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Sessions begin this week

As Georgia lawmakers return to the Capitol on Monday and South Carolina's resume work Tuesday, many issues will be on their minds, with budgets taking precedence. Here is a look at some of the issues:

LIKELY ISSUES

BUDGET: There will be three components to the budget discussion this year: cutting spending for the remaining six months of the fiscal year, setting a blueprint for the next fiscal year based on significantly lower tax revenues and the consideration of using economic stimulus funds.

Gov. Sonny Perdue will propose a large construction program funded by borrowing, but he hasn't said how he would recommend spending it. Insiders have said it could amount to $1.2 billion. And President-elect Obama plans as much as $1.5 trillion in stimulus spending - much of it going to states.

Mr. Perdue will deliver his recommendations for all the spending Wednesday during the State of the State address.

PROPERTY TAXES: Both House and Senate leaders have expressed plans to cap local property taxes. Details still must be agreed on, such as whether to limit increases in assessments or actual tax rates, whether to set the limit at the inflation rate or a standard figure and whether to apply the controls to commercial and industrial parcels along with residential. .

MENTAL HEALTH: The Perdue administration has proposed a major restructuring of mental health services, including privatizing some aspects of treatment and consolidating other functions in a centralized facility and closing regional hospitals. Mr. Perdue agrees with advocates and watchdog agencies that improvements are needed, and he has selected new leadership.

Advocates want assurances that the community services are adequate before closing hospitals. Legislators from Augusta and other places where regional hospitals would close are gearing up for a fight.

TRAUMA CARE: For years, policymakers have been searching for a dedicated funding source for a statewide network of facilities providing advanced trauma care. Last year, legislation stalled that would have added a $10 fee to car tags to fund trauma centers. Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, said House leaders have a new proposal this year.

ROADS: Business groups and environmentalists are lobbying for a constitutional amendment that would give groups of counties the ability to impose a regional sales tax to support their transportation projects. A similar proposal passed the House and fell three votes short in the Senate last year. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has said he wants the Senate to pass its version in the first week of the session.

PORTS: Officials with the Georgia Ports Authority want to deepen the Savannah harbor. State leaders have granted many of the ports' construction requests in recent years.

OTHER ISSUES: These include an extension of a moratorium against aquifer-recharge and storage - the pumping of treated surface water into natural underground water pools. Lawmakers might attempt a revision of the juvenile code that allows some young suspects to be treated as adults. Legislation to allow licensed concealed weapons in more places might be introduced.

The Georgia Statehouse is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and is closed on weekends and holidays.

The Georgia Statehouse is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and is closed on weekends and holidays.


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