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Gov. signs 1st bill as session hits midpoint
Collins guides HOPE scholarship changes through House
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ATLANTA — Nathan Deal signed his first bill as governor Thursday, wrapping up the first half of the 2011 General Assembly session.

House Bill 104, now Act 1, allows an e-Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax renewal for Carroll County and required an expedited signature by the governor. Without Deal's action before March 15, the SPLOST was scheduled to end this year.

"I was encouraged by the responsible leadership of the Carroll County community to expedite this important legislation on behalf of their local school systems," Deal said. "I look forward to working with local governments around the state as they work hard to better their communities."

Hall County's lawmakers are ready to get their legislation on the governor's desk. Reaching the midpoint of the session Thursday, they expect to see a jump in the pace of chamber sessions.

"Getting to the halfway point, this year more than others, the pace will go from rather slow to just chaotic over the 20 days," said Rep. Doug Collins,
R-Gainesville. "A lot of stuff took a long time to start because of a new session, almost 30 new members in the House, getting committees, getting rooms and the process of legislation started a little bit later. Now it's starting to get into full gear."

Collins, who introduced Deal's changes to the HOPE scholarship, quickly pushed the bill through committees Thursday. The House Higher Education Appropriations Committee met at 7:30 a.m. and approved the bill, and then the full House Appropriations Committee met at 8 a.m and approved the bill.

The legislation will move to the House floor Tuesday.

"Between Day 20 and Day 30, a bill has to move out of the House or the Senate to be heard by the other body before the end of this session," Collins said.

"It doesn't die because we have next session as well, but it will get pretty hectic, especially over the next 10 days."

As one of Deal's floor leaders, Collins plans to pick up his pace during the next 20 legislative days.

"Not only are we finishing up HOPE, which I hope to get out of the House next week," he said. "But we have other pieces of legislation that we need to get out and then we're watching others, helping good bills and working on those that need help."

Sen. Butch Miller, who supported five pieces of legislation this week, is seeing bills pour into committees as chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Affairs Committee.

"We'll have a ton of legislation coming over from the House in the next few days, and we have a lot of stuff in the works," he said. "The momentum is building. We've got something in every category to address."

Top officials are focusing on the budget and HOPE scholarship changes as they move into the second half of the session, House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle told a group Georgia newspaper editors Thursday.

"The governor hasn't shied away from tackling controversial issues, especially HOPE, which is politically very sensitive," Cagle said. "With the budget, we've made great strides with the 2011 supplemental, and the 2012 should be settled pretty quickly because there's not a lot to fight about with the cuts."

Lawmakers are feeling some relief as the economy slowly recovers, he said.

"We're seeing a little bit of recovery in the state, which is good," Cagle said with a smile. "In my experience over the years, the central theme to solving everyone's legislative concerns is with more money."

Part of that will include evaluating the recommendations from the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians, which must be voted up or down as a package, Ralston said.

"Everybody can pick out something they do like and don't like, but we don't get to order off a menu," he said. "These are big ideas and big changes, so stay tuned. In the next couple of weeks, we'll make a move on that."

Legislators are also keeping an eye on the water issue, Ralston noted.

"We've made a lot of progress in negotiations with Alabama, but frankly, I'm not sure how much incentive Florida has to come to the table," he said.

"With Gov. Deal's new energy and the idea of public-private partnerships, we hope we can at least see relief on the federal court case deadline if we demonstrate that we're trying to move ahead and address the issue."


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