Locals meet with state delegation

By Justin Boron

Members of the Clayton County business community, court officials, and school system leaders went before the county's state delegation Thursday to outline their expectations for this year's legislative session.

At a meeting held in the Capitol, some of the new leaders in local government sat with six of the county's representatives listing requests they said are some of the top priorities in the county.

The legislative requests will likely guide the representatives as they work their way through the current legislative session that is expected to face stringent budget constraints.

Solicitor General Leslie Miller-Terry was the first to meet with the group and asked them to support "equal strikes" legislation, which would give prosecutors the same number of "strikes" in jury selection as defense attorneys receive.

She also asked for them to support a faith-based initiative being developed on both the federal and state level. The initiative aims to allow religious organizations to take state money for various social service programs, said state Rep. Ron Dodson, I-Lake City.

The law would not constitute a breach of church and state separation, he said, because no particular religion would receive the funds for a program that is open to the public.

But State Sen. Terrell Starr, D-Jonesboro, warned "there is a thin line you don't cross." In his 37th year, Starr is the state's longest serving legislator.

Miller-Terry's final request was for a pay raise commensurate with other state solicitor generals.

District Attorney Jewel Scott followed Miller-Terry in the meeting and asked for the legislators' help in encouraging the county's Superior Court to implement her alternative sentencing program.

After Scott, Superior Court Judges Stephen Boswell and Al Collier asked for support of a felony work release program in which convicted felons could work a job during the day and return to prison at night.

Starr gave it the nod.

"I think it makes a lot of sense," he said. "I'd like to see it happen."

The two judges also asked for pay raises for the Superior Court judges.

Magistrate Court Chief Judge Daphne Walker, the first Clayton County elected black judge, said court services could save money if it allowed magistrate judges to sit on Superior Court cases.

With a less expensive pay structure, the magistrate judges would be more economical than retired Superior Court judges, who often "double-dip," Walker said.

Schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam and Board of Education member David Ashe presented several requests that they say will alleviate looming budget constraints for the school system.

Pulliam said if the legislature does not postpone a bill requiring reduction in class size, it could cost the school system as much as $2.6 million and would create the need for 650 additional classrooms in the next five years.

She said the legislators should oppose a requirement that mailers be sent to parents notifying them their child has missed more than five days.

This measure would cost the school system about $50,000 in postal fees alone, Pulliam said.