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Capitol update

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POSTED: April 10, 2008 5:00 a.m.
We have completed 34 of the no more than 40 days of the 2008 Georgia General Assembly. As allowed by the Georgia Constitution, the only item we must complete is enacting a balanced budget for the operations of the state. We completed that last week and now the Senate will consider it.
(Just a quick civics lesson: All tax and budget legislation must begin in the House of Representatives.)
The budget is a $21.2 billion budget for the new 2009 fiscal year beginning July 1. It includes 2.5 percent pay raises for state teachers and employees, $50 million for reservoirs and related water management projects aimed at Georgia's future water needs, and $90 million in school formula funding replacing the austerity cuts. We also included $10 million for land conservation. The FY 2009 budget passed 166-1.
We also passed the FY 2008 supplemental appropriations bill by a margin of 167-2. This is the bill that redirects funding mainly to education and Medicaid shortfalls that are mandated by the federal government. This is the conference report and we have transmitted the bill for the governor. He has six days to decide whether to sign it.
In other legislative action this past week, we passed Senate Bill 350 to further strengthen our laws regarding driving on a suspended license. The bill adds to the requirements for people arrested for driving with a revoked or suspended license that they will be fingerprinted and a fourth conviction within five years will result in a felony with imprisonment up to five years and a fine up to $5,000 or both. That bill passed 99-68.
We also passed legislation that will allow district attorneys to request the death penalty if jurors are in favor by a margin of 10-2. Current law requires a unanimous verdict for the death penalty to be implemented. That bill, SB 145 passed 112-55.
We passed SB 359 to require the Georgia Department of Economic Development to create and implement a "Made in Georgia" program to promote products made in our state. That bill passed 161-1. We also passed SB 444 that will allow the Department of Transportation to dispose of surplus property. As part of the streamlining process being adopted by the DOT, SB 444 will allow the DOT to sell excess property not needed for public roads to the highest sealed bidder.  The bill passed 164-0.
We passed a fairly comprehensive bill that determines how the Georgia Bureau of Investigation can use DNA samples for evidence and how that information obtained from evidence is exchanged.  The bill, SB 430 passed 130-40. Another bill dealing with the GBI would allow them to investigate identity fraud cases and grant them subpoena powers. This bill, SB 388, passed unanimously.
As the 2008 General Assembly session winds down, the schedule for the last six days will be somewhat hectic. As usual, the most difficult issues are undergoing negotiations to determine what members of the House and Senate, as well as, the governor can agree upon. This includes the 2009 budget, tax reform, certificate of need issues dealing with the medical community, and a host of other important legislative initiatives.
Please do not hesitate to let me know your position or thoughts on issues that concern you. If you would like to reach me, call me at (404) 656-5099 or write me at: State Rep. Ron Stephens, 228 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mail me at ron.stephens@house.ga.gov.
 

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