a calculator. He knows more about the state budget than anyone in Georgia, after serving in the legislature for 26 years.
- The chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, Sen. Renee Unterman, is a nurse and clinically trained social worker.
- A doctor, Sen. Ben Watson, and a volunteer firefighter, Sen. John Albers, both serve on the Public Safety Committee, which is chaired by the youngest state senator, 28-year-old Tyler Harper.
- The chairman of the Education Committee, Sen. Lindsey Tippins, served 12 years on the Cobb County Board of Education, always returning his full salary for student scholarships or teacher stipends.
- The chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Hunter Hill, is a West Point graduate who commanded combat teams in Iraq and Afghanistan and has been awarded two Bronze Stars, the Meritorious Service Medal, and two Army Commendation Medals. The vice chair, Sen. Ed Harbison, served three tours in Vietnam with the Marine Corps and was awarded a Purple Heart. The Secretary of the committee, Sen. Mike Dugan, is a retired Lieutenant Colonel who served as an Army Ranger and Master Paratrooper.
These are the experts I am proud to work with every day as we strive to pass laws benefitting the citizens of Georgia.