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House starts legislative session with veto overrides
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ATLANTA (AP) - The 2008 Georgia legislative session opened Monday with a stinging reminder of the contentious end of last year's session, as House lawmakers quickly and overwhelmingly voted to override a dozen of Gov. Sonny Perdue's vetoes.

Before the morning was over, the House overrode vetoes for bills that would have given a tax break for construction ranging from an indoor ski resort, concert halls and nature centers. House members also overrode a veto of a proposal that sponsors said would have simplified the approval process for kids seeking therapy.

Perhaps the most notable of the override votes involved a proposal that would have required each state agency, department and authority — parts of the executive branch — to provide financial reports to state lawmakers.

The overrides must win two-thirds approval by the Senate before they can take effect, and House Speaker Glenn Richardson urged the other chamber to take action.

"The constitution, not a statute, requires them to immediately consider — not to play a game," he said.

But Senate leaders were hesitant to follow suit. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle assigned the measures to a committee and hinted it may not be voted on until later this week.

"I don't think the Senate is necessarily going to take the same path that the House is taking," said Cagle.

Earlier, Cagle called on the returning senators to take the high road in partisan squabbles.

"We have a choice to make," the Republican said. "We can choose a path of divisive arguments or we can choose the path of being a statesmen."

Republican leaders campaigned in the days leading up to the session with a message of unity, saying the party is focused on a few main "priorities" — including education, economy and the drought — without getting into specifics.

But Monday's vote seemed to shatter that message.

The rebuke to the governor comes as a response of sorts to Perdue's veto of the state's midyear budget on the next-to-last day of last year's session. The move touched off a bitter feud with Richardson and exposed a deep rift in the state's ruling Republican Party.

The governor's veto galvanized House leaders, who rallied their colleagues to demonstrate the independence of the legislative branch. An irritated Richardson accused Perdue of showing his "backside" and called it a "sad day for Georgia."

In the closing hours of last year's session, the House voted 163-5 to override Perdue's veto of the plan, which included a one-time $142 million tax break to Georgia homeowners. But Senate leaders refused to follow suit by claiming the move was unconstitutional.

House Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter on Monday shrugged off questions about his party's cohesiveness, noting there have been veto overrides before. (House Clerk Robbie Rivers said the last time the Legislature overrode a veto was 34 years ago.)

"We look forward to working with the governor and that will play out the rest of this session," said Burkhalter. "We want to move on."

But Cagle was less circumspect when asked about what the House's votes meant to his party's united front.

"We've got some work to do on the unity side," he said with a smile.


Associated Press Writer Shannon McCaffrey contributed to this report from Atlanta.

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