Originally created 01/14/02

Budget, security to mold session



ATLANTA - Georgia lawmakers expect a short legislative session this year, with homeland security and budget cuts as the key issues and no major initiatives expected from Gov. Roy Barnes.

Mr. Barnes has dominated the past three years with ambitious agendas centered on education reform and transportation planning. But with all lawmakers facing elections this fall, senators and representatives likely will chart a cautious course and try to finish quickly so they can get out and campaign.

The session begins today and could end as soon as mid-March.

"Everyone's saying, 'Let's get right to the point and get out of here,"' said Rep. Calvin Smyre of Columbus, the chairman of both the House Rules Committee and the state Democratic Party.

Much of the early discussion around the state Capitol last week focused on homeland security. Lawmakers said to expect bills that stiffen penalties for terrorist threats or acts.

Also, there are plans to improve coordination among law enforcement and state agencies in case of disaster, said Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, who presides over the Senate.

"The focus will be preventing security breaches and how to respond to them if they happen," Mr. Taylor said.

The parties are likely to agree on many security measures.

"I think anything we do to increase homeland security with no cost attached will go through very quickly," said Senate Republican Leader Eric Johnson of Savannah. "The real fight's going to be the budget."

Legislators expect to trim the state budget for this fiscal year, which ends in June.

The state government notched six months of declining tax collections in December, and an economist warned legislators last week that Georgia could end this budget year with negative revenue growth for the first time in nearly 50 years.