Archive for March, 2009

Billboard bill advances to full House

A bill that would allow billboard companies to cut trees in the public right-of-way cleared a key vote Friday and could make it to the House floor early next week.

The House Transportation Committee approved S.B. 164 on a unanimous voice vote. 

The bill, which easily passed the Senate 41-7, would limit the height of new billboards to 75 feet. In exchange, billboard owners could clear up to 1.5 acres along highways for each double-sided billboard.

The industry also agreed to plant small trees or flowers in cleared areas.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jon Burns (R-Newington), said he wants billboard heights lowered. Billboards have soared up to 220 feet to rise above treetops along Georgia’s highways and interstates since the state restricted tree cutting and trimming in 1999.

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Senate prohibits new crematories in residential areas

The state Senate passed a bill Thursday that would prohibit new crematories from opening within 1,000 feet of a residential neighborhood.

Snellville residents complained when a crematory opened last year near their homes.

House Bill 68 would apply to stand-alone crematories not located at, or next to, a funeral home. The House must still OK the Senate version of the bill. 

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Bill would reward math and science teachers

Certified math and science teachers in Georgia public schools could see more money under a bill approved by the Senate on Thursday.

House Bill 280 is part of Gov. Sonny Perdue’s legislative priorities for the year, and would allow new math and science teachers to start at a salary usually given to teachers with several years of experience.

The bill would cost $9.9 million per year if funded, said Sen. Dan Weber (R-Dunwoody). Some teachers could also get a stipend, Weber said. The pay raises would take effect in the 2010-2011 school year if the Legislature gives the money for the program in the 2011 budget, he said.

Because the Senate made a small change, the House must still approve the legislation.










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House panel to consider defender system changes


A key House committee on Friday will consider a proposal to strip authority from the board overseeing Georgia’s public defender system.
Senate Bill 42 passed the Senate in February. A House substitute of that bill was released Thursday afternoon.
The House version hands over most of the board’s authority to the agency’s executive director, who is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the governor. The agency’s board would only be advisory if the legislation is enacted into law.
Board members of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council have publicly criticized the Legislature for not providing enough funding to the cash-strapped system. Lawmakers have responded that the board is out of touch at a time when the state is in financial distress.
The House substitute also establishes a new, independent state defender agency to handle “conflict” cases.
These involve multi-defendant cases in which a state-salaried public defender, because of …

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Still no real negotiations on transportation tax

The Georgia Senate Thursday ignored a concession from the House on how to pay for transportation improvements in the state.

The Senate disagreed with the House version of House Bill 277 with nary a blink. It sent the bill back to the House in a kind of negotiating ping-pong. With only three legislative days left in the session, time is running out for an agreement. 

On Monday, The Get Georgia Moving coalition will hold a press conference at the Capitol to draw attention to the issue. The coalition consists of 100 groups across the state, including business leaders, state and local government leaders, transit advocates, road builders and environmentalists.

On Wednesday, the House changed HB 277 and showed a willingness to slightly bend its stance on the issue.

The bill calls for a statewide 1 percent sales tax for roads, bridges and other improvements, which is what the House wants. But the new version would allow contiguous counties to band together and tax themselves for …

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Homebuyer tax credit passes Senate

Homebuyers would get a one-time tax credit on their state income tax if a bill that passed the Senate Thursday becomes law.

House Bill 261 would give a credit of either $3,600 or 1.2 percent of the purchase price, whichever is less. The purpose of the bill is to create a stimulus for home sales, supporters say. The maximum credit of $3,600 would be on homes priced $300,000 or more. 

The amount of credit used could not exceed $1,200 in one year. Any unused credit could be carried forward for two years.

The bill would cost Georgia about $166.3 million, according to a letter from State Auditor Russell Hinton to the chairman of the state House Ways and Means Committee.

Opponents say the cost of the tax break is too great, and the number of sales it would generate too few, to make it worthwhile.

The House must still agree to the bill, which was amended in the Senate to allow the credit to apply to condos. It was also amended to allow taxpayers the choice of donating to the …

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Thirsty commuters could get relief

The House has given final approval to S.B. 89, which would allow transit companies like MARTA to offer food and beverages for sale in train and bus stations. 

The bill, approved in a 165-0 vote, would also make it legal for people riding those trains and buses to consume non-alcoholic drinks as long as they are in a re-sealable plastic bottle. 

But the bill, which now goes to Gov. Sonny Perdue, was almost hijacked on its way to a clean vote. 

Rep. Sean Jerguson (R-Holly Springs) proposed an amendment to the bill that would have allowed people to carry guns into the non-secure portions of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. That is something that gun-rights supporters have been trying to accomplish for the past several years through legislation and litigation. 

Those avenues having so far failed, Jerguson said an opportunity to try again. Republican lawmakers were particularly cornered by the move. The National Rifle Association, a major GOP supporter, had threatened to …

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State moves to end Sudan connections

In a unanimous vote, the House has given final approval to legislation that prohibits the state from doing business with firms that operate in parts of Sudan.

S.B. 170 follows action in Congress in 2007 authorizing state and local governments to prohibit contracts with companies that operate in the African nation’s oil, power, mineral and military sectors.

The bill, approved 160-0, now goes to Gov. Sonny Perdue.

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House and Senate talk past each other on transportation

The Legislature sometimes speaks in signals and non-verbal ways. 

Today the Senate again tried to coax the House into a conference meeting to talk about state transportation issues. The House responded in its own way. 

Here is what each chamber did:

The House changed one of its bills, House Bill 277, calling for a state-wide penny sales tax for transportation improvements. It added a concession to the Senate. The new version of House Bill 277 would ask voters to approve a statewide penny sales tax. If that failed, the legislation would then allow contiguous counties to band together and tax themselves for transportation projects, something the Senate favors.

“If it succeeds, the voters have spoken,” said House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons). He said the Senate should agree to the House compromise and put Georgia towards a solution to gridlock and other transportation problems. 

It will be up to the Senate to agree or disagree Thursday. If no agreement is made, …

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Senate pushes House for negotiations on transportation issues

The Legislature sometimes speaks in signals and non-verbal ways. 

Today the Senate again tried to coax the House into a conference meeting to talk about state transportation issues. 

Here is what it did:

The House sent over a bill that had originated in the Senate (Senate Bill 39) and had called for a regional penny sales tax to pay for transportation improvements. 

But, before sending it over, the House had stripped the entire thing and replaced it with a bill setting rules for how MARTA can spend its budget. 

The Senate Wednesday took the bill, and stripped it again, putting in its place a bill to remake the entire Department of Transportation. 

“We’re trying to get a conference committee on the DOT governance,” said Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and sponsor of the Senate’s penny sales tax legislation.

“Even though there’s many fine people over at DOT, the system is still broken,” Mullis said. 

If the House responds …

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