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Friday, March 26, 2010 - 3:36am

Capitol 'Crossover': Abortion, Higher Fees, Hospital Tax Move Forward

State lawmakers got underway Friday morning with the business of sifting through and voting on dozens of bills. Their work comes on Day-30 of the 40-day General Assembly session, known as Crossover Day. It’s the final day for legislation to pass through one chamber to remain active for the year.

As of 5pm, here's a look at some of what's developed so far:

The House has approved a new tax on hospitals, a funding deal designed to bring in $169 million in new money for
Medicaid. First proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue last year, the hospital tax was roundly criticized by GOP legislators. But with the state's tax collections continuing to plunge, most Republicans and hospitals came on board this year. The measure passed 141-23 on Friday. Under the plan, hospitals will pay a 1.45 percent tax on their revenues. That money will bring in additional federal matching dollars for the health insurance program for the poor. State Rep. Mark Hatfield, a Waycross Republican, urged fellow Republicans not to violate pledges many of them made to not vote for a tax hike. But Rep. Mickey Channell, a Greensboro Republican, said without the tax there would be deep cuts to Medicaid.

The Georgia House has voted to hike dozens of fees to help balance the state's cash-strapped budget. The measure voted 110-57 to approve the bill on Friday. It contains six new fees. Among them are a $50 fee in state courts and $100 in superior courts to file a civil lawsuit. Those convicted of drunk driving would also pay a new $150 fee for a hearing to reinstate their drivers licenses. Under the measure, Georgians would pay more to start a corporation, obtain specialty license plates and close on a mortgage. Supporters say many of the user fees hadn't been increased in decades. Opponents say they will impact those who can least afford it and the state should have considered a broader tax increase instead.

The Senate has approved a bill that would make it a crime to perform an abortion on a woman based upon the race or gender of the parent or child. After more than three hours of debate, senators passed the measure 33-14 in a vote that broke down along party lines. Republican Sen. Chip Pearson of Dawsonville, the bill's sponsor, says the proposal addresses the prevalence of gender- and race-based abortions in Georgia, especially among African-American women. The bill would make it illegal to coerce a woman into an abortion on those grounds. Democratic Sen. Donzella James of Atlanta says the idea that black women are being targeted for abortion is unfounded and inflammatory and fails to address the health care disparity that is the real cause of the disproportionate abortion rate for black women.

-Senate passes SB 496: The bill would expand the HOPE scholarship to include a needs-based category for low-income college students. The change would help full-time college students whose family income is $30,000 or less. Sponsor of the bill, Republican senator Jack Hill, says it gives students several hundred more dollars to attend a state institution.

"It certainly starts to recognize there are students out there that are in danger of dropping out or are not going simply for a few hundred dollars and I would consider it a stay in college in grant."

Hill says the HOPE fund has a $29 million surplus this year to pay for the expansion. Its continuation would be contingent on future funds.

-Transportation and ethics reform legislation to move through: Lawmakers plan to attach to existing bills in order to make it through Crossover:

Concerning transportation, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla), had this to say on attaching legislation to a bill from last year's session:

"We were just concerned about running out of time. So we decided to go on and re-constitute the conference committee so we could start meeting and working-out the minor differences that are there right now."

Roberts says the chances of ultimate passage for a transportation funding plan this session are "good. He says that's because key legislative leaders got a head start last summer on tackling the failure of transportation funding out of last year.

"The meetings for the last six to eight months have been between the House and Senate leadership with transportation in mind. I think this year we've made the right step in moving forward."

-Senate approves SB 161: It would set-up a statewide autism task force to study autism disorders. It's sponsored by Johnny Grant (R-Milledgeville).

-House bill to establish council for examination of Georgia's tax code passes: The legislation calls for creation of a special council to look at Georgia’s tax code and recommend changes. House Republicans say an overhaul is needed to bring Georgia in-line with the current economy.

But the bill got plenty of push-back by Democrats in debate Friday. House Minority Leader DuBose Porter says the plan only to include economists, business leaders, a former governor and governor Perdue leaves the people out of the process.

“What we need is a Blue Ribbon committee. You want input from the experts, but you have to have those who are responsible to the voters as policymakers to be the ones at the table to decide tax policy. This takes that out of the process.”

Porter is a candidate for Governor. Democrats also note the panel includes only one woman and no minorities.


Melissa Steirs, Valarie Edwards, Rickey Bevington

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