Archive for April 27th, 2010

Another MARTA board shake-up?

House leaders were none too thrilled with MARTA’s level of cooperation as they tried to pass the transportation funding bill, HB 277, last week.  On top of that, some representatives from north Fulton County said they were dismayed that north Fulton mayors didn’t get a certain voice on the MARTA board.

Now, MARTA officials may be feeling some of that heat, as lawmakers draw up legislation that would re-make the MARTA board – again.

House Speaker pro Tempore Jan Jones said that the legislation (an amendment to SB 22) would reduce the current MARTA board from 18 to 13 voting members, with three appointed by the state.  The governor, lieutenant governor and speaker would each appoint one voting member to make up that three.  In addition, the Department of Transportation commissioner and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority director would have non-voting seats.

Jones said it was to ensure balance on the board and make sure Fulton and DeKalb taxpayers were …

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Hectic day in the General Assembly as lawmakers wind down session

Lawmakers told teenagers to stop texting behind the wheel, pickup drivers to buckle up, and President Obama to close the borders on the harried next-to-the-last legislative day.

With Tuesday’s final seat belt vote in the House, Georgia is set to become the last state to close a loophole that exempted adult pickup drivers.

That bill, which now goes to the governor, was one of dozens of measures that flew between the House and Senate as lawmakers rushed to complete their work by Thursday and hit the campaign trail.

But by 8 p.m., the House was still in a Rules Committee meeting to see what other bills to hear late into Tuesday evening.

Some measures looked like they are headed down to the wire – including restrictions on technology, such as texting.

Both the House and Senate passed bills to restrict texting by teens. But the two bodies were still wrestling over how far to go: Should teens also be barred from talking on the cell phone while driving? Should adults have to stop …

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Legislature votes to free up road dollars, sends to referendum

The Legislature has passed a resolution that backers say would free up millions of transportation dollars, if approved by voters.  House Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla) said the measure, to approve a constitutional amendment, now goes to voters in a referendum.

The measure, SR 821, would allow the state Department of Transportation to sign multi-year contracts without having the entire dollar amount for the contract set aside at the beginning.  The state auditor in searing reports over the last couple of years said the DOT had already started spending down the money it had set aside for future payments, and that that was unconstitutional.  It noted the declining bank balance with concern.

The supporters of SR 821 said safeguards were built into it. “Hundreds of millions of dollars sitting idly in the bank can now be put to use building roads, without raising taxes,” said the measure’s sponsor, Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth).

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Senate to Obama – close the borders

The Georgia Senate sent a message to Washington – secure the borders.

In a senate resolution the Senate voted 34-9 to urge President Obama and Congress to secure the borders and reject demands to “repeat the failed 1986 legalization program for illegal aliens for the protection of American jobs and our homeland.”

SR 1395, authored by Sen. John Wiles (R-Kennesaw), reads that Georgia “is unable to withstand the financial burden created by illegal immigration,” and “illegal immigration negatively impacts all aspects of the State of Georgia, including the economy, social services, education services, the criminal justice system, and health care services.”

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House passes Don Thomas’ seat belt legislation

After 14 years of serving Dalton as a senator, Don Thomas is going home on a high note.

On Tuesday, the Georgia House of Representatives passed Thomas’ seat belt legislation, which closes the pick-up truck loophole in the current seat belt law.

It is his last piece of legislation, as he plans to retire at the end of this session.

The House passed SB 458 in a 132-29 vote, which redefines the term “passenger vehicle,” and requires all passengers in the front seat of a pickup truck to now wear a seat belt.

The current law just requires everyone in the front seat of a car, van, or SUV to wear a seatbelt. Thomas’ bill exempts off-road and pick-up trucks involved in agricultural operations.

Thomas received a standing ovation in the Senate when news broke that the House passed his bill.

“This is long overdue,” said Thomas, adding that the bill had been held up in an agricultural sub-committee for four years. “For no real reason.”

Thomas, a medical doctor, said the seat belt law would …

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License plates to feature “In God We Trust” on Senate bill

What does it matter what county your car is registered in if God is on your side? The Senate voted 44-1 Tuesday to allow drivers to affix an “In God We Trust” decal on their license plate. The decal would go in the space where the county sticker currently is.

“The bill says, if you want one,” said Sen. Bill Heath (R- Bremen). “They still have to pay the cost to ship or produce them.”

Heath said the decals would work like most prestige tags in the state, which do not have the county names included.

“Some people don’t want their county’s name on their tag,” Heath said. “You go to a high school football game. You don’t want your county on your plate. Especially, if you win.”

Heath’s bill was an amendment to HB 1005, authored by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) that created a plate for Zoo Atlanta. That plate features a panda.

The lone vote against the bill was Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), who later joked that he voted against the panda.

“Who is going to vote against a cute panda,” …

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House voices opposition to Obama health care

The Georgia House thumbed its nose Tuesday at President Obama’s health care plan.

It came in the form of an amendment to a bill dealing with unfair trade practices in certain wellness and health promotion programs.

The amendment reads, in part: “No law or rule or regulation shall compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in any health care system.

The amendment passed 95 to 57 before the bill received final approval by a vote of 102 to 53.

Rep. DuBose Porter (D-Dublin), a candidate for governor, asked the House to reconsider its vote on the amendment, saying members could be opening the state to lawsuits and might “burn our bridges.” The majority refused.

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School bus amendment fails, state to continue refurbishing old buses

An amendment that would have required the state to focus on buying new school buses, instead of spending money to refurbish old ones, fell flat in the Senate Tuesday.

The Senate passed HB 936, which creates an allowance to refurbish exisiting school buses. In doing so, they rejected Ross Tolleson’s amendment that would have required all new buses.

“We have state dollars to use to buy new buses and there are local dollars to spend on new or refurbish buses,” said Tolleson (R-Perry). “If we start refurbishing buses and not buying new ones, it is going to be dangerous. If we start letting them refurbish all the buses, they are gonna stretch the limits.”

Tolleson argued that refurbished buses would be too dangerous and feared accidents would be inevitable. He added that they would ultimately be more expensive to maintain than new ones.

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House approves career counseling program for students

The state House has just passed legislation that allows the Georgia Student Finance Commission to provide web-based career counseling for students grades 6 and up. Senate Bill 387 passed the House 157 to 0.

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Bill to crackdown on massage parlors clears House

Macon could soon be better equipped to fight those massage parlors that are doubling as sex parlors and hurting the city’s image.

The Georgia House passed legislation Tuesday that would allow prosecutors to go after the owners of these establishments – not just the prostitutes who work there – and increase the likelihood of harsher penalties for repeat offenses.

Macon, which sits along I-75 in Middle Georgia, has about 25 massage parlors inside the city or nearby. That’s more per capita than operate in Atlanta, Washington or San Francisco, said Sen. Cecil Staton (R-Macon), the bill’s sponsor.

Current law, he said, makes it difficult to crackdown on sex parlors that advertise as massage parlors, spas and even tanning salons.

Rep. Tony Sellier (R-Fort Valley), who squired the bill through the House, said the community is concerned that some of these establishments are involved in human trafficking.

“We don’t really think this is an honorable profession,” Sellier said. “A vote …

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