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Monday, March 14, 2011 - 8:51am

Legislation Moving In Session's Day-29

House Cuts Jobless Insurance Fund Tax--

The Georgia House has voted to soften a planned increase in the amount businesses pay into the unemployment insurance trust fund. The surcharge on employers had been set to rise from 35 percent of the base tax they pay to 100 percent. Legislation approved unanimously on Monday would cap it at 50 percent. Faced with skyrocketing unemployment rates, Georgia had to borrow more than $600 million from the federal government to keep the unemployment fund afloat. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bill Hembree, a Winston Republican, said his legislation would also allow the state to keep the doors open at career centers open that help unemployed Georgians get jobs. The bill is similar to one that cleared the state Senate on Friday.

Special Needs Scholarship Waiver OK'd --

The House has approved legislation that requires students to wait one year to qualify for special needs scholarships. Lawmakers voted 115-33 on Monday to allow lift a mandate that students must spend a year in a Georgia public school under an Individualized Education Program before they can qualify for a special needs scholarship. Parents could apply for the waiver. The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Rich Golick, a Smyrna Republican, said the bill was needed to address certain cases where a student needed to move into a private school immediately. The state's special needs scholarship program allows families with children who qualify for special education programs to obtain a voucher to be used at private schools.

Mental Courts Health Bill Approved --

The Senate has unanimously approved a bill that would expand the state's mental health court system. Sen. Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, says jails and prisons have become the new psychiatric hospitals, and that patients should be treated when their major issue is mental illness, rather than crime. In his inaugural address, Gov. Nathan Deal stressed his support for alternative sentencing for certain offenders. Grant says mental health courts can be a cost-effective answer to deal with the problem. Under the proposal, defendants charged with crimes including murder, armed robbery rape and child molestation would not be eligible for the program and mental health courts could be funded with state or federal dollars, or privately or through grants.

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