ATLANTA -- The 2010 Georgia General Assembly is over.
Georgia lawmakers have signed off on a $17.9
billion budget for the next fiscal year that slashes education
spending and balances the budget with more than $90 million in new fees and more than $200 million in taxes on hospitals.
The measure adopted Thursday also infuses about $800,000 to the Georgia Council for the Arts, which had been slated to be
eliminated. It also provides $10 million to buy land for the new
College Football Hall of Fame, which is moving to Atlanta.
There are no mandated furloughs in the spending plan, but it
slashes funding for Georgia's schools and colleges by more than
$600 million for the fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The measure passed the Senate by a 47-2 vote and the House by 137-33. It goes to Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Health Care: The Legislature adopted a measure that aims to restrict the government from mandating that residents have health insurance.
The Senate on Thursday 33-16 voted in favor of the bill, which
the House approved 102-53 on Tuesday. The proposal bans the
government from requiring any resident, employer or health care
provider to participate in a health care system. It says it aims to
"preserve the freedom of citizens of this state to provide for
their health care."
The proposal was pushed by conservative lawmakers worried that the sweeping health care bill approved in Washington in March tramples state rights. Critics said the language would quickly be struck down as unconstitutional by the courts.
Texting While Driving
Drivers caught texting, checking email or using the Internet behind the wheel will get a point on their driver's license under a bill headed to the governor for his signature.
Offenders would also face a $150 fine for the misdemeanor. The
bill passed the Senate on Wednesday in a 47-to-zero vote and the House approved the measure on Thursday in a 133-to-24 vote.
A separate bill would apply to teens and would include talking
and texting while driving. The same penalties would apply to people found guilty. That bill passed the Senate on Thursday in a 47-to-two vote, and the House also voted Thursday 137-to-23 to approve the bill. Navigation devices are not included in the bills.
Both measures would go into effect on July 1st.
Georgia voters would be asked to decide whether to tack a $10 fee on their car registration to shore up the state's network of trauma hospitals under a resolution that has cleared both the House and Senate.
The constitutional amendment passed the House 149-14 and the Senate 46-2, easily earning the needed two-thirds majority. The issue will go to voters at the ballot box in 2010.
Trauma care has been in the spotlight at the Georgia Capitol
since a legislative study committee in 2007 said the state's
network is in crisis, particularly in vast rural stretches of the
state that are without a trauma center.
Supporters of increased trauma funding say expanding the system from 15 to 30 hospitals -- mostly in areas outside of metro Atlanta -- could save some 700 lives each year and millions in health care costs.
Low-Income Tax Credit Eliminated
A low-income tax credit for people who earn less than $20,000 has been eliminated. The bill will likely affect many seniors. The Senate voted 40-9 and the House voted 97-62 Thursday to approve the measure, which was originally intended to offset sales taxes paid by the poor.
The same proposal, which also gives people who purchase
energy-efficient equipment a tax credit, restores a measure that
would allow the Atlanta to hold a referendum to recover $125
million each year in new sales taxes that the city would lose from water customers in south Fulton County.
A bill passed earlier in the evening Thursday would help build one reservoir in that area.
Ban On Crime Scene Photos
The release of crime scene photos showing dismembered body parts or exposed genitalia would be banned under a measure that has cleared the Georgia Legislature.
The measure now goes to Gov. Sonny Perdue. It was prompted by a Hustler Magazine inquiry for graphic crime scene photos of Meredith Emerson, the hiker whose naked, dismembered body was found in January 2008 in the north Georgia woods. A judge barred authorities from releasing those photos.
Lawmakers called the porn magazine's request vile, and the House and Senate gave final approval to the measure late Thursday night.