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Major legislation at a glance
Gold Dome
State Capitol in Atlanta - photo by Courier file photo
Here’s how some legislation fared on the final day of Georgia’s 40-day legislative session:

— Lawmakers struck a deal on an $18.6 billion state budget that makes deep cuts to state spending. The plan avoids increasing health insurance costs for state workers by tapping federal stimulus dollars to pay for Medicaid, the health program for the poor.

— Lawmakers agreed on a separate transportation overhaul that would give state politicians vast new control over infrastructure dollars. The transportation makeover, which passed the Senate 33-22, comes after heavy lobbying from Republican leaders who argued that granting the governor and lawmakers new powers over transportation funding would help transform a dysfunctional bureaucracy into one that is more accountable to voters. But plans for a new one-cent sales tax to fund hundreds of road projects died.

— The Legislature approved a sweeping new tax break that cuts the capital gains tax in half over two years. The measure also doles out a $2,400 income tax credit to any business that hires someone who has been unemployed for at least four weeks. And it creates a one-year “new business tax holiday” that waives the $100 filing fee for new business.

—Gov. Sonny Perdue won’t be able to preside over a wedding anytime soon. The Legislature on Friday stripped a provision that would give the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House and constitutional officers the power to preside at weddings. House Speaker Glenn Richardson had advocated the measure. But when it passed the House by a 164-1 vote, it only included a separate proposal designed to urge couples to get tested for sickle cell disease before marrying.

— State lawmakers who fail to pay taxes could soon face sanctions from a legislative committee. The House and Senate have both passed measures that would allow the House or Senate Ethics committees to investigate and sanction legislators who fail to pay their taxes. Both chambers passed the measure, which now goes to Perdue.

— A proposal that would give lawmakers more control over the public defender system was pulled amid concerns from lawmakers. It would have given politicians more control of the cash-strapped system.

— The Senate tried again to force adults in seat belts to buckle up, but House lawmakers refused to take up the measure. Similar proposals have died in that chamber for the last three years.

— The Legislature signed off on a proposal that would provide legal protection to families who use donated embryos to have a child. The House’s 108-61 vote Friday on the “Option of Adoption Act” is designed to prevent an embryo donor from later claiming the child born from that embryo to another family.

— Lawmakers agreed to reorganize two of the state’s largest bureaucracies. The Senate voted unanimously to restructure the state’s health and human services department, creating a new agency to lead Georgia’s troubled mental health system. The measure would reshuffle social services and health programs now spread across two state agencies and distribute them among three new divisions.

— A man who spent almost three decades in prison for a rape DNA tests later showed he didn’t commit would get $500,000 under a proposal passed by the Legislature. John Jerome White had initially been set to receive $709,000 but lawmakers reduced that amount after it was revealed White had a separate conviction on a burglary charge. But it was reduced after critics charged that the state should not be compensating a “career criminal.”

— Lawmakers voted to give family members of a crime victim more options to present their testimony to a jury. Georgia law now allows the relatives of victims to deliver a victim impact statement by reading a written testimonial. A measure by state Sen. John Wiles, R-Kennesaw, would allow the family to submit an audio or videotaped testimony, through teleconference or other means. It now goes to the governor.

— The House rejected a proposal that would have lowered the salary bonuses paid to teachers who earn national board certification. The chamber voted 122-34 to disagree with a Senate version of the proposal that would have eliminated a 10 percent salary bonus for teachers with the certification and offered a lower pay bump for teachers who complete a state “master teacher” program.

— Both chambers adopted legislation to establish the Georgia Aviation Authority to oversee the 86 state aircraft now operated by five different state agencies. Perdue said the authority would allow the state to modernize its fleet and set new standards for maintenance and training. It now goes to the governor.

— Pharmacists may continue administering flu vaccines under legislation that cleared the Legislature. The “Access to Flu Vaccines Act” allows doctors to enter into agreements with pharmacists and registered nurses to order and dispense the shots without each one needing a separate prescription.

— Lawmakers voted to require prospective voters to prove they are U.S. citizens before they cast their ballots. The plan, which passed the House 104-67, would make Georgia the second in the nation with such requirements. Only Arizona requires its residents to prove they are U.S. citizens to register to vote.

— The Senate killed a bill on a 22-22 vote that would have required new Georgia drivers to take their written drivers test in English. The bill failed to win the 29-vote minimum need to clear the chamber. The measure is the latest in a series of English-only bills around the country.
— Georgia’s black lawmakers will have to wait another year to make President Barack Obama an honorary member of their caucus. The legislative session ended Friday night without another vote on a resolution that would have him named him a part of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus and honored the president as a politician with an “unimpeachable reputation for integrity, vision and passion.” The resolution easily passed the Senate, but it was blocked in the House by Republican legislators who said they were forced to vote it down because Democrats refused to hash out a compromise over the resolution’s wording.
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