Originally created 04/27/04

House speaker backs time limit



ATLANTA - Georgia House Speaker Terry Coleman said Monday that it's possible the Legislature can complete the special session that opens next week in five days, as Gov. Sonny Perdue wants.

"There's no need to waste taxpayers' money to come up here and spend more than five days. Five days is the minimum we could do it. We just have to make it work," he told reporters after registering for re-election.

Mr. Perdue has called lawmakers back to Atlanta for a session that will begin Monday to pass an indigent defense funding bill needed to support the proposed state budget for the year that will begin July 1.

At their regular session, which ended April 7, lawmakers passed a $16.4 billion budget but failed to pass the indigent defense bill because of a closing-day dispute with the governor.

The legislation provides $57 million of the money needed to balance the budget. Mr. Perdue has said that the bill's failure leaves the budget unbalanced and that he won't sign the spending measure until lawmakers provide the money.

He said if lawmakers don't give him the bill he wants in five days, he will call a second special session, where the entire budget will be on the table.

Mr. Coleman said House leaders have had preliminary talks with Mr. Perdue, hoping to work out a settlement in advance so the session can be completed in a week.

"It's very possible we can work it out beforehand," he said. "It will be a mess if we don't."

At issue is how much control the governor will have over the money to provide lawyers for poor criminal defendants, which will be raised by tacking on additional fees to fines imposed in criminal cases.

The money will be controlled by the judiciary, whose budget the governor cannot alter when he submits spending recommendations to the Legislature.

Mr. Perdue has said he fears the program will spiral out of control if left entirely under judicial control. Democrats in the House opposed his effort to gain more power over the money, contending he was crossing the line that keeps the judiciary independent of the Legislature and the executive branch.

Republicans called the special session a responsible move by Mr. Perdue.

"I think the Legislature ought to be in favor of more control on spending," said Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville.