This week the Georgia House of Representatives welcomed Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein as she presented the annual State of the Judiciary address. The State of the Judiciary address is presented every year to the General Assembly. Chief Justice Hunstein heads the state supreme court and presides over Georgia’s entire judicial branch. Chief Justice Hunstein addressed two main issues in the State of Judiciary address which were sentence reform and specialty courts.
Presently, Georgia has the forth-highest incarceration rate in the nation, which costs the state more than $1 billion annually. Due to the ongoing economic recession and budget constraints it is apparent that Georgia cannot afford to continue to have a high incarceration system. Currently, Georgia is seeking alternatives to incarceration for certain offenders with a few goals in mind: improving on public safety, saving taxpayer dollars, and ultimately turning criminals into law-abiding taxpayers.
Georgia has begun the process of implementing specialty courts throughout the state, which have received amazing success. Georgia’s drug courts, DUI courts, and mental health courts have become models for the nation. Specialty courts keep the public safer by breaking the cycle of crime through a combination of treatment and strict accountability measures for non-violent offenders. By expanding specialty courts, Georgia could save $8 million a year.
The House passed a few pieces of legislation aimed at increasing public safety. House Bill 40 would require a bitter tasting agent be added to antifreeze in order to prevent the poisoning of young children and animals. House Bill 52 provides greater access and protections of service and guide dogs to public and private schools, colleges, and universities; further, it prohibits any additional payment for the disabled person for a service dog’s access into these places. Now that these bills have passed the House, they will go through the Senate committee process; and if passed by the Senate and signed by Governor Deal, these bills will become law.
The legislation that has drawn the most attention thus far this year has not been the budget as was expected but legislation legalizing the sale of alcohol on Sunday. Due to a grass roots effort led by Georgia Conservatives in Action along with the Georgia branch of the Christian Coalition, the legislation which had been steamrolling along has been stopped dead in its tracks for now. However, a vote on the legislation could be suddenly resurrected at any time between now and the last hour of the last day of the 40 day session.
It has been brought to my attention that there is great concern about the cost of elections and that is the reason that I have supported House Bill 92, which will save money especially in rural areas. House Bill 92 will reduce from 45 days to 20 days early voting. It is my hope that before the bill is finalized before the House and Senate that we will reduce the early voting to no more than two weeks. I believe this give sufficient time for people who whish to vote the opportunity to do so. House Bill 92 is an effort to minimize costs and maximize voting opportunities. I would welcome your thought and comments especially on this and other issues about which you have concerns.
On Wednesday of last week, my own pastor, Tony Crosby of the Alma Methodist Church addressed House members on the importance of using our time wisely. He concluded his message to legislators with the following prayer: “Great God of time and space, meet us here in this moment today. Purify our hearts and minds. Free us from the tyranny of busyness and show us the power of a moment spent with you. Bring clarity to our confusion, let calm overcome chaos, and give us the courage to confront our careless waste of your divine gifts. Honor the work of these public servants as they have begun their day honoring you. Grant us that upon the close of this day, we might reflect upon it and be more careful with tomorrow. We humbly pray all of these things in the name of the one who came in the fullness of time to make an eternity with the Creator available to us all - the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
My office is located in the Capitol building in room 131, which is located on the first floor.