Senate votes to split Judiciary Committee
2:09 pm, January 14th, 2013
On the first day of the 2013-2014 regular session, Georgia Senate leadership decided to copy the House and split its Judiciary Committee into two.
By creating the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, the Senate has a body to analyze bills that deal with the state’s criminal code and procedure, such as the expected legislation stemming from the governor’s criminal justice reform council. It has recommended lawmakers create a two-tier scheme for designated felonies and direct more non-violent youth offenders to community-based treatment programs instead of detention centers.
Splitting the judiciary committees also will yield the appointment of two new chairman. The previous Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Bill Hamrick, R-Carrollton, was appointed to be a Coweta Circuit Superior Court judge by Governor Nathan Deal last summer.
The full chamber voted to approve proposed Senate rules today, but committee assignments have not yet been announced.
Another change in Senate rules states that the president of the Senate, the president pro tempore, the majority leader and two senators appointed by the president of the Senate will assign committee members. The change eliminates the majority caucus chairman, the majority whip, the majority caucus vice chairman and the majority caucus secretary from the Committee on Assignments.
The Senate also voted to prohibit members of the public from filing ethics violation complaints. The new rule states, “A complaint alleging a violation of any section of Part Four of Section One of these Rules may only be brought by a senator or Senate staff, aides, or interns.”
Last year, Rules Committee Chairman Don Balfour, R-Snellville, came under scrutiny when two citizens accused him of asking to be reimbursed for driving to and from the state Capitol and for other expenses on days when he was not in Georgia. After three closed-door hearings, the Senate Ethics Committee concluded in August that Balfour submitted inaccurate expense reports to the Legislative Fiscal Office and ordered him to pay a $5,000 fine and $366.96 in restitution.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation recently concluded its criminal investigation into the allegations against Balfour, and a GBI spokesman said the bureau turned over its file to state Attorney General Sam Olens last month, according to the Associated Press. Olens has not announced whether his office will seek prosecution. Balfour has maintained that his expense reports were in error and that he did not intend to do anything wrong.