Originally created 02/24/03

Budget still on state's to-do list



ATLANTA - The 2003 General Assembly will hit the halfway mark Wednesday when lawmakers return to the Capitol after a weeklong break.

Although most of the major work in any given year is accomplished during the final 20 days of the 40-day session, the Legislature will have to work especially hard in the remaining days this year to get much done.

Of the myriad issues lawmakers have decided to take on during this session, only a "fix" of last year's predatory-lending law has cleared both the House and Senate, although in different forms.

The Republican-controlled Senate has passed just one of GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue's four ethics-reform bills, along with legislation overhauling Georgia's indigent defense system and providing a new set of guidelines for redistricting.

Neither the House nor the Senate has acted on the governor's plan for a nonbinding referendum on the state flag or his proposed changes to former Gov. Roy Barnes' education reforms.

The same goes for bills setting water policies and reforming Georgia's system for handling medical-malpractice lawsuits.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Price, R-Roswell, said enough time is left to address Mr. Perdue's priorities, however. Beyond that, Mr. Price said he isn't interested in measuring lawmakers' progress by the number of bills they pass.

"Many people in this state sincerely believe that the less we do to them, the better," he said.

One task the Legislature has to get done is passage of a budget. On Wednesday, the governor's midyear spending adjustments will hit the Senate Appropriations Committee, with a floor vote set for Friday.

Mr. Price complained that the Democratic-controlled House was irresponsible in deciding to pass along to the Senate what, in effect, is an unbalanced midyear budget. House leaders opted for the time being not to act on $94 million in tax increases proposed by the governor.

Neither did they cut spending by that amount, which leaves the budget in the red.

Leaders in both parties are holding out more hope for serious spending reductions in the 2004 budget. They will have more time to find cuts for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

KEY BILLS

Here is the status of key bills introduced during the 2003 General Assembly session:

HOUSE BILL 37

DESCRIPTION: Prohibits the state, local governments and school districts from denying any youth organization access to public facilities for meetings, based on that organization's enforcement of its moral principles. Aimed at preventing discrimination against the Boy Scouts for prohibiting homosexual members or leaders

STATUS: Assigned to Judiciary Committee

HOUSE BILL 83

DESCRIPTION: Prohibits drivers from using cell phones, except for hands-free phones, while their vehicle is in motion

STATUS: Assigned to Motor Vehicles Committee

HOUSE BILL 121

DESCRIPTION: Midyear budget adjustments for fiscal year 2003

STATUS: Passed by House

HOUSE BILL 122

DESCRIPTION: Budget for fiscal 2004

STATUS: Assigned to Appropriations Committee

HOUSE BILL 125

DESCRIPTION: Makes it a misdemeanor for drivers engaged in distracting activities to cause an accident resulting in injury or property damage; prohibits drivers from using cell phones except in emergencies unless equipped with a hands-free device

STATUS: Assigned to Motor Vehicles Committee

HOUSE BILL 142

DESCRIPTION: Fixes loopholes in a law aimed at predatory lenders. Supporters say the law, passed last year, inadvertently made it difficult for many borrowers to get home loans in Georgia.

STATUS: Passed House

HOUSE BILL 149, SENATE BILL 17

DESCRIPTION: Creates new child-support guidelines aimed at making payments by noncustodial parents more equitable

STATUS: Assigned to House Special Judiciary Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee

HOUSE BILL 192

DESCRIPTION: Reduces legislators' salaries by 5 percent, a budget-cutting gesture

STATUS: Assigned to Appropriations Committee

HOUSE BILL 237

DESCRIPTION: Restricts interbasin transfers of water, requires farmers to monitor water use and creates a committee of state agency heads to develop a statewide water-management plan

STATUS: Passed by Natural Resources & Environment Committee

HOUSE BILL 250

DESCRIPTION: Provides one-day sales-tax holidays on school supplies, clothing, shoes, computers and computer accessories in April and August

STATUS: Assigned to Ways and Means Committee

HOUSE BILL 354

DESCRIPTION: Authorizes an amnesty program for delinquent state taxpayers from Oct. 31 to Dec. 31 of this year and gives local governments the choice of participating in the program

STATUS: Assigned to Ways and Means Committee

HOUSE BILL 378

DESCRIPTION: Raises taxes on beer, wine and hard liquor

STATUS: Assigned to Regulated Beverages Committee

HOUSE BILL 379

DESCRIPTION: Raises taxes on cigarettes and cigars and imposes a tax on smokeless tobacco

STATUS: Assigned to Ways and Means Committee

HOUSE BILL 380

DESCRIPTION: Authorizes a two-part, nonbinding referendum on the Georgia flag, to be held in March 2004

STATUS: Assigned to House Rules Committee

HOUSE BILL 515

DESCRIPTION: Abolishes state Office of Education Accountability and moves its functions to the Department of Education

STATUS: Not assigned yet

HOUSE BILL 516

DESCRIPTION: Delays or rolls back elements of former Gov. Roy Barnes' education reforms, including lower class sizes and accountability measures

STATUS: Not assigned yet

SENATE BILL 2

DESCRIPTION: Calls for redrawing the Senate redistricting map passed by the General Assembly last year

STATUS: Assigned to Redistricting and Reapportionment Committee

SENATE BILL 3

DESCRIPTION: Tightens financial-disclosure requirements for public officers and candidates for public office

STATUS: Assigned to Ethics Committee

SENATE BILL 10

DESCRIPTION: Declares endangerment of a child under age 16 a felony in Georgia

STATUS: Assigned to Judiciary Committee

SENATE BILL 23

DESCRIPTION: Requires women seeking an abortion to wait at least 24 hours to give doctors an opportunity to explain the risks of the procedure and discuss other choices

STATUS: Passed Senate Health and Human Services Committee

SENATE BILL 31

DESCRIPTION: Prohibits candidate-to-candidate campaign contributions and forbids legislators from intervening with state agencies on behalf of prison inmates

STATUS: Passed Senate

SENATE BILL 53

DESCRIPTION: Fixes loopholes in a law aimed at predatory lenders. Supporters say the law, passed last year, inadvertently made it difficult for many borrowers to get home loans in Georgia

STATUS: Passed Senate

SENATE BILL 76

DESCRIPTION: Reduces salaries of legislators and the lieutenant governor by 10 percent

STATUS: Passed Senate

SENATE BILL 91

DESCRIPTION: Requires congressional and legislative redistricting maps to avoid creating bizarre shapes and splitting counties and precincts; mandates that past voting patterns may not be the sole consideration in drawing districts

STATUS: Passed Senate

SENATE BILL 102

DESCRIPTION: Overhauls Georgia's system for representing poor criminal defendants by creating public defenders' offices and a state board to set standards

STATUS: Passed Senate

SENATE BILL 108

DESCRIPTION: Prohibits public officials from hiring relatives or being paid for speeches given in connection with official duties; prohibits former public officials from becoming lobbyists for at least one year after leaving office

STATUS: Passed Ethics Committee

SENATE BILL 109

DESCRIPTION: Tightens financial disclosure requirements for public officials and lobbyists. Requires vendors seeking state contracts to lobby as lobbyists

STATUS: Assigned to Ethics Committee

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 681-1701 or davemns@mindspring.com.