Originally created 04/13/02

Legislature notes



Wanted: High-Tech Businesses

What's in a name?

Business recruiters in a large swath of the eastern half of Georgia hope there's plenty.

The House gave final approval Friday to a resolution designating the stretch of U.S. Highway 78 linking Augusta and Athens as "Technology Corridor."

Economic developers see the road between the two cities as fertile ground for expanding the biomedical-research operations at the University of Georgia and the Medical College of Georgia.

The resolution, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tem Jack Connell, D-Augusta, also designates portions of two other highways as "Georgia's High-Tech Corridor."

It applies to the portion of U.S. Highway 441 from Dublin to its intersection with U.S. Highway 341, and to the stretch of U.S. Highway 341 between Perry and Brunswick.

Child-support bill loses

House Republican Whip Earl Ehrhart conceded defeat Friday in his bid to change state law to allow disgruntled parents an automatic right to appeal child-custody decisions and child-support awards.

But the Cobb County lawmaker didn't go down without some harsh words for the Georgia Supreme Court.

Appearing in the House well minutes before the gavel came down on the 2002 General Assembly session, Mr. Ehrhart blamed court officials for lobbying lawmakers to kill a provision he had twice attached to related bills making their way through the Legislature.

"We are the lawmaking body of this state," he said.

Mr. Ehrhart argued that the right of direct appeal that applies to most other types of legal cases, including disputes over far less serious issues, should be extended to cases involving children of divorce.

Deer bait axed

A controversial bid by a group of south Georgia lawmakers to expand the practice of deer baiting was axed in the waning hours of the 2002 General Assembly session.

The final version of a bill relating to crossbow hunting cleared the Legislature on Friday minus a provision that would have allowed hunters below the Fall Line to hunt deer on private property using a mechanical device that scatters corn.

Current law permits luring deer to fields where corn has been planted and then mowed for that purpose.

The provision was inserted into the Senate version of the crossbow bill by Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons. But the House pulled it out of the measure after Rep. Bob Lane, D-Statesboro, chairman of the House Game, Fish and Parks Committee, argued that true sportsmen don't believe deer baiting is fair.

Supporters said the rapidly growing deer population in south Georgia is causing an increasing number of car crashes and damaging crops. They said efforts already undertaken by the state to reduce the number of deer, including increasing daily limits and lengthening the hunting season, haven't been effective.

Johnson will run again

Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, ended speculation that he may not seek re-election, announcing Friday that he'll try to be the Senate's top Republican again next year.

He told his colleagues that the new Senate map for his district - which would start in Savannah and run down the coast, swerving inland all the way to Blackshear - made him think twice.

"There was some concern, because nobody can (adequately) serve the constituents of the 1st District," Mr. Johnson said. "But somebody needs to and ... barring any changes, I intend to run for the 1st District and come back up here and continue to fight."

Mr. Johnson had said earlier this year that the work of being minority leader is sometimes trying because it forces him to publicly take stands against the governor and Democratic leaders in his chamber.

Attack plan passes

The Legislature approved a bioterrorism bill that sets up a plan for state agencies to respond in the event of a terrorist attack or related health emergency.

It requires health-related departments to craft emergency plans for quarantines, immunizations and other contingencies.

But the plan stirred controversy among civil-liberties groups, who objected to language requiring immunizations in case of biological threats and targeting illegal gun running.

Negotiators removed a Senate amendment geared at protecting gun owners, but crafted language approved by the National Rifle Association that eliminates illegal gun trading while protecting a person's right to carry legal guns he or she already owns.

"They have more protection than they ever had," said Sen. Steve Thompson, D-Powder Springs, floor leader for Gov. Roy Barnes, who backed the bill.

The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

New mental-health approach

Conceding that an overhaul of state mental-health services didn't work, the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Friday to try another approach.

Lawmakers passed a bill that would significantly reduce the role of regional mental-health boards, giving their contracting functions to community-service boards with oversight from the Georgia Department of Human Resources.

The regional boards were created during the mid-1990s to bring service delivery decisions closer to mental-health patients and their families. But boards in several parts of the state have come under fire in recent years, either for fraud or financial mismanagement.

"They had become bureaucratic and unresponsive," said Rep. Roger Byrd, D-Hazlehurst, a member of the legislative conference committee that worked out the final version of the bill.

Under the new system, regional boards would only be involved in planning decisions.

The legislation now goes to Mr. Barnes for his signature.

Quote of the day

"Mr. Kaye, how about running your campaign in the anteroom?" - House Speaker Tom Murphy, D-Bremen, stridently urging Rep. Mitch Kaye, R-Marietta, to stop talking to legislative colleagues and leave the noisy House chamber. Mr. Kaye is seeking the Republican nomination for state school superintendent.

Calendar

Friday was the 40th and final day of the 2002 General Assembly session.