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Senate OKs '08 budget
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The Senate passed its version of the FY09 budget and began the process of conferencing with the House on a final state budget.

The Senate had to fund a $17 million shortfall caused by the House passing an unbalanced budget. Additionally, the House cut the Department of Corrections by some $20 million across virtually the entire budget. The department considered closing at least two prisons and all probation centers if those cuts prevailed. The Senate worked with the department to come up with a plan that kept needed institutions open and gave extra pay raises.

Highlights include:
• $56 million in education austerity cuts restored.

• 2.5 percent education pay raise for state employees and teachers.

• Special pay raises for law enforcement personnel in GBI, DNR, DOC, DJJ and P&P.

• $17 million in TANF funds for child care slots.

• $1 million for Meals on Wheels for seniors.

• $98 million in state funds and $341 million in total funds to provide for full funding of PeachCare.

• $9.2 million for improving access to health services in rural areas.

• $50 million for a state transportation infrastructure bank. Of that, $29 million will come from the budget and the rest from public authorities.

• $9.8 million in airport aid.

• $22 million in school construction bonds for low-wealth systems which cannot build new schools due to a low tax base and low sales tax collections.

• $83 million for school construction bonds with a total of $324 million in amended FY08 and FY09 budgets.

• $439 million in bonds for equipment and construction of new facilities as well as renovation of existing facilities in Regents and in DTAE.

Bills of interest
The following bills passed the Senate last week:
•  H.B. 358: Increases the amount of death benefits for sheriffs from $7,000 to $15,000 for certain members over the age of 55.

• H.B. 715: Clarifies present law that says each county board of family and children services will recommend someone for the position of county director of family and children services to the commissioner of Human Resources.

• H.B. 881: Establishes Georgia Charter Schools Commission, responsible for the development and support of charter schools.

• H.B. 981: Allows concrete haulers to exceed weight and load limitations only when the concrete is for delivery to a customer located in the same or adjoining county.

• H.B. 1016: Authorizes the commissioner of Natural Resources to close all or any portion of the salt waters of this state to commercial and recreational fishing for blue crabs for any reason.

• H.B. 1105: Requires hospitals to offer flu and pneumonia vaccinations to senior citizens prior to their discharge annually from Oct. 1 to March 1.

• H.B. 1176: Authorizes the state Forestry Commission to participate in the acquisition of land conservation projects along with others such as the Department of Natural Resources.

• H.B. 1183: After July 1, 2010, all state agencies and departments must develop a system to write off debts $100 or less unless it belongs to the Board of Regents or DTAE, in which case it can write off $3,000 or less.

• H.B. 1244: Cuts the Georgia income tax rate for all income brackets by 10 percent over five years. This is a $1.2 billion tax cut upon full implementation.

• H.R. 1103: Creates a joint student committee on teacher training and certification in order to assess Georgia’s teacher training programs, certification process and requirements.

• H.R. 1246: A proposed constitutional amendment that repeals the state’s quarter millage levy on real property and freezes real property valuation assessments.

To find out more about any legislation, visit the Legislature’s home page at