ATLANTA (AP) — HEADLINES:
The Georgia House passed an amended $40.9 billion budget plan that trims many government agencies, but largely insulates public schools from cuts. The plan, now in consideration in the Senate, comes after Georgia endured years of budget cuts prompted by a drop in tax revenues. While the plan follows Gov. Nathan Deal's proposal to spend more to extend pre-kindergarten from 170 days to 180 days, the chamber declined to support a suggested cut of $2.6 million in special grants for small, mostly rural schools. The plan would require state education officials to study the need for those grants. The fiscal budget year begins July 1.
ODDS AND ENDS:
— Lawmakers set the final day of the 2013 legislative session, also known as "Sine Die," for Thursday, March 28. By law, the General Assembly meets only 40 working days annually. Bills not approved by both the House and Senate by Day 40 automatically fail for the year.
— A proposed change to Georgia's gun laws could close a loophole allowing those with mental illness to buy firearms, though judges are concerned it might allow some of those people to legally carry weapons. Federal law prohibits people from buying or possessing a gun if they have been legally deemed mentally defective or committed to a mental health institution. A national database uses information submitted by states to determine whether people buying guns should be disqualified because of mental health or other problems. Differences between U.S. and Georgia gun laws mean the state does not collect information on one group who should be banned — people forced to receive out-patient treatment for mental illness or substance abuse. Since state officials do not have this information in the database, checking it would not prevent those who receive mandatory outpatient treatment from buying a gun.
— The Georgia Senate voted to approve a bill to centralize control and enforcement of video poker machines in the state. House Bill 487 would transfer oversight and enforcement of video poker machines to the Georgia Lottery Corp. Under the proposal, a share of the proceeds would be used to fund the state's HOPE scholarship program starting at 1 percent and increasing to 10 percent over time.
"So this is what they've been doing over there?," quipped House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, during discussion of Senate Bill 81, which would shorten the legal season of harvesting ginseng.
"This bill makes nothing legal that is not already legal," said state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, during discussion of House Bill 487, which transfers oversight of video poker machines from the Department of Revenue to the Georgia Lottery Corp.
Six days remain in the legislative session.
Lawmakers will be back in session on Wednesday, March 20. The calendar for Wednesday includes consideration of SB 136, also known as the "Kyle Glover Boat Education Law" and the "Jake and Griffin BUI Law," which affects hunting and boating regulations. Changes include one provision that would lower minimum blood alcohol levels from 0.10 to 0.08 to conform to the motor vehicles standard.
Major bills including HB 512 on guns and HB 142 and 143 on ethics are still in committee.