State lawmakers near halfway mark
by Matt Shinall
Feb 15, 2012 | 1775 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Returning to the Capitol today after a long weekend, state legislators will mark the session's halfway mark on Thursday.

Seeing a relatively calm and routine first half, lawmakers expect the second half to be busy with at least a few hot-button issues.

"The first half of this session has been very busy in taking care of what we would consider nuts-and-bolts legislation but I think the second half is going to be focused on some very heated, controversial issues that really strike at some core political tones," said State Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville.

State Rep. Paul Battles, R-Cartersville, echoed Coomer's comments on the start of the session with the exception of House Resolution 1162, a controversial piece of legislation concerning charter schools. The proposed amendment would allow the General Assembly to authorize and fund the "special schools." Although receiving bipartisan support, HR 1162 did not survive the third reading but was granted a reconsideration and will be voted on again in coming weeks.

"There's been very few pieces of legislation that have been submitted and that was pretty much understood at the beginning of the session trying to keep it as limited as possible and not pass any more bills than we absolutely have to. ... So far, other than House Resolution 1162, things have gone relatively smooth," Battles said. "This Thursday, we'll hit day 20, that's hump day and we'll only be 10 days away from crossover where we send everything over to the Senate and they send everything over to us. Time is slipping away quickly."

Issues that have yet to rear their head include possible tax reform legislation, the state budget, a metal theft bill, concealed weapons carry on college campuses and an abortion bill.

Coomer spoke about the proposed abortion legislation expected to come before the House soon. House Bill 954 is similar to a bill struck down last year known as the Fetal Pain Bill. Citing "substantial evidence," the bill would outlaw abortions at 20 weeks after fertilization when it has been determined fetuses can feel pain. Language has been altered this year to specify exceptions of mothers in physical danger.

"This is very similar to the Fetal Pain Bill in that it makes abortion illegal after that period of the pregnancy when doctors agree that the fetus can feel pain," Coomer said.

Battles brought to attention proposed legislation to expand the state's education equalization program which distributes funds from donor systems with larger tax bases to rural schools. The amendment would not affect Cartersville City Schools but may cut into Bartow County Schools' revenue. Battles already has spoken to both superintendents about the matter.

"That has kind of had to be changed and looked at because the revenue has changed. A lot of south Georgia school systems are actually closing schools because of a lack of funds," Battles said. "Right now, there's a formula based on students that has been in place for a number of years and it worked up until the last several years where we've had difficulty raising enough money out of tax revenue to support their schools.

"Some systems that presently have not had to give anything to equalize the state in funding will probably have to give up some dollars. It would not have any real change to the city of Cartersville, it would cost the Bartow County School System about $60,000."

In the Senate, State Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, also saw an expectedly slower first half while the chamber gears up for larger issues.

"Really we haven't taken on any large issues at this point, just some cleanup from last year. Most of the major issues are still in the committee process. There will be several bills coming up in the next couple of weeks that will be pretty significant," Loudermilk said. "One of the biggest things we've been working on is tax reform -- if we're going to be going forward with something this year and what that would look like. As well as budget issues."

One area of tax reform Loudermilk is confident of is the repealing of state energy sales tax for manufacturers. Additional reform has been discussed in the past concerning Georgia's transition away from a state income tax like that of neighboring states Tennessee and Florida.

Each of Bartow's legislators are working on legislation of their own. Among other things, Loudermilk is working to clean up outdated code dealing with telecommunication including a number of regulations regarding teletypes.

Coomer soon will see his legislation come out of committee. The American Laws for Georgia Courts Bill would protect Georgians from legal action by foreign states.

Battles was excited to see one of his bills come out of committee last week to safeguard children on school buses.

"I have introduced legislation, House Bill 215, which prevents anyone who has been convicted of a sex offense from having a commercial license that can transport passengers such as commercial buses and also school buses," Battles said.

Currently, there are no guidelines keeping convicted sex offenders from behind the wheel of a school bus. This bill would keep sex offenders from acquiring the passenger or school bus endorsements for a commercial driver's license.

For more information on these and other legislative items, visit www.legis.ga.gov.