The 2007 legislative session is now underway, and it is quite a historic time for our state. Just last week, Gov. Sonny Perdue became our first re-elected Republican Governor and my friend Casey Cagle was sworn in as the first Republican Lieutenant Governor. I was also sworn in for my second term in the state Senate, and I am humbled by the honor of representing you again. In addition, I was re-appointed to serve as chairman of the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee and I will serve as Secretary of the Science and Technology Committee while also serving as a member of Education & Youth and Transportation Committees.
In Gov. Perdue’s recent State of the State address, he outlined some key areas where we will devote interest, energy, thought and time during the 2007 legislative session, including education, transportation and economic development. These issues are areas of concern to many of our residents and they have far reaching effects on Georgia?s future.
Simply put, there is no more important issue facing our state today than our children?s education. Education has become a common topic at the Capitol in the last few years, because Education is an investment in the future. High student achievement equates into tomorrow?s leaders who are skilled competitors in a global market. Improving our system of public education is a lofty goal, yet it is well worth pursuing for our state and our country?s future.
One step in achieving this goal is to foster a quality teaching force of talented, professional educators. Another step is to continue down a path we began on last year by adding graduation coaches to Georgia?s middle schools. Gov. Perdue noted that while Georgia’s graduation rate has risen 7.5 percent over the last four years, there is still much work to do. High school graduation coaches have identified 42,000 students who are not on track to graduate. In addition, there are 25,655 over-age 9th graders, and over 2,000 students who dropped out before they made it to 9th grade. Middle school graduation coaches will help meet the needs of these students.
Transportation solutions continues to be a challenge to our state. The Georgia Department of Transportation recently “discovered” a $7.7 billion shortfall that resulted in a number of key projects being delayed or cancelled in our area. There is speculation that the “shortfall” just happened to coincide with the start of budget negotiations with the legislature and money will be found to continue the projects as planned. That is my goal and the goal of my fellow legislators from the five counties I represent.
Another area the Governor placed emphasis on is the future of economic development in Georgia. In the last year, Georgia made over 31 economic development trips to 23 countries. The state currently has ten international offices, and will soon open a new office in China. The Governor’s FY 08 budget recommends that the state ramp up its investment in international marketing by 135 percent and invest an additional $5.1 million in opening Georgia’s doors to the world. The rapid expansion of globalization is a sterling opportunity for Georgia to gain new business, and we?ll look to continue our efforts to bring international corporations to our state in 2007.
With the opening of the new session, I have filed five bills thus far: Senate Bill (SB) 3 which would be a new half price life time hunting and fishing license for military veterans, SB 21 which would eliminate any parole for killing a law enforcement officer, fire fighter or emergency worker performing their duties and SB 23 which would require judges and the Paroles Board to consider immigration status when deciding on bail or parole. Two other bills that increase the penalty for fraudulently obtaining a Georgia auto tag or drivers license have been filed but not yet numbered.
Numerous other important issues will face the Georgia General Assembly during the 2007 session and hundreds of pieces of legislation will be introduced. I value your opinions and comments on the legislation we are considering and hope to hear from you early and often. Thank you again for your confidence and support. God bless Georgia and America.