Legislative Notebook: Lawmakers’ last-minute priorities

February 26, 2014 

Wednesday was the Legislature’s busiest day so far this year, and Monday will be worse. That’s the deadline for bills to pass either the House or the Senate or get deep-sixed.

So the things that get squeezed in show something about both priorities and the bills that had to be wrangled over for the last six weeks to get ready for passage.

Alternative Flint River passage

The state law that auctions irrigation water in case of drought on the lower Flint River has proved unworkable, and there’s been a fierce fight about what to replace it with since last year. Maybe pumping water up from aquifers? Maybe limiting agriculture water use? Maybe just studies?

Or maybe a bill published just Wednesday. It calls for irrigation efficiency and studies. And something to make farmers happy: the right to sue Georgia if the state issues them water withdrawal permits that are so great they invoke the wrath of the federal endangered-species stewards who watch protected mussels and fish.

It’s an green-engineered plan that gives Georgia an incentive to offer fewer or smaller water withdrawal permits in the future but also keep the river flow healthy.

House Bill 1085, by state Rep. Delvis Dutton, R-Glennville, got more than three dozen signatures immediately and a Thursday hearing at the Environmental Quality Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

File under health

House Bill 998 allows the state to designate more rural counties where a doctor can claim a loan or scholarship worth $20,000 annually, a measure meant to lure medical professionals to underserved communities. State Rep. Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, sponsored the bill, which expands a program that has existed more than a dozen years.

File under miscellaneous

If there’s one problem with hunting rifles, it’s that they’re noisy. Well, some help is on the way for that, via Senate Bill 93, which allows hunting with silencers. Sound suppressors still require a federal permit, but they’ll help protect hunters’ hearing, according to supporters.

“This is a good measure, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House to make suppressors a reality,” said state Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, after the 43 to 10 Senate approval.

Another problem? Slow pokes hogging the far left lane on the freeway. Such Sunday drivers would be liable to be ticketed if they don’t merge right under House Bill 459, authored by former director of the Georgia Department of Public Safety state Rep. Bill Hitchens, R-Rincon, and approved in the House 162 to 9.

File under taxes

It’s better that counties and cities stick with whole-number elementary school math, according to the state House. They rejected House Bill 153, which would allow voters to enact sales taxes in their counties of less than 1 cent per dollar.

So-called “fractional” sales taxes would allow a tax rate scaled small for small one-county infrastructure building projects, said its sponsor, state Rep. John Carson R-Marietta.

But it failed, 78 to 92, on the grounds that adding fractions might be too much administrative trouble.

Such a mechanism might have helped fund one-county transportation builds, the kinds of things that might have been funded by a penny sales tax in 2012, if most Georgia regions hadn’t rejected it.

-- Maggie Lee

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