In addition to our work to create a fertile environment for jobs in our state, improving our education system remains a top priority. We have spent a lot of our time this year debating issues such as public school funding and educational freedom and choice. Realizing how vital quality education is to our students and our state's economic development, I am encouraged each time a school in our district receives an award or accolade for their achievements in this area. It proves that students, parents, and educators in the 31st District take education seriously and are working diligently to prepare our children for a competitive, global environment.
Recently, Bartow County was named one of nine school districts in our state to be awarded the Striving Reader Comprehensive Literacy Grant which provides them with a portion of a $25 million federal grant.
Research shows that students who are reading on grade level, especially after 3rd grade, will be more likely to graduate from high school and be prepared for college and careers. Rewarding those responsible for educational achievement should encourage others to strive for the level of educational success our country and state demand.
This week the Senate took action on 20 bills, two of which were pieces of legislation that I authored. These two bills, SB 293 and SB 424, passed the Senate floor with ample support from my colleagues. SB 293, which passed the Senate with a vote of 48 to 3, will allow specialty and standard license plates to optionally display the nation's motto "In God We Trust" in lieu of the county name or other statements located at the bottom of the tag at no additional cost.
I am proud that so many of my colleagues stood beside me in support of SB 293. During the 2010 session, the General Assembly approved the printing of these decals and allowed the Department of Revenue to charge no more than the cost of manufacturing and distribution of the decals. According to data provided by the department, this was 11.8 cents. Since these decals have become available, Georgians who believe in our nation's motto have been charged a total of approximately $291,000 in unauthorized fees.
This bill eliminates the $1 fee which is currently being charged for the decals. In roughly the first year of sales, over 330,000 decals were requested by Georgians. 15 others states, including a majority of our neighboring states, have incorporated "In God We Trust" on their state-issued license plates.
Another bill I authored, SB 424, passed with a vote of 41-9 this week. SB 424 allows the display of educational and informational material about the history and background of American law, including the display of the Foundations of American Law and Government, to be displayed in any public building throughout the state. Currently, the Foundations of American Law and Government display can only be posted publicly in the judicial facilities of each municipality and political subdivision. Documents in this display make up some of our nation's most precious, treasured documents including:
*The Mayflower Compact, 1620;
*The Ten Commandments as extracted from Exodus 20;
*The Declaration of Independence;
*The Magna Carta;
*"The Star-Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key;
*The National Motto;
*The Preamble to the Georgia Constitution;
*The Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution; and
*The description on the image of Lady Justice.
On Wednesday, the Senate passed SB 321 with a vote of 44 to 5. This legislation attempts to curb metal theft in Georgia by placing additional requirements on those who buy and sell scrap metals. The crime of profiting from stolen metal continues to grow in Georgia. We have taken up this issue before, and I hope this year the House and Senate can come together on meaningful legislation to present to the governor that will finally protect Georgians from this unscrupulous act.
Another bill that passed this week is SB 381, a bill that brings additional transparency in government by amending the definition of "budget" as it relates to local governments and requiring the electronic submission of budgets by local school districts. Education receives the largest portion of our state and local budgets. Allowing greater transparency in governmental spending helps to hold us all accountable.
I encourage each of you to head to the polls this Tuesday, March 6th ("Super Tuesday"), to cast your vote in the presidential primaries. You can view your sample ballot and educate yourself about the issues on the ballot by visiting the "My Voter Page" Section of the Secretary of the State's Website. It is important to remember that candidates who have "dropped out" will still appear on the voting machines. I urge you to use your vote wisely.
It is a pleasure and an honor to represent you everyday at the State Capitol. This is a responsibility I take very seriously and hope that my decisions will continue to best represent your needs. I hope you will continue to reach out to me regarding the issues that affect our district and our state. I always enjoy hearing about the accomplishments of our schools and communities, and look forward to hearing the ideas you bring to the table as we move throughout the Legislative Session.