Originally created 02/08/98

Senate prepares special projects to add to budget



ATLANTA -- Now that the House has temporarily finished feasting on budget pork, the Senate will take its turn this week at the all-you-can-eat taxpayer funded buffet.

The House last week passed a mid-year budget that included 400 "special projects" worth $11 million.

They ranged from monuments and fire trucks to ball-field improvements and operating expenses for a few cities and counties.

Senate Appropriations Chairman George Hooks, D-Americus, worked during the weekend to prepare the Senate's add-ons, which will likely be considered by his committee by mid-week.

The Senate "special projects" could be approved by the body by the end of the week.

Cities, counties and civic groups inundate lawmakers with requests for money each year.

Mr. Hooks said the Senate uses several criteria to decide which local projects make it into the budget. Among them is the per capita income of the area the request comes from. If the city, county or area is poor, it gets more.

"We sit down and look at these small, struggling communities ... and that has a strong bearing on it," Mr. Hooks said.

Also this week, the House will vote Tuesday on changes in the political boundaries of two areas of South Georgia.

The House is expected to approve new districts for seven members, a move that could touch off another lawsuit in the state's nearly seven-year-long battle about reapportionment.

The changes, which would aid two Democrats by increasing the black populations in their districts, easily passed a committee last week.

"We're perfectly on sound legal ground this year fine-tuning these districts," said House Reapportionment Chairman Tommy Smith, D-Alma.

Across the hall, Senators are expected to consider legislation that would penalize adults who leave handguns around for children to use.

Sen. Ralph David Abernathy, D-Atlanta, has unsuccessfully pushed such legislation in the past.

This time around, it's sponsored by Senate Rules Chairman David Scott, D-Atlanta, and co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta, Senate Judiciary Chairman Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, and Senate Special Judiciary Chairman Mike Egan, R-Atlanta.

That should at least get the bill through the Senate, although its chances in the House are iffy because that body has closer ties to the National Rifle Association.

The bill states that any person whose negligence allows a minor to get hold of a handgun could be subject to a fine of up to $1,000 for a first offense and 60 days in jail for subsequent offenses.

"This legislation is badly needed to save our children's lives," Mr. Scott said. "Georgia is losing too many children to death and injury resulting from this kind of negligence."