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Georgia Capitol notes through Day 37

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POSTED: March 27, 2009 4:38 p.m.

HEADLINES:

House leaders are pushing a new version of a sweeping transportation overhaul proposal. The Senate, the House and Gov. Sonny Perdue have all agreed the state's transportation bureaucracy needs a makeover. And all agree the governor and state lawmakers should have more say over how transportation dollars are spent. A proposal by Perdue that was backed by the Senate would also create a new agency to help direct the funding, while the House version keeps the existing setup. The debate over transportation policy has been a key theme of the legislative session, as lawmakers are also clashing over ways to levy a new one-cent state sales tax to fund infrastructure improvements. The House supports a statewide tax while the Senate is pushing for a regional method.

ODDS & ENDS:

— Drivers traveling well above the speed limit would be slapped with stiff new fines of up to $200 under a bill that cleared the Legislature. The fines — expected to total about $23 million a year — are intended to help the state's cash-strapped network of trauma hospitals. Gov. Sonny Perdue has been pushing the so-called super speeder legislation for three years.

— Georgia-based businesses were big winners in the state Senate, which voted to begin gradually wiping out the corporate income tax for companies with headquarters in the state. The Republican-backed plan, which passed 43-7, would also give a tax break to businesses that hire jobless workers who are either collecting unemployment benefits or who have been out of work for 60 days or more.

— A bid to require adults in pickup trucks to buckle their seat belts was defeated 4-3 by a House panel. The vote was a stinging defeat for advocates pressing for the changes in Georgia, the last state in the nation to specifically exempt adults in pickups from buckling up. The Senate has already adopted the changes.

— The Senate voted 42-4 to give Georgians a one-time tax credit when they purchase a single-family home or condominium. The credit would total 1.2 percent of the purchase price or $3,600, whichever is less. The credit would only last for six months, which supporters said would encourage home buyers to act now.

— A shortage of educators certified to teach math and science has Georgia sweetening the pot. The state Senate voted unanimously to boost pay for the educators. The pay increase wouldn't take effect until 2010. The bill would allow new teachers with proper math or science certification to move up three steps on the state salary scale, a boost of about $4,561, to $37,985 a year, under the state salary schedule

— The state Legislature has agreed to give prosecutors more leeway to seek sentences of life in prison without parole. The measure allows prosecutors to pursue a sentence of life without parole for convicted murderers. Current law allows that sentence only if attempts to seek the death penalty are unsuccessful. Critics say that process is time-consuming, expensive and often unnecessary.

— House Democrats have again helped defeat a plan to double a tax break for homeowners. The measure that would have allowed voters to decide in 2010 whether to boost the state homestead exemption from $2,000 to $4,000. Georgia Republican leaders pitched it as a much needed "stimulus package" for homeowners. Democrats said it would force local governments to cut services or hike property taxes amid the economic downturn.

— The children of military families in Georgia would be eligible for the state's popular HOPE scholarship under legislation approved by the Legislature. The bill would waive the one-year residency requirement for the children of active-duty military personnel.

— A conservative group is trying to block a state Senate bill that would allow Atlanta voters to tax themselves to hire more police and firefighters. The Fulton County Taxpayers Association filed a lawsuit challenging a measure that would allow Atlanta residents to vote in November to decide whether to raise property taxes. The lawsuit comes before it passes the House.

— The Georgia Legislature is seeking to soften mandatory buffers aimed at protecting Georgia's waterways from pollution and development. The House voted to remove the buffers around unnamed tributaries — or ephemeral streams — that crisscross the state. The House must now hash out differences with a version that passed the Senate.

— The Georgia Legislature has signed off on a proposal that seeks to hinder Sudan's economy. Supporters say it would send a strong message to the government of Sudan, where more than 200,000 people have died and millions have been chased from their homes in Darfur amid conflict between ethnic African rebels and the Arab-dominated Sudanese government.

— A Senate panel has OK'd a bill that would provide legal protection to families who use donated embryos to have a child. The "Option of Adoption Act" is designed to prevent an embryo donor from later claiming the child born from that embryo to another family. The bill provides a legal framework for the donor to relinquish rights prior to the embryo transfer.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

"We owe it to the president." — State Sen. George Hooks, who opposes plans to close the state-funded Plains Visitor Information Center in Jimmy Carter's hometown. The governor and House proposed closing it as part of a sweeping round of budget cuts.

DAYS IN SESSION:

Three days remain in the 40-day session.

LOOK AHEAD:

The final week of the legislative session is expected to be busy as lobbyists and lawmakers launch the final, frenzied push to ensure their legislation makes the final cut. The biggest unresolved items on the agenda is the fiscal year 2010 budget, which must still pass the Senate. Differences between the House and Senate on transportation governance, a one-cent state sales tax, an effort to wipe out the corporate income tax and a plan to erase the car tag tax and replace it with a one-time fee also hang in the balance.


Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

 

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