Legislature's busy break ends

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ATLANTA - Though the Legislature has been on an official hiatus for the past two weeks, lawmakers have been meeting at the Capitol and churning out a slew of bills in committee - 100 in the Senate alone - that are now ready to be debated.

When legislators come back in session today, they will have another short, but packed work week.

"We're going to have some very long days," said Senate President Eric Johnson, R-Savannah.

The Legislature will be in session today and Tuesday, with the rest of the week including more work on the state's budget planning. Lawmakers will try to push a few more bills out of committees early today before they convene.

Any bills that have not passed this stage in at least one chamber effectively are done for the year.

Even without last-minute additions, lawmakers have their pick from a lengthy list of bills on which to vote. Not all will make it, Mr. Johnson said.

The Senate discussed its calendar for today even before going on break two weeks ago. Measures already scheduled for votes include a bill to make sure schools provide resources for deaf students.

A more controversial bill allowing voters to decide whether stores can sell alcohol on Sunday also could come up for a vote this week, but that depends on the level of jockeying that takes place in the Senate Rules committee, which decides what makes it onto the voting calendar.

Among the dozens of other bills awaiting action are measures to:

- move the state's presidential primary to Feb. 5 next year

- take 75 percent of the fines from red-light cameras for the state's trauma-care network

- strip local governments of their control over cable television

- allow gun owners to keep pistols wherever they want in vehicles, even at businesses that prohibit weapons

- allow state retirement funds to be invested in start-up businesses

Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, said he expects the House to pass the mid-year spending plan adjustment Tuesday and send it to the Senate.

The Senate has several meetings scheduled later in the week with state agency heads to pore through the House recommendations.

Mr. Richardson said he also expects an initial vote to come up a week later on the new budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

How quickly the House and Senate can come to an agreement on the budgets will influence how long this drawn-out session will last. The General Assembly is required to be in session for 40 official days at most.

With a plan now in place for addressing a funding shortfall in the PeachCare children's health insurance program - the reason for the recent stop - lawmakers could readjust their schedule and finish up earlier than expected.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (678) 977-4601 or vicky.eckenrode@morris.com.


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