Usually budget battles dominate the Georgia Legislature, but not this year - testimony to the state's healthy economy. An $11.8 billion state budget won easy approval after the House and Senate ironed out minor differences.
The absence of budget wars enabled Gov. Zell Miller to focus lawmakers' attention on his issues. He got most of what he wanted, including a radical restructuring of welfare; new restrictions on teen drivers and tougher penalties on drunken drivers. His bill to require child molesters to keep police informed of their whereabouts also passed.
All these measures enjoyed broad public support and even prompted one prominent Republican, Senate whip Erick Johnson of Savannah, to praise the governor for "fighting for the right things."
The DUI bill, calling for imprisonment of first-time offenders, is a little steep, particularly for the under-18 set where "zero alcohol tolerance" applies. Teen-age Tina could be thrown into jail with hardened criminals, even if the alcohol found in her system is due to minute amounts of prescribed medication.
Here's some more legislation and comments:
TELEMARKETING: A bill sponsored by House Speaker Tom Murphy, D-Bremen, passed the lower chamber but stalled in the Senate. Sadly it could be revived next year. The measure raises grave constitutional issues regarding political speech and polling data. Moreover, most "nuisance calls" are from out of state and Murphy's bill does nothing to deter them. (South Carolina lawmakers are also flirting with similar restrictions.) Only Congress can put boiler-room telemarketing con-men out of business nationwide.
VOTER ID: A bill requiring voters to show identification at the polls is helpful, but the potential for vote fraud is still rampant as long as "absentee voters" don't have to prove who they are.
DEREGULATION: A historic bill deregulating the state's natural gas industry brings competition to the industry for the first time and should result in lower prices for both industrial and residential users.
MEDICAID FRAUD: Another big victory for the governor. Using the bully-pulpit, he triumphed over special interests who tried to pull the teeth on his Medicaid forfeiture bill, allowing prosecutors to freeze the assets of health care fraud suspects who, incidentally, bilk Georgians of millions in Medicaid funds every year.
SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: A bill allowing anyone with a college degree to run for state school superintendent got lawmakers' OK, thus eliminating the classroom experience requirement. But will voters want to put in the state's top education post someone who's never had any classroom experience?