The remaining legislative days will be busy - Glenn Baker

March 16th marked the 30th legislative day of the 2011 session. Known as "Crossover Day," this critical day marks the last chance that most House bills will have to pass the House and make their way to the Senate. If a House bill has not passed the House by the end of Crossover Day, it has little chance of becoming law this year.

For the remaining ten legislative days, the state House will primarily only consider legislation that has already been passed by the state Senate. Due to this deadline, the House worked long hours this week, debating and voting on long lists of legislation.

Given the economic recession that has so drastically affected our state, we have worked hard this session to balance the state budget and make necessary spending cuts while continuing to provide vital services for Georgians. To allow for a more thorough examination of our expenditures at the state level, my colleagues and I passed House Bill 33. This measure is designed to increase efficiencies and decrease wasteful spending, by implementing a zero-based budgeting system.

Specifically, HB 33 would allow the General Assembly to review every budgetary detail of state departments and agencies. This would allow us to fully examine every detail of the entire state budget over a six-year period. HB 33 would also consolidate the House Budget Office and Senate Budget Office into one Joint Legislative Budget Office, a simple change that may save the state up to $1 million annually.

In addition to reforming our state's budget process, we also passed legislation to create the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians. This council will study criminal justice reform during the interim and make legislative recommendations to a joint legislative committee before the 2012 session.

The intent of this bill, HB 265, is to find solutions that will allow the state to ensure public safety, while decreasing the cost of our corrections system. It is imperative that we look at these reforms. Georgia currently spends more than $1 billion a year, and has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the nation. However, recent studies suggest that an estimated three-fourths of the state's prison population is believed to have some type of drug addiction, which could be treated at much lower costs than imprisonment.

The second judicial reform that we took up this week involved implementing a new way of compiling lists of citizens who are eligible to serve on juries. HB 415, the Jury Composition Reform Act of 2011, does that by completely changing the way county jury pools are created and ending what is known as "forced balancing."

Instead of requiring counties to "force balance" their jury pools to ensure gender and radical population proportionality, HB 415 would simplify the process by requiring the Council of Superior Court Clerks to establish and maintain a statewide master jury list that will be more inclusive than the county lists currently used.

The Council will screen drivers' license records, vital records, and voter registration records to create the statewide list. Each county will then get their list of eligible jurors from the Council. This will not only save counties money, but it will also ensure accurate jury pool lists.

Additionally, HB 415 will make jury service more uniform among eligible citizens, meaning more people will be called for jury service, but we will all be called less often.

Along with measures to reform our justice system, we passed legislation that brings our state election laws into compliance with the rules of the national political parties. Specifically, House Bill 454 grants the Secretary of State the discretion to select the date for Georgia's presidential primary in each presidential election year. The presidential primary date selected by the Secretary of State would have to fall between December 1st of the year prior to a presidential election and the second Tuesday in June of the presidential election year. By granting the Secretary of State this additional flexibility, we can maximize Georgia's role in selecting our nation's presidential candidates.

Additionally, we passed House Bill 500, which will help prepare the state's unemployed to reenter the workforce. Under this legislation, unemployed Georgians could receive certain educational tools, skills gap training, and instructions on how to complete an online job application. The Department of Labor will administer these trainings through its career centers. The program could also be utilized through locations provided by the Technical College System of Georgia.

Another bill passed this week, House Bill 503, shifts the burden of paying for forensic medical exams of victims of sexual assault from the local law enforcement agency, to the Georgia Crime Victims Emergency Fund.

Now that House Bills 33, 265, 415, 454, 500 and 503 have passed the House, in addition to many others, they will make their way through the Senate committee process. If passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, these bills will become law.

Glenn Baker is the state representative for House District 78, which serves portions of Clayton and Henry counties. He can be reached at (404) 656-0202, or at: glenn.baker@house.ga.gov.