The House has approved an $18.25 billion spending plan that boosts health insurance premiums for state employees and teachers by 20 percent but also restores some money for school nurses and low-income Medicaid recipients. The House voted 132-33 to approve the spending blueprint for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The state is grappling with the loss of some $1 billion in federal stimulus dollars. Including the loss in money from Washington, the budget is $1.7 billion leaner than the one for the current year. Republicans called the plan fiscally-responsible for tough economic times. Some Democrats voted against the plan, arguing it unfairly impacted children, senior citizens and the poor. The budget now heads to the state Senate.
ODDS & ENDS
-A bill overhauling the HOPE scholarship received final passage and heads to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature. The legislation cuts scholarships for all but the brightest students. The House voted 136-32 to give final passage to the legislation, agreeing to changes made in the Senate.
-Legislation allowing billboard owners to clear-cut trees blocking motorists from seeing their signs is headed to the governor. The House voted 94-64 to agree to changes made in Senate strengthening penalties on obscene advertisements. The bill contains some protections for historic trees, those planted as memorials and those more than 75 years old.
-The Senate voted 42-13 to allow regulated utilities to contribute to political campaigns. Supporters say the measure is needed to give utility companies and their employees access to the political process. Donations would still be banned to members of the Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities. The bill now heads to the House.
-The Senate has unanimously approved legislation prohibiting elected officials from granting themselves professional licenses without passing mandatory tests. The measure came after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that outgoing Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine awarded himself several licenses the day before he left office in January.
-By a 97-46 vote, the House approved legislation that would allow for a code to be placed on the driver's licenses of felons for the length of their sentence showing they'd been convicted of certain violent crimes. The bill applies only to those convicted of the so-called seven deadly sins, such as murder and rape.
-The Georgia House voted 150-9 to criminalize synthetic chemicals sold as bath salts. The powdery substance is currently sold legally and can be snorted, injected or mixed with drinks or food. Officials warn it mimics the effects of cocaine, ecstasy and LSD. Similar bills have passed in Kentucky and Mississippi
-Legislation that would allow Georgians to purchase insurance across state lines has cleared the House by a 111-47 vote. Supporters contend the bill would lower insurance costs by introducing more competition. Opponents say it would allow for watered-down policies that don't require coverage for procedures that Georgia policies mandate.
-The House has rejected legislation that would have allowed the five-member Public Service Commission to choose its own chairman. Sought by PSC Commissioner Lauren "Bubba" McDonald, the bill would have changed current law which rotates leadership annually on the panel. The House defeated the measure 103-60.
-A legislative overhaul that would have sharply increased the fines for violations of Georgia's sunshine laws and placed new restrictions on officials who don't hold meetings in public likely won't reach a vote this year. The proposal's backers - including Attorney General Sam Olens - called for more hearings over the summer.
-A push to ban abortions after 20 weeks appeared to stall for this session. Senate Rules Committee chairman Don Balfour said he decided to table the bill because of concerns about changes to that would have effectively shut down abortion clinics in the state by saying the procedure could only be performed in hospitals.
"Haven't you ever heard the solution to pollution is dilution?" state Rep. Tom McCall, R-Elberton, referring to his proposal to funnel Tennessee River water to metro-Atlanta, returning it to waters polluted by Georgia road construction.
DAYS IN SESSION
12 days remain in the 40-day legislative session.
Wednesday is crossover day, the final day by which a bill is supposed to pass at least one legislative chamber to have a chance at becoming law. Gov. Nathan Deal is set to sign an overhaul of the HOPE scholarship into law on Tuesday.