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Legislature '08: An eye on the issues
Among the major issues expected to face lawmakers this session
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WATER PLAN: A plan prepared by the State Water Task Force has been submitted to the legislature. It can be modified by the House or Senate Natural Resources committees, but will face an up or down vote when it reaches the floor of the respective chambers. Most legislative leaders are predicting the plan, which creates water districts, will not be changed before it is voted upon. Hall County already is included in the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, which is chaired by Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

TRAUMA CARE: The mounting debt faced by Atlanta's public trauma center has prompted a legislative debate. Grady Memorial Hospital, which serves many of the region's uninsured and severely injured, is facing a massive deficit that threatens to put it out of business. The hospital is hoping for a state bailout, and lawmakers are considering tacking an extra $10 fee on vehicle tag renewals and a steep fine on excessive speeders to fund trauma care in Georgia.

TAXES: House Speaker Glenn Richardson has been pushing for an overhaul of Georgia's tax system since early last year. His current plan would eliminate school property taxes and replace them with a 4 percent state sales tax on groceries, lottery tickets and services such as yard work and haircuts. There's no telling how it will fare in the Senate, where lawmakers are pushing their own proposals to curb the growth of property tax bills by capping residential assessments.

SEX OFFENDERS: After the state's top court overturned strict residency requirements that limited where sex offenders lived, lawmakers will try their hand at the bill once more. The new version allows sex offenders who own their own homes to stay if a center where children gather later opens up in the neighborhood. The overturned law, considered among the nation's toughest, banned sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, churches and other places where children gather.

TRANSPORTATION: Lawmakers will likely have to choose between two competing traffic plans. One calls for a 1 percent sales tax hike to raise $22.2 billion over 10 years for projects that range from new highways in metro Atlanta to paving dirt roads in rural Georgia. The other, backed by Atlanta business leaders, allows multiple counties to band together and propose new taxes that would fund transportation projects in their districts.

PUBLIC DEFENDER: State leaders will have to figure out a way to handle Georgia's cash-strapped public defender system, which warned it could face a one-month furlough without an infusion of cash from the state. The system has been on the brink of a budget crisis for years, but it's particularly bad this year because of the soaring defense costs in the trial of accused Atlanta courthouse gunman Brian Nichols. Already, the council has cut off funding for Nichols' defense, a move which has brought his trial to a halt.

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