Legislature still busy during 'week off'

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ATLANTA - What might appear as a week off for the General Assembly featured the dismissal of allegations of wrongdoing, an education proposal by the head of the Senate and hearings on how the state should spend taxpayers' money.

It was, formally, a lull in the session, with the Legislature not burning any of the 40 working days it has to spread around the calendar. But the halls of the Capitol were anything but quiet.

Charges dropped

Two weeks of rumor and an ethics complaint by the head of the state Democratic Party came to an end with little more than whimper Thursday, as the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee ruled there was no reason to investigate House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram.

Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Kahn had accused Mr. Richardson of a conflict of interest with regard to a bill to help a state utility because Mr. Richardson had an "inappropriate relationship" with one of the utility's female lobbyists.

A panel of two Republicans and one Democrat, formed to review the complaint before deciding whether the full committee should investigate, dismissed the allegations.

Mr. Richardson praised the decision.

"Now that these baseless political attacks are behind me, I look forward to continuing to do the job I have been elected to do," he said in a written statement.

Mr. Kahn was less than pleased.

"The Joint Legislative Ethics Committee was a joke - they operated in secret and clearly made the rules up as they went along," he said in a statement issued by the party. "The GOP clearly is not serious about ethics."

Education plan

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle spent two days unveiling an education agenda that would loosen state regulations on some school systems with the hopes of boosting student achievement.

His agenda, which he originally floated Thursday, would expand the notion of charter schools by allowing entire districts to become "charter systems," exempting them from state and some federal rules as long as the districts met academic standards.

"This method of charter systems will give flexibility from a funding standpoint to (the point) where local communities and local schools will be able to spend those funds in the way in which they feel is most important," Mr. Cagle said in Atlanta.

The plan, which also would encourage career academies that blend a high school education with technical college courses, would cost about $16.6 million.

Budget hearings

Meanwhile, lawmakers grilled agency heads, economists and bureaucrats on how to spend the $20.2 billion in revenue that Gov. Sonny Perdue projects the state will collect in the next state budget year, which begins July 1.

As usual, there were few surprises at the hearings, though some teachers' groups were upset at a 10 percent boost in health insurance premiums that weren't mentioned until Community Health Commissioner Rhonda Medows spoke about them during the hearings.

The meetings between the House and Senate appropriations committees are the first step in the budget process, which, if past sessions are any guide, could last until the final gavel falls.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (678) 977-3709 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.

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