On February 2, 2015, we returned to the Capitol for another busy week. The majority of our time this week was spent in committee and subcommittee meetings to review pieces of legislation that have been introduced in the House. The annual State of the Judiciary Address was delivered this week to both the House and the Senate by Chief Justice Hugh Thompson. We welcomed Chief Justice Hugh Thompson and the Georgia Supreme Court, the Georgia Court of Appeals and other guests to the chamber. Chief Justice Thompson was appointed to the Supreme Court of Georgia in 1994 and was elected by his peers to a four-year term in 2013. Speaker Ralston welcomed the Chief Justice to the rostrum as he went on to update us on the current state of Georgia’s judicial system.
In his address, Chief Justice Thompson applauded the successful expansion of specialty courts in Georgia. A specialty court, also known as an accountability courtorproblemsolvingcourt, is a cost-effective criminal justice alternative for non-violent offenders. Specialty courts, such as drug and mental health treatment courts, hold offenders accountable through court-supervised treatment programs. He shared success stories from some specialty courts in our state. Superior Court Judge Reuben Green was recognized for overseeing a veteran’s court in Cobb County that matches participants with volunteers who are dedicated to mentoring veterans through the program and keeping them out of jail. I was happy to hear that Georgia’s 116 specialty courts have helped guide more than 5,000 Georgians towards the right path by avoiding incarceration. I look forward to hearing more success stories out of our specialty courts in the future.
Chief Justice Thompson also spoke of the challenges that lie ahead. One challenge for Georgia’s judicial system is access to justice. Six counties in Georgia are without a single lawyer and 20 counties have fewer than five lawyers. As a result, judges are seeing more people coming to court and representing themselves. He explained that when people are unrepresented, their interests are not defended because judges do not have the information they need to make just decisions. All Georgians deserve to have access to justice, regardless of where they live, or socioeconomic status.
Chief Justice Thompson asked for support of newly introduced legislation to motivate attorneys to work in rural areas of Georgia. This legislation, HB 236, would create a pilot program where a small number of law school graduates would receive college loan payment assistance for working inanunderserved county for at least five years.
We also saw several bills pass out of their respective committees this week.
The House Education Committee voted ‘do pass’ on an important measure in House Bill 62. House Bill 62 honors our men and women in uniform by allowing their children the chance to obtain the world-class education that our state has to offer and allows them to receive special needs scholarships. Military families are often required to relocate across the country, and these children should not be denied educational opportunities as a result.
This legislation requires school boards to hold at least two public meetings before adopting any budget, giving parents and taxpayers the opportunity to see how their education dollars are being put to work and to provide input.
Senate Bill 2 passed the Senate unanimously and would provide high school students with alternative ways to earn their high school diplomas. SB 2 would allow high school students, who have met the necessary requirements, to enroll in college courses upon completion of their freshman and sophomore year coursework and earn both their high school and post secondary diplomas simultaneously.
We received some exciting news out of Washington, D.C.aboutthefuture of The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. President Obama requested that Congress designate $42 million for dredging the river channel that cargo ships use to reach the Port of Savannah in his 2016 budget proposal. This funding, in addition to the $266 million from the state of Georgia, will help the expansion stay on schedule to be completed by 2020.
As always, if you have concerns or questions about proposed legislation, I hope that you will contact me. I am always eager to hear from you, so that I can be aware of what issues are most important to you and your family. Please stop by and visit me if you are in the area during the legislative session, or call my office and let me know what I can do for you. The phone number is 678-438-7181.