Originally created 02/28/05

Budget, maps are top concerns



ATLANTA - Money and maps will once again dominate the General Assembly's agenda this week as the Legislature looks to address redistricting and state spending.

The House and Senate decided not to meet today and Tuesday to give their budget committees time to work on midyear revisions to the budget for the fiscal year ending June 30 and a new spending blueprint for the next fiscal year.

"It'll be a short week," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Stephens, R-Canton.

Both chambers already have passed separate versions of the midyear budget adjustment, and the document has been the subject of discussions between the House and Senate for more than a week. Negotiators say they're optimistic the differences can be worked out in time to pass a final version of the spending plan soon.

"I think we're reasonably close," said Mr. Stephens, who sits on the conference committee trying to hammer out a compromise between the two chambers.

Negotiators had to take a break from work after a death in the family of House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island.

"There's no wasted time or lost motion," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville.

His House counterpart said the negotiations were moving along.

"We've got a lot of common ground already," said Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans. "We have a few minor differences, and we're working on those."

The version of the budget passed by the House includes millions of dollars in bonds for some local projects that were cut by the Senate. Mr. Hill and others argued that those projects would be better handled in next year's spending plan; the House has shown little inclination to back down on those items.

"We don't want to hurt either side, but we do want to stand for our position," Mr. Harbin said.

Meanwhile, the budget for the coming fiscal year will begin moving through budget panels next week. Lawmakers are working feverishly to finish the plan as soon as possible, as a deadline approaches for all bills to either pass one of the two chambers or die.

"We are taking some time off to work on (the 2005-06 budget) because we've got to get it moving so that we can stay on schedule to get out of here," Mr. Harbin said.

New voting districts for the state's 13 congressional seats also could come before one or both chambers by the end of the week. Both the House and the Senate redistricting panels agreed Friday on a map that was influenced by conversations with Georgia's seven Republican congressmen.

"I'd like to see it next week," House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, said of a redistricting vote on the floor of the House.

He also said he hopes the House Ethics Committee will vote on Gov. Sonny Perdue's Honesty in Government Act, which would revamp state ethics laws. That bill could also come before the full House by the end of the week.

On the Senate side, lawmakers could make another stab at passing House Bill 218, a measure that would bar the public from seeing incentives the state offers to companies thinking about locating in Georgia until after the negotiations are over. Skittish comments from some Republicans persuaded GOP leaders to delay a vote planned for Thursday.

The leadership is still working to make the bill acceptable to rank-and-file lawmakers, and Mr. Stephens said he didn't know whether the bill would face another Senate vote this week.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.

KEY BILLS

Here are key bills introduced so far during the 2005 General Assembly session:

House Bill 16

 •  Description: Exempts interstate projects from the share of highway funds that must be split evenly among Georgia's 13 congressional districts. This is expected to free up more money for metro Atlanta districts.

 •  Status: Referred to House Transportation Committee

HB 25-28, 372, 373

 •  Description: Repeal infamous "Jim Crow" laws, which formalized segregation in Georgia.

 •  Status: HB 25-27 approved by House Judiciary Committee; HB 28 referred to House Judiciary Committee; HB 372 referred to House Education Committee; HB 373 referred to House Retirement Committee

HB 48

 •  Description: Gov. Sonny Perdue's "Honesty in Government Act" would bar public officials from entering lobbying until they have been out of office for a year, limit the gifts officials could accept from those with business before the state, protect state whistleblowers, widen authority of the State Ethics Commission and make other changes to state ethics laws.

 •  Status: Referred to House Ethics Committee

HB 84

 •  Description: Changes state spending plan for the current fiscal year.

 •  Status: Passed House; Passed Senate; Before joint House-Senate conference committee

HB 85, 87

 •  Description: Allocates a proposed $17.4 billion spending plan for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

 •  Status: Referred to House Appropriations Committee

HB 145

 •  Description: Would bar elected officials from public service advertisements paid for with public money.

 •  Status: Referred to House Noncivil Judiciary Committee

HB 197

 •  Description: Tightens rules on parental notification for minors seeking an abortion and establishes a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking the procedure.

 •  Status: Passed House

HB 216

 •  Description: Restricts access to cold medicines with pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in methamphetamine; toughens other laws dealing with the illicit drug.

 •  Status: Referred to House Noncivil Judiciary Committee

HB 218

 •  Description: Exempts some records related to economic development deals from the state's open-records laws.

 •  Status: Passed House; Tabled by Senate

HB 221

 •  Description: Would overhaul the formula used to award child support by factoring in the income of both custodial and noncustodial parents.

 •  Status: Referred to House Judiciary Committee

HB 273

 •  Description: Creates "flex auto" lanes, which would use emergency lanes and road shoulders to ease traffic jams during rush hours.

 •  Status: Passed House; approved by Senate Transportation Committee

HB 426

 •  Description: The "Georgia Smokefree Air Act of 2005" would ban smoking in most public places in the state.

 •  Status: Referred to House Health and Human Services Committee

HB 499

 •  Description: Redraws Georgia's 13 congressional districts.

 •  Status: Approved by House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee

House Resolution 13

 •  Description: Would rename University of Georgia's Sanford Stadium to Dooley-Sanford Stadium in honor of former head football coach and athletics director Vince Dooley.

 •  Status: Referred to House Higher Education Committee

Senate Bill 3

 •  Description: Limits jury awards in medical-malpractice lawsuits, tightens rules on expert witnesses and makes other changes in malpractice trial procedures.

 •  Status: Passed Senate; Passed House; signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue

SB 4

 •  Description: Exempts interstate projects from the share of highway funds that must be split evenly among Georgia's 13 congressional districts. This is expected to free up more money for metro Atlanta districts.

 •  Status: Passed Senate; referred to House Transportation Committee

SB 35

 •  Description: Gives public school districts more freedom to allocate funding for class-size reductions to other purposes.

 •  Status: Passed Senate; referred to House Education Committee

SB 77

 •  Description: Tightens rules on parental notification for minors seeking an abortion and establishes a 24-hour waiting procedure for women seeking the procedure.

 •  Status: Approved by Senate Health and Human Services Committee

SB 90

 •  Description: The "Georgia Smokefree Air Act of 2005" would ban smoking in most public places in the state.

 •  Status: Passed Senate; referred to House Health and Human Services Committee

SB 140

 •  Description: Would allow the Department of Community Health to transfer PeachCare recipients to managed-care programs as part of Gov. Sonny Perdue's Medicaid reform proposal.

 •  Status: Passed Senate

SB 214

 •  Description: Redraws Georgia's 13 congressional districts.

 •  Status: Approved by Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee

SB 230

 •  Description: Would require companies to provide immediate notice to people whose identity has been exposed to potential fraud.

 •  Status: Approved by Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee

SB 270

 •  Description: Would change state law regarding public-private initiatives by requiring private developers who compete for transportation projects to provide the public with more information; would extend the window of opportunity for developers who want to submit competing bids.

 •  Status: Referred to Senate Transportation Committee

Senate Resolution 33

 •  Description: Creates Gwinnett State College to replace the Gwinnett University Center.

 •  Status: Passed Senate; approved by House Higher Education Committee

SR 49

 •  Description: A constitutional amendment that would allow taxpayer dollars to flow to religious organizations that serve the needy.

 •  Status: Approved by Senate Rules Committee; failed in Senate

SR 67

 •  Description: A constitutional amendment that would protect hunting and fishing rights.

 •  Status: Passed Senate; referred to House Games, Fish and Parks Committee

- Morris News Service