I'd like to discuss a couple of bills that gave me pause this session but were re-written in such a way that, ultimately, I voted for them. I'd also like to discuss a few bills that passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate, despite my votes against them.
First, I'd like to discuss Senate Bill 80, which expands a DNA database for criminals convicted of felonies.
Originally, this bill would have created a database holding the DNA of anyone arrested for a felony - regardless of whether they were convicted. Although law enforcement officers certainly would like to keep tabs on everyone, we just don't do that in a free society. Our Constitution specifically states that suspects are innocent until proven guilty.
However, toward the end of the session Senate Bill 80 was modified. Now, the way it passed, it simply allows for the collection of DNA at any post-conviction facility. That includes prisons and probation offices. Let's hope this will help solve some cold-cases and will help prevent future crimes by catching felons before they can strike a second or third time.
Another bill that caught me off guard was Senate Bill 36.
This bill creates an electronic database of narcotic prescription drugs and requires that pharmacists check the identification of patients buying those drugs. It also requires narcotic prescriptions to be written on security paper. At first glance, when talking about monitoring prescription drugs, I had visions of Big Brother keeping watch over what prescriptions people are taking. To me, that seems like a private matter between you and your doctor.
I did, however, vote for this bill. For me, it came down to the dangers of "pill mills" and doctors who make a living solely by prescribing dangerous pain killers to people who do not need them.
I simply cannot accept that privacy issues should make it easier for the illegal distribution of narcotics. In the end, I feel there is more to gain by this bill than there is to lose.
Now for some bills that I still can't get behind.
First, Senate Bill 30 - restricts the ability of citizens to serve as a municipal court judge unless they are a member of the Georgia Bar and in good standing.
The Judicial branch of government is a fitting place for lawyers to serve, but our Constitution doesn't prevent non-lawyers from serving in that branch. Our government was designed with three distinct and separate branches to avoid a concentration of power. Lawyers make up a disproportionate percentage of General Assembly members compared to their percentage of society.
The Georgia General assembly is meant to be a citizen legislature, made up of a representative slice of Georgians.
It seems only fitting that if commoners are prevented from serving in one branch of government, that a corresponding change would be made to another branch to maintain the balance of power. I made that point during the debate by proposing that lawyers not be eligible to serve in the General Assembly. The suggestion was well received (by the non-lawyers), but I withdrew it knowing that it was unconstitutional.
Unfortunately, the bill passed anyway.
Just last week, Gov. Deal signed Senate Bill 88 into law. This was a popular bill, sold under the idea that it would save the lives of children.
The bill raises the age limit where children can ride in a car without needing a child-safety seat. Right now, the law says anyone under 6-years-old must have a child seat or a booster seat. The new law will require children under 8 years old to use that type of restraint.
Personally, I think it makes sense for children under a certain size to use the seats. That, however, should be up to the parents of the children, not the government.
When will we trust parents to raise their own children?
Finally, I want to discuss Senate Bill 140.
This bill increases the maximum bonding limit allowed by the Georgia Higher Education Facilities Authority from $300 million to $400 million. It also increases the bonding limit allowed by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority.
We are talking about the debt liability carried by taxpayers here. Republicans in Washington are currently trying, on a national level, to prevent this same kind of increased debt load.
I was proud that the General Assembly managed to balance our state budget - even in these difficult financial times - without raising taxes.
In a recent column, I lamented that the federal government has not managed to do the same. Now, at the state level, we are falling victim to the same indebtedness that is hurting our federal government. I just don't like it.
As always, I am honored to serve the 31st district of Georgia. Although session has ended, I encourage you to reach out to me with your opinions, views and ideas on each issue that affects you. I will continue to be a strong advocate for your voice at the State Capitol. Together we will continue to build a safe, innovative, and prosperous state for future generations.