Perdue OKs measures on cigarettes, stem cells

ATLANTA - A man exonerated by DNA evidence after spending nearly 25 years behind bars for rape is set to receive $1.2 million from the state under a resolution signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue.

 

Last week, Mr. Perdue also signed a bill that will make it a misdemeanor for a minor to attempt to purchase cigarettes and one that will create a way for new mothers in Georgia to donate umbilical cords for stem cell research.

A bill that was widely seen as a way to make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to get behind the wheel also earned the governor's signature. The bill would require Georgians to obtain a valid state driver's license before they can get their car licensed.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, labeled it a public safety measure.

For Robert Clark, the hefty payout comes after more than two decades in prison for a rape that DNA evidence showed he did not commit. He was cleared in 2005 after the Georgia Innocence Project took on his case.

The payment is based on the income Mr. Clark lost while imprisoned, personal injury, injury to his reputation and other damages. He will receive the money in installments over 15 years.

Under the cigarette bill, minors could face up to a year in prison if they try to purchase cigarettes. Democrats in the House tried to get the chamber to reconsider the legislation, fearing the penalty was too harsh. Supporters said it would grab teens' attention in the battle to halt smoking.

The umbilical cord bill would create an umbilical blood cord bank for stem cell research and encourage pregnant women to donate umbilical cords.

The measure's sponsor, state Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, said the measure struck a middle ground in the heated debate over stem cells. Under the new law only adult stem cells would be drawn from umbilical cords and other human tissue.

Mr. Perdue also signed into law a tax break that was part of his legislative agenda. The measure would hand a sales tax exemption for materials and equipment used in the construction of biofuel facilities in the state that use Georgia-grown material.

The move comes amid a push toward alternative fuels that is expected to cause the demand for biofuels to rise.

The biofuels tax break is one of the few legislative victories Mr. Perdue can claim for the year.