Originally created 02/21/00

Senators face two big votes



ATLANTA -- The two most significant pieces of legislation taken up this session by Georgia's General Assembly will come to a head this week when the Senate votes on Gov. Roy Barnes' education reform bill and the governor's midyear budget request.

With both of those time-consuming priorities already having cleared the House, lawmakers there will be free to concentrate on a host of other issues including the death penalty, state money for urban green space and tax breaks designed to spur the economy.

The 40-day state legislative session hit the halfway point last week, with the House trailing the Senate by a wide margin in the number of significant bills enacted. But the pace is about to accelerate now that the House has approved education reform, said state Rep. Charlie Smith, D-St. Marys.

"Most of the bills got started over in the Senate since we were handling such a big load with the education bill," said Mr. Smith, who is the governor's House floor leader. "We're waiting for a lot of those to come over."

Two of Mr. Barnes' agenda items likely to see action by the House this week are the governor's green-space bill, which cleared the Senate unanimously last week, and the One Georgia initiative, which would allocate one third of the state's share of the national tobacco settlement to rural economic development. Because that bill hasn't passed in the Senate, it may only get as far as the committee stage on the House side by the end of this week.

Mr. Smith said he will introduce two gubernatorial bills aimed at keeping up Georgia's rapid economic growth. One would give certain manufacturing facilities a sales-tax exemption; the other would offer tax breaks to companies moving to Georgia, based on the number of jobs created and whether the firm is locating in an economically depressed area.

"You get a bigger tax break if you're paying higher wages than the average wage rate in the area," Mr. Smith said.

Meanwhile, the Senate could be headed toward a showdown Thursday. Majority Leader Charles Walker said the Senate is planning votes on education reform Wednesday and on the midyear budget -- with its $648 million in new spending -- Thursday. But that could change.

"If education (reform) runs a day behind, we might have to bring both at the same time," said Mr. Walker, D-Augusta. "Let's put it this way: We are going to deal with both of them before Friday."

The Senate Education Committee is expected to vote on the reform legislation this afternoon.

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.