Profiling bill passes House

By Billy Corriher

The race and gender of every motorist pulled over by police would be recorded under a racial profiling bill adopted by the state House on Friday.

The bill is aimed at stopping police profiling, the already-illegal practice of pulling over drivers because of their race or ethnicity, not because they are suspected of doing anything illegal. Supporters said the records are needed to identify racial profiling and punish officers who are doing it.

Police groups opposed the bill, saying they already have sanctions against officers who harass drivers of a particular race or ethnicity and expressed concerns about the additional paperwork.

House members debated the measure for about an hour, then passed it 116-34.

"Using race as a proxy for potential criminal behavior is unconstitutional," said Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, and sponsor of the bill. The measure now heads to the Senate.

Rep. Darryl Jordan, D-Riverdale, hailed the passage of the bill.

"This is truly one bill that would save young men, especially young African-American men, from being arrested for no reason," he said.

Jordan, a teacher at Henry County Middle School, also co-sponsored legislation introduced this week to require the Georgia Board of Education to work with high school counselors, teachers, principals and college admission officers to create a uniform grading system for every state high school.

"A lot of counselors at schools have complained that grades mean different things in different places," he said. "We want to have a system where at "A" means the same thing in every district."

On Friday, the House Budget committee passed a $16.2 billion budget for the next fiscal year that would soften some of the cuts that Gov. Sonny Perdue recommended in education and health care programs while continuing to pay for books and fees for HOPE scholars.

The budget is scheduled to be brought up for a vote before the full House on Monday.

Rep. Mike Barnes, D-Hampton, who serves on the budget committee, said the budget situation did not require as many cuts as Perdue had recommended.

"We were able to restore a lot of that education and health care money," he said. "It's tight, but those programs are important."

To make ends meet, however, the proposal for the year beginning July 1 postpones the 2 percent pay raise the governor promised to teachers and state employees from next September and October to Jan. 1.

It also leaves both the Medicaid program and the HOPE scholarship program short-funded, a problem House leaders contend could be remedied in next year's midyear spending bill.

Perdue spokesman Dan McLagan blasted the Democrats for deleting $11 million the governor earmarked for a new child welfare computer system.

The Senate's constitutional amendment banning same sex marriages has not been reconsidered in the House yet, and version of the ban floated by House Democrats failed an early test Tuesday, when the House voted not to make the constitutional amendment immune from any changes.

The House, after falling just three votes short of passing the Senate version of the amendment, voted to reconsider the measure, but haven't yet. If both chambers approve the amendment, it would be voted on by Georgia voters in November.

Rural Democrats suggested an alternate version and asked Tuesday that their version be engrossed, or protected from any amendment. An engrossment is thought to make the bill easier to pass because it means it can't be changed. But the House rejected the engrossment.

The Democratic sponsor, Rep. Jeanette Jamieson of Toccoa, argued that her amendment is better than the GOP version because it simply defines marriage as a union between a man and woman, whereas the Republican amendment includes provisions banning legal recognition of same-sex couples, even those married in other states.

"This is not California. This is truly the heart of the Bible Belt," Jamieson said.

Sen. Mike Crotts, R-Conyers, co-sponsored the Senate measure, and criticized the Democrats for introducing the new bill, saying it was basically an attempt to kill the measure. Crotts said the House voted to reconsider the original bill, and it should be brought up again.

"There's really no reason we should be holding that bill," he said. "They need to let the people of Georgia have their say."

Gov. Sonny Perdue's education package and religious charities constitutional amendment have passed the Senate, but the measures are also pending in House committees.

The faith-based charities amendment would allow faith-based charities to compete for state contracts to provide services to the needy and the poor. Perdue's education package includes tougher discipline standards, a measure to revoke a teen's driver's license if he or she has missed too many classes and a new central office for early learning programs such as pre-kindergarten.

Rep. Gail Buckner, D-Jonesboro, also sponsored a bill that passed the House last week that would require city and county governments to share proceeds from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes.

"There's been a lot of discussion between city governments and county governments about how to best use SPLOST money and make sure it's used fairly," she said.

Under the legislation, if the cities and county governments can't agree on how to split the money, it would be divided according to population.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.