John Douglas - Senate tackles water shortage, unlicensed drivers, transportation

We are well into the 2008 legislative session now, and we have finished 14 days of the required 40 legislative days of business. The pace is increasing daily as senators and representatives go about their work. This week, I'd like to discuss some of the big pieces of legislation that I have focused on thus far.

The Senate and House of Representatives have passed the Statewide Water Management Plan, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the legislation last week. The plan is the culmination of years of work by the Georgia Water Council, and it identifies a set of statewide water management policies that will guide sustainable use of Georgia's water resources. While it is not a plan to address the drought conditions we currently are experiencing, the implementation of the water plan will ensure that future water needs will be met while protecting natural systems and preserving opportunities for future generations of Georgians to grow as well. The governor also lifted restrictions on filing public and private swimming pools beginning April 1, 2008, and gave local governments the authority to allow hand watering of plants and landscaping work.

As I am a member of the Senate Public Safety Committee, I recently considered a piece of legislation that will affect the future of drivers in Georgia. In a move to curtail the growing problem of illegal immigrants driving in the state, the Senate passed legislation to stiffen penalties for those who operate a motor vehicle without a license. Senate Bill 350 passed the Senate by a vote of 38 to 13 and now goes to the House for consideration. SB 350 will increase the penalties for those found operating a vehicle without ever having been issued a valid driver's license or on a suspended or revoked license. Under the new law, an individual found driving without being licensed or driving on a suspended, disqualified or revoked license could be sentenced to at least two days imprisonment for the first offense. Any second or third offense within five years, and that individual would be subject to at least 10 days imprisonment and a fine of at least $1,000. A fourth or subsequent offense within five years would be treated by the courts as a felony. The new penalties would not apply to drivers who can produce a valid or expired license in court.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has announced that the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) resolution has been filed in the state Senate and will bring a funding solution to transportation needs of our state. The TSPLOST Resolution will amend the Georgia Constitution so that as of May 1, 2009, individual counties can voluntarily propose to their citizens a new 1 cent sales tax for transportation projects. Eighty percent of revenue collected through the TSPLOST will be returned to the participating county for projects. At least 10 percent of the remaining funds will be used by the state for constructing, maintaining and operating mass transit. The resolution gives the General Assembly a deadline of April 1 to establish a framework by which counties can voluntarily join together into regions and combine their tax for projects of regional significance. This will happen before counties can initiate the TSPLOST.

As always, please remember to contact me in my office on the issues that are affecting you and your area. I am here to represent you and it is an honor for me to work on your behalf.

State Sen. John Douglas serves as chairman of the Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee. He represents the 17th Senate District, which includes Newton County and portions of Henry, Rockdale, Spalding and Walton counties. He may be reached by phone at 404-656-0503 or by e-mail at john.douglas@senate.ga.gov.