Senate Bill 223 originally won approval in different versions by the House and Senate last year, but time ran out in the 2011 session before the two chambers endorsed the conference committee’s agreement that removed the differences. Monday’s 37-12 Senate vote clears the way for House approval of the compromise, which would send it to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk for his signature.
“It’s something we probably should have done years ago,” said Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock.
Indeed, Sen. Jason Carter, an Atlanta Democrat, reminded reporters before he cast his “yes” vote that his grandfather Jimmy Carter had used a similar approach when he was governor in the early 1970s.
Since taking control of state government 10 years ago, Republicans have talked about the need for a mechanism to shrink government and save taxpayers money.
So Monday, after its Senate passage, Senate Republicans held a press conference to crow about its impact.
“It may be one of the most important historical accomplishments ever in the history of the state,” said Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta.
However, when asked which agencies were most in need of sunsetting or were to be the first targets of the legislation, Hill and the other leaders took a long pause and then said those decisions would be made later by a 14-member committee of legislators from the House and Senate. The committee would make recommendations that would need to be voted on by the full General Assembly and agreed to by the governor before an agency would go out of business.
The bill spells out 18 measures of an agency’s effectiveness. Those that don’t measure up would be axed as ineffective and their charters not renewed. While every agency will be subject to renewal, their expiration dates will be staggered to spread the workload of evaluating them.
Completing the whole cycle of agencies will take seven to eight years, said Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, the bill’s sponsor.
“This is a timely bill when you live in a period of budget restraint,” he said.
Sen. Steve Thompson, D-Marietta, warned that the sunset bill would give too much power to the 14-member committee — worse, he said, than when Democrats “wrote the budget in an elevator.”
“This is not even an almost-good idea,” he said.
Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, challenged Thompson.
“Do you have a better idea for us to get inside these agencies and make them functional?” Millar asked.
House leaders haven’t announced when they would vote on the conference committee agreement. House Speaker David Ralston could bring it up anytime.