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John Douglas - House bills dominate Senate calendar

The Senate completed Day 31 last week, passing more than 30 bills over to the House for consideration. No more bills originating in either chamber can cross to the other for the remainder of this session. Some of the highlights of the week include the passage of a bill providing military scholarships for children of soldiers killed or disabled as a result of combat and legislation requiring that if a school system loses its accreditation, a special election may be held to elect a new school board.

In other business, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced that he will be reducing the revenue estimates for both Amended Fiscal Year 2008 (AFY08) and Fiscal Year 2009 (FY09) budgets due to the slowing rate of growth of the state's revenue collections. Perdue met with the leadership of both the House and Senate to discuss the revenue figures and his revised budget recommendations. For FY08, the revenue will be reduced an estimated $65 million from its original proposal. The original AFY08 recommendation was $332.6 million. In order to achieve a balanced budget, Perdue identified an equivalent amount of spending to eliminate from his AFY08 recommendation. The reductions recommended include $40 million originally allocated for one-time equipment and technology infrastructure upgrades and $25 million in funding for school buses. For FY09, the revenue will be reduced by an estimated $245 million. The original FY09 recommendation was $21.425 billion. The equivalent reduction in spending recommended by Gov. Perdue will be derived from programs in state agencies. By law, we are required to balance our budgets each year and cannot operate with a deficit.

The Senate recently passed Senate Bill 451, the Protecting Georgia's Investment Act. It will prohibit state retirement plans from investing in foreign publicly traded companies that invest in Iran. This legislation is intended to protect state pension funds and help save the lives of Georgians who serve in the military and are subject to advanced munitions being supplied by Iran to our enemies in the Middle East. Other states including Florida, California and New Jersey have successfully enacted divestment legislation for their public retirement funds and have not seen negative financial consequences. SB 451 has moved to the House for consideration.

Looking ahead, the Senate Public Safety Committee will continue to hear dialogue concerning House Bill 978. This legislation states that any motor vehicle registered in the state that violates traffic laws or is involved in an accident while being operated by a person who is illegally in this country will be subject to forfeiture and seizure. The owner will only be allowed to recover the vehicle if they are willing to provide a sworn statement to law enforcement stating they were unaware of the illegal immigration status of the vehicle operator. If any motor vehicle is forfeited and sold under this legislation, the court may order funds received from the sale to be distributed to the victim to offset costs incurred as a result of the accident. I support this bill and hope it helps get illegal immigrants off our roads and highways.

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.