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Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - 4:02am

General Assembly Day-26 Roundup

HOPE Passes Senate - The Georgia Senate on Wednesday passed a bill dramatically overhauling the cash-strapped HOPE scholarship program. The bill is part of Gov. Nathan Deal's plan to keep lottery programs like HOPE and prekindergarten from going broke. It passed 35-20. The bill would cut scholarships for all but the state's highest-scoring students. It also would eliminate payments for books, fees and remedial classes. Awards would be set each year by the Legislature rather than being tied to tuition rates. Democrats have said the bill is unfair to poor and minority students and the Lottery Corp. should give more money to education coffers before the awards are cut. The measure now goes back to the state House to get approval for changes made in the Senate.

Billboards Bill Clears Senate - The chamber approved legislation that would allow billboard owners to clear-cut trees blocking motorists from seeing their signs and strengthens the penalties on obscene advertisements. The measure passed 37-19 on Tuesday. The proposal must now be approved by the House. The battle pitting billboards against trees is a perennial one at the state Capitol. At issue during the nearly two hours of debate before Tuesday's vote were preserving the state's beauty, helping businesses protect their investments and protecting children on Georgia roadways from seeing obscene images. Billboard owners can currently remove some trees, including hardwood trees with trunks that are under eight inches in diameter from state-owned property.

House Votes To Criminalize Bath Salts - House members voted to criminalize synthetic chemicals sold as bath salts. House lawmakers voted 150-9 on Tuesday to make the substance illegal. It's currently sold legally and can be snorted, injected or mixed with drinks or food. Officials warn the powdery substance mimics the effects of cocaine, ecstasy and LSD. The chemicals can cause hallucinations, paranoia, rapid heart rates, violent behavior and suicidal thoughts. The stimulants aren't regulated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, but are facing federal scrutiny. The bill now heads to the state Senate. Similar bills have passed in Kentucky and Mississippi.