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Expect a ‘fast and furious’ session

POSTED: January 9, 2014 8:09 p.m.

Monday, the 2014 session of the Georgia State Legislature will begin.


Already people are referring to this upcoming session as “the fast and furious” as it is expected to be one of the quickest sessions in many years.


According to our state’s constitution, each annual session is to start on the second Monday of January and is to last no longer than 40 days — session days, not calendar days.


Over the past nine years that I have had the honor and pleasure of serving in the state Legislature, most of our sessions have extended through March and often times into mid-April.


But not this year.


Originally, Georgia’s federal primary election for 2014 was scheduled for July 15 with a runoff election, if necessary, coming three weeks later. However, a federal judge ruled that Georgia did not have enough time between the primary and runoff election to receive overseas ballots and have them counted and verified.


As a result of the ruling, the judge moved the federal primary date for 2014 to June 3.

 
Since this was close to the Memorial Day weekend and it was felt turnout would be low, leadership in Georgia, including the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker, petitioned the judge and requested the primary date be moved up even more to May 20.


The request was granted and the 2014 federal primary date was set for May 20 and the runoff for July 22.


Like so many court decisions, this ruling had a domino effect on other situations.


First of all, it’s important to note that this ruling is for the federal primary only and does not include state elections.


However, because it would be inconvenient as well as costly to have separate elections, one of the first pieces of legislation expected to be considered and passed this session will be to change the state elections to coincide with the federal elections.


While most observers assume this will be the case, it means that qualifying for federal and state offices will be from March 3-7.


Although federal candidates, such as those who are running for Congress, are not prohibited from raising campaign money while serving with the legislature in session, state legislators are prohibited from doing so.


Herein lies the major reason for the 180 state House members, 56 state senators and all constitutional officers (governor, lieutenant governor, insurance commissioner, etc.) who are running for re-election will not want to stay in session very long after March 7.


Simply put, they can’t raise money for their re-election campaigns while the Legislature is in session. For those with opponents back home who are eligible to raise money during that time, this will create quite a dilemma, to say the least.


A fast session also leads to a furious session — particularly during an election year such as this.


With announced opposition in most of the constitutional offices, including the governor’s office, political rhetoric should be at a premium.


Fueling this rhetoric will be issues such as Obamacare.


Some Republican lawmakers have already announced their intention to introduce legislation prohibiting state agencies, officers and employees from implementing any portion of Obamacare, instead leaving it up to the federal government.


Democratic leaders will be pushing for the expansion of Medicaid, one of the major provisions of Obamacare that has been refused by Georgia.


Another bill that has and will continue to generate fury around the Capitol is SB 141, the Patient Injury Act.


Opposed by the unlikely combination of trial lawyers and doctors, SB 141 creates the Patient Compensation System, a proposed alternative to medical malpractice litigation, establishing a process for patients to submit claims of medical injury and receive compensation if a review finds the claim valid.


SB 141 was introduced last session and has been studied by a special Senate subcommittee during the interim. The subcommittee will report their findings and recommendation to full committee the first week of session.

  
But perhaps the greatest challenge during such a fast and furious session will be the budget.


Although the news is mostly good in the budget arena, concerns are still present, not the least of which is a $231 million hole in Medicaid for the next year — even without expansion.


The 2014 session — fast and furious, indeed.


Sen. Buddy Carter can be reached at 421-B State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109. You can connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/buddycarterga or follow him on Twitter @Buddy_Carter.

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