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Local colleges get full building funds, among other business
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2010 budget doesn’t cut building funds

The $18.6 billion budget approved Friday by the General Assembly includes the full $31.2 million for a new academic building at Gainesville State College.

The state Senate voted 47-4 to approve the fiscal year 2010 spending plan. Earlier in the day, the House approved it by a vote of 137-41.

All members of Hall County’s House delegation voted for the bill.

The deal struck by budget writers on Friday taps federal stimulus dollars for more cash to pay for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor. Enrollment in Medicaid has soared as the economy has worsened.

The budget, which covers the fiscal year that begins July 1, includes spending cuts of more than $1 billion. The Senate’s top budget writer said agencies will see an average cut of about 8 percent.

It also contains $16.4 million for building renovations on the campus of North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega.

State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, confirmed the two projects were fully funded in the state spending plan for the year beginning July 1.

“I am very relieved,” said Gainesville State President Martha Nesbitt. “It is a building that we very badly need and I am just thrilled that it went through fully funded.”

House budget writers had cut the Gainesville State project by $6.2 million, after the new building had been designed and engineered. The Senate restored the funds and the House agreed.

The Senate added an additional $6 million for North Georgia. The governor and House budget writers had proposed only $10 million to renovate four buildings on the historic campus.

House OKs bill by Mills to allow embryo adoption

The Georgia House gave final approval to a bill by Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, which would permit adoption of embryos.

The House voted to accept minor changes made by the Senate.

Mills was asked if the bill establishes that the embryo is a person.

“My own personal belief is that it is a person,” Mills said.

The bill defines an embryo as an individual fertilized ovum of the human species from the single-cell stage to eight-week development. Mills believes the bill would be the first of its kind in the nation and has the potential of setting a precedent that an embryo is a person. It now goes to the governor for his signature.

Sweeping tax breaks pass legislature

The legislature approved a sweeping new tax break that cuts the state’s capital gains tax in half over two years. The measure also doles out a $2,400 income tax credit to any business that hires someone who has been unemployed for at least four weeks. And it creates a one-year “new business tax holiday” that waives the $100 filing fee for new business.

Supporters said the efforts are aimed at putting Georgians back to work as the state grapples with a record-high 9.3 percent unemployment rate.

Critics said the capital gains cuts would rip an even greater hole in the state’s recession-ravaged budget and would benefit only the wealthiest Georgians.

Voters must prove citizenship

Lawmakers voted Friday to require prospective voters to prove they are U.S. citizens before they cast their ballots, making Georgia the second in the nation with such requirements.

Only Arizona requires its residents to prove they are U.S. citizens to register to vote.

The measure, which passed the House by a 104-67 vote, would require voters to prove their citizenship using a passport, a driver’s license or other documents. It now goes to Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Bill would punish tax cheats

Georgia lawmakers who fail to pay taxes could soon face sanctions from a legislative committee. The House and Senate each overwhelmingly passed measures late Friday that would allow their chambers’ respective ethics committees to investigate and sanction legislators who fail to pay their taxes.

The House passed its version 160-3 and the Senate vote was 42-1.

The vote comes after the state Department of Revenue revealed that 22 state lawmakers, about 10 percent of the General Assembly, are delinquent on their taxes. Only three of those lawmakers’ names have been made public.

Bills that failed
Among two bills that didn’t pass: A measure to require new Georgia drivers to take their written drivers test in English; and a last-ditch effort to require drivers of pickup trucks to wear seat belts.

Times reporters Harris Blackwood and Melissa Weinman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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