Originally created 03/19/01

Finals days see flurry of bills



ATLANTA - Members of the General Assembly undoubtedly wish they could have back some of those earlier days in the 2001 session when they coasted through agendas with three or four bills and were off the floor before noon.

The final two days of the 40-day session, today and Wednesday, promise to be grueling marathons.

On the House's to-do list: comprehensive legislation overhauling the way Georgians vote, a bill cracking down on the rapidly growing video poker industry and legislation creating a water-planning district in the Atlanta region.

The water bill, an initiative of Gov. Roy Barnes passed overwhelmingly by the Senate late last month, would establish a district board to plan and oversee water projects in 18 metro Atlanta counties and would include efforts to improve water quality, augment the region's water supply and reduce the growing demand for water through conservation.

Environmental advocates and some lawmakers from outside of the Atlanta area are worried that the measure also would pave the way for large-scale transfers of water from the Savannah River basin and others to systems that feed the thirsty capital region.

Representatives might also be in for a floor fight on video poker.

In the Senate, opponents of the games, led by freshman Sen. Mike Beatty, R-Jefferson, tacked amendments banning the games onto a more lenient bill backed by the gaming industry.

But a House committee softened the bill again - upping penalties for illegal use of the games but keeping the games legal.

Among the Senate's avalanche of bills will be Mr. Barnes' highway safety plan, a bill legalizing ticket scalping and a move to ease concerns about spiraling natural gas prices.

Mr. Barnes' driving bill's most controversial element would ban 16-year-olds from driving in five Atlanta-area counties. A plan to raise the driving age a year in 18 counties was scratched out in the House, only to have five counties reintroduced by a Senate committee.

Assuming the Senate version is approved, a committee will be formed to hash out the differences in the two plans.

Bills similar to the ticket scalping bill have passed both chambers of the General Assembly three times in recent years, only to be vetoed.

But supporters say minor changes to the bill, which would license ticket brokers and allow anyone to re-sell a ticket for as much as they can, have garnered the governor's favor this time.

Reach Dave Williams and Doug Gross at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.