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Legislators move dozens of bills on Crossover Day
Day 30 of session marks deadline for legislation to switch chambers
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Crossover Day

What's still alive in the legislature

What made it:

  • Sunday alcohol sales: The Senate passed a bill to allow voters in cities and counties to decide if they want to allow package alcohol sales on Sundays.
  • DNA database: The Senate approved a bill that would require law enforcement to collect DNA from suspects arrested on felony charges. The DNA samples would be entered into a database to help with identification in future cases.
  • Sexual assault exams: The House unanimously passed a bill to fund medical examinations for victims of sexual assault.
  • Taxes: The House passed a measure that would update sales tax definitions to conform with federal standards. Another would extend a sales tax exemption on airplane engines and parts. This would benefit Gulfstream Aerospace's Savannah plant, and Delta Air Lines will continue to get a break on the sales tax it pays for jet fuel.
  • Criminal justice: House members overwhelmingly approved setting up the Criminal Justice Reform Council to review the state's criminal justice and corrections system over the next year.
  • Presidential primary: House members passed a bill to allow the secretary of state to set the date for the 2012 presidential primary, in an effort to give Georgia the flexibility to move the date earlier than Super Tuesday if the political parties allow.

What didn't make it:

  • Tax refunds: The Georgia House defeated a measure that would have limited how much money businesses could collect in interest when they overpay sales tax. The state has paid $16 million interest on such claims in the past three years, supporters said.
  • Health care reform: The House Rules Committee did not send out a bill on health care exchanges, which are required by last year's federal health care legislation. The exchanges would allow Georgians who do not have health care coverage to buy it, as mandated by the federal law, from a one-stop shop run by the state.
  • School vouchers: The Senate tabled legislation that would have dramatically expanded the state's limited voucher program to allow military families, foster children and students with mild to moderate disabilities to use vouchers for private schools.

Senate and House representatives under Georgia's Gold Dome scrambled through nearly 100 bills Wednesday as they speed toward the end of the 2011 legislative session.

Day 30, dubbed Crossover Day, marks the deadline for bills to switch chambers during the 40-day session.

Legislators spent hours debating bills that would allow Sunday alcohol sales and expand private school vouchers, making progress in some of this year's hottest topics.

Hall County and Gainesville staff are tracking the moves of Senate Bill 86, which would make comprehensive planning optional for counties and cities. Both governments are beginning to draft 20-year blueprints that must be completed by
June 2012.

"Changing the requirements at this point does have an impact on the manner in which we'll proceed with the next comprehensive plan," said Randy Knighton, Hall County's planning director. "It's still a fluid situation, and we're still trying to obtain additional information about the implications."

Knighton will present several options to the Hall County Board of Commissioners at Monday's work session.

"The bill still requires comprehensive plans to be done to maintain the quality of local government status but significantly modifies the requirements as they exist," Knighton said.

Supporters of the bill believe the changes would free up local resources for implementing planning studies. The Senate's State Local and Governmental Operations Committee, headed up by Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, heard testimony from the Georgia Municipal Association, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia and numerous planning departments.

"The comprehensive planning bill, as written, had some onerous requirements and unnecessary expenses and duplications of information that wasn't good government," Miller said Wednesday. "I ran for efficiency in government and to increase personal responsibility, making sure government plays its proper role, not interfering in the marketplace."

A committee substitute with changes passed the Senate and is now moving to the House Governmental Affairs Committee for review. The bill gained support from Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, and Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, as well as Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega.

"These changes may be more beneficial to smaller communities who have experienced less change," said Rusty Ligon, Gainesville's planning director. "It shouldn't have as big of an impact on us because we have experienced quite a bit of change since the last comprehensive plan in 2004, and we're anticipating more changes in the near future."

The city hired Atlanta-based Urban Collage firm to handle comprehensive plan ideas and designs. The company is now gathering map information, conducting field work and drafting an economic analysis, and city officials plan to hold public meetings in April.

"It's important that we periodically conduct meetings with the public and hear from them about what they would like to see for the future of their community," Ligon said. "It's important to put down on paper what our vision is and come up with a realistic plan to accomplish that vision."

This is especially true for projects such as the midtown greenway, which was first drafted in 2000, said Jessica Tullar, Gainesville's special projects manager.

"Long-range planning is one of those difficult concepts for folks to grasp because we're so used to seeing what's right in front of us," she said. "The midtown vision is a great example of what has been in the planning stages for 10 years, and now one of the centerpieces is on the ground. Now is a great time to sit down and go through that process again."

 

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