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Sen. Bill Heath: 2014 Legislative Preview

Sen. Bill Heath, representing parts of Paulding County, talks about the 2014 Legislative Preview in this letter to the editor.

Sen. Bill Heath
Sen. Bill Heath

Dear Editor:

December has been a busy month for the Heath family. From Christmas gatherings to the birth of our first grandchild, our calendar has certainly been full. It's also hard to believe another year has come and gone and we're about to begin another legislative session in a few short weeks.

It is truly an honor to represent you at the state capitol. In 2013, the legislature addressed a variety of issues ranging from health care to second amendment rights. Although it's a new year, many of these same issues will come up for debate again during the upcoming 2014 Legislative Session.

This year, the Georgia General Assembly will have to work together to address the needs of our state, which includes balancing the state budget. Georgia's economic landscape continues to show slow, yet steady improvement; however, we must continue to exercise fiscal restraint to ensure our state's long-term success. For the first five months of the FY2014, state revenues totaled $7.3 billion; a 5.4 percent increase from FY2013. These statistics indicate a positive trend toward our state's economic recovery, but there's always room for improvement.

An issue that is very likely to receive attention this session concerns financing for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. Deepening the Savannah Harbor, which has been in the works for years, is an investment that welcomes long-term business growth and incentivizes companies to make Georgia their home. For FY2014, it is anticipated that Governor Deal will request $35 million to cover additional costs for the harbor's expansion. This is a small price to pay considering the economic investment this will bring to the entire state and Southeastern United States. The federal government is also expected to fulfill its end of the bargain by pitching in 60-70 percent of the total $652 million cost.

The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is a top priority for Georgia, especially with the expansion of the Panama Canal nearing completion in 2015. This will clear the way for larger ships to enter the Port of Savannah through the Panama City Canal.

A few pieces of legislation that did not achieve final passage last session but are expected to come up for debate include, Georgia's zero tolerance weapons policy and the issuance of weapons carry licenses for service members under the age of 21.

The first bill, Senate Bill 101, combined a series of bills aimed at protecting second amendment rights and included a bill I introduced to protect the confidentiality of weapons carry permit holders. As a result of disagreements over the bill's campus carry provision, the bill ultimately stalled on day 40 of the legislative session. This specific portion of the bill would have allowed guns to be carried on the grounds of Georgia's public and technical colleges with a valid weapons permit. The fact that we were unable to reach a consensus on a mutually-agreed upon bill is disheartening; however, I am looking forward to discussing this bill again in the weeks to come.

Georgia's zero tolerance weapons policy will also likely receive legislative action after two students were recently punished for mistakenly carrying a knife on campus. To date, Georgia's zero tolerance policy prohibits weapons in school safety zones, which applies to public-school property, college campuses, driveways and parking lots. A violation of this policy will result in a suspension, arrest and possible jail time.

This issue needs to be addressed. The number of incidents where students have used a knife as a weapon is minimal. Why should students be deprived of the right to possess a simple tool when they have shown no signs of previous violence or aggression? I would suggest that a sharpened number 2 pencil, golf club or ball bat could be as dangerous as a pocket knife.

The General Assembly passes hundreds of bills each session, but it is important we exercise caution against passing laws simply for the sake of legislating. Every year, federal, state and local governing bodies seem to erode what our founding fathers had in mind when they wrote of securing the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence. Less government and increased personal responsibility is a dream that I have for all Georgians, especially the constituents of the 31st Senate District. I believe this is an achievable goal through responsible governance and policies that act in the best interests of all Georgians.

As always, I look forward to being your voice at the Gold Dome. My door is always open and I encourage your feedback and suggestions. If you have any questions about the legislative process or would like additional information about a specific piece of legislation, please feel free to contact my office at 404-656-3943 or email at billheath@billheath.net.

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