Only five legislative days remain in the 2016 legislative session. This means there are only three legislative days left for bills to pass out of committee and be eligible for a floor vote. Senate committees will be very busy next week reviewing the remaining House bills, and individual senators will be very busy advocating for their bills in the House.

The Senate fulfilled our constitutional obligation last week by passing House Bill 751. This is the Fiscal Year 2017 General Budget, which runs from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017. The budget allocates approximately $23.7 billion in state funding, and is the largest state budget since the 2008 recession. Although we continue to practice strict fiscal responsibility when establishing the budget, the increased total is a good sign of Georgia’s continued growth and prosperity. House Bill 751 includes more funding for road projects and maintenance, public safety improvements and a 3 percent salary increase for our hardworking school employees. This bill has now been transferred back to the House for approval of the Senate’s changes.

House Bill 859, also known “campus carry” bill, the legislation would allow anyone with a valid weapons carry license to legally carry a handgun on a college campus. The weapon must be concealed and cannot be carried onto property used for athletic events or student housing. This legislation has been fiercely debated for several years, with critics citing safety concerns. However, this is legislation that actually increases safety and allows responsible, competent college students to appropriately protect themselves. House Bill 859 received Senate approval this week, and I was proud to support this bill and the Second Amendment. The bill now transfers to Governor Deal for his signature.

Several other notable bills passed the Senate this week, including:
• House Bill 152 – This bill would alter the current definition of a watercraft “vessel” and allow alcohol to be responsibly consumed on a homemade or inflatable raft.
• House Bill 840 – This bill would create a permit to allow the use of certain wild animals for film production. Producers must obtain a permit if wild animals not previously held in captivity are used in the TV or film production. The Department of Natural Resources would be tasked with overseeing permit applications and enforcing the permit.
• House Bill 844 –This bill outlines the process through which legal claims against the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund are handled. These claims would be handled under the jurisdiction of the superior court of the Georgia Firefighters’ Pension Fund Board of Trustees.
Although there is a still lot of work to be done this legislative session, I want you to know I am never too busy to answer your questions or hear your concerns about proposed legislation. As always, it is an honor and a privilege to represent Senate District 53 at the Georgia State Capitol.