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Stronger beer, tougher smoking laws, cheaper books; 13 legislative days done

By Michael Davis

Lawmakers this week discussed limiting smoking, allowing for stronger beer and making college textbooks more affordable.

In a measure that passed through the House Transportation Committee Wednesday by a vote of 9-0, one bill calls for a $15 fine for anyone caught smoking in a car with small children.

The bill would have to be approved by the House Rules Committee before it could be taken up by the full House, but it already has some strong opposition among lawmakers and citizens.

"Why don't we have a bill preventing obese people from going to the grocery store? Sometimes we take things a little too far, and this is one of those times," said Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon.

The bill, if signed into law, would allow police to pull over anyone smoking in a car with the windows up and a child in a car-safety seat, and issue a $15 fine. In Georgia, children under 4 are required to be restrained in a safety seat.

McDonough resident, Neal Crompton said that the measure would be too intrusive.

A smoker for 21 years, Crompton said he already takes measures to avoid smoking around his three children. "Honestly, I try not to do it around my kids," he said. "And if I do it in the car, I always have the window down."

The bill was brought up last year and failed to pass. President Pro-Tem of the House, Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, told the Associated Press he hoped that lawmakers wouldn't be so intrusive. "It's not to say it's wrong. It's horribly wrong. But if we're going to make everything bad for you illegal and charge $15 for doing it, we could balance the budget with that," he said.

Stronger Beer

The Georgia Senate also this week approved legislation allowing stronger beer to be sold in the state. Calling it a way to promote tourism, backers say the measure would put Georgia in line with Florida and Tennessee, which allow stronger beer.

If approved by Gov. Sonny Perdue, beer with an alcohol content of up to 14 percent by volume, about the average content of wine, to be sold in Georgia. That is more than double the 6 percent allowed now.

The bill passed the House last year.

HOPE Scholarship

As questions about the future of the state's popular HOPE Scholarship persist, one lawmaker introduced a bill that could offer some help?at least in funding for books.

Rep. Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, introduced a proposal Friday that would curb profits for official college bookstores. The governor's proposal to shore up funding for the scholarship would abolish payments for student fee and books but Reece's bill would offer some help to those who don't get the $150 book allowance under the scholarship.

"I have an idea that there's huge markup on these textbooks," Reece said.

Her proposal would limit the markup that public college bookstores could place on a book to 15 percent.

It's not clear if the bill would have much support or significantly decrease HOPE's textbook spending, but

Reece said her goal is to "keep down the price so students can afford the books."

The measure may however, get little support from schools.

Official bookstores on college campuses, though a branch of the state university system, must maintain profitability, said Clayton College and State University Director of Auxiliary Services Robert Holmes.

"Bookstores are self-supporting entities," he said. "We have to earn our keep."

Holmes said the measure would significantly impact the way bookstores operate. If a store wants to remodel or add new equipment, for example, it must do so from its own profits, he said. "We don't receive state funds." Employees are also paid from bookstore profits.

Still, he said bookstores are concerned about the high price of textbooks on campuses. But part of the problem he said, is that even wholesale prices are high.

"I think our students certainly understand that the (profit) margin isn't exclusively what contributes to that," he said. "And I don't have students coming up and saying, ?You're ripping us off.'"

The Associated Press contributed to this article.