At halfway mark, much work to do

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ATLANTA - Lawmakers reached the halfway mark of the legislative session this week, though most of the significant work remains unfinished.

Wednesday counted as the Legislature's 20th work day in a 40-day timetable that started in early January.

The chambers have voted on more than 50 bills but have major work left to do on the state's budget plans, PeachCare health insurance funding and possibly changing the way the state certifies hospitals.

Among the bills lawmakers addressed this week was a proposal to make it illegal for registered sex offenders to intentionally snap photographs of minors without permission from the child's parents.

The measure, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, received unanimous support in the upper chamber Monday.

He said the parental permission exception was added to address concerns that offenders would be blocked from taking pictures at family functions such as birthday parties.

"The one real concern that we got was about taking a legitimate photo of their own child," he said.

The bipartisan harmony broke up Wednesday in the Senate, when a constitutional amendment to limit the state's budget growth failed mostly along party lines.

Senate Resolution 20 proposed capping budget growth each year to only reflect the changes in population and inflation.

The resolution failed 34-21, four votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed to approve a constitutional amendment.

Democrats, except for Sen. J.B. Powell, of Augusta, who crossed party lines, voted against the measure, arguing that it could possibly cut off funding for numerous programs and leave the state in a lurch during economic downturns.

The House, on a 130-38 vote, passed a measure (House Bill 89) that would remove restrictions requiring a gun carried in a car to either be visible or be placed in a glove box or similar compartment.

Supporters argued that the change protects Second Amendment rights and is relatively minor.

"This bill (makes) a very limited change to this law," said Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. "It's not a big bill."

But opponents said the bill could make traffic stops more perilous for police and state patrol officers.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode and Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701.


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