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A busy first week of work for Georgia Legislature

By Michael Davis

Under the Gold Dome, lawmakers got to the first serious work of the regular session last week, after a week of getting grounded in their new office space and in the new power structure. But several bills were already grabbing headlines early in the session.

Friday, state Republicans introduced a bill to create a 24 hour waiting period for abortions. With the support of some of the state's Republican leadership, the bill is expected to have a good chance of passing.

Rep. Steve Davis, R-McDonough, said earlier that he would support the measure but seek to include a provision requiring all abortions be performed in state licensed clinics.

"Right now, in the first trimester, they can be done in a doctor's office but it doesn't have to be done at a licensed facility," he said. "But I would support it whether or not they have the added amendment I would like to put in there."

The bill requires doctors disclose the potential effects of abortions, physical and psychological, to their patients before the procedure.

A north Georgia lawmaker introduced a bill Wednesday to ban abortion outright. And while even some of the bill's co-signers admitted the measure constituted some political posturing and flouts the U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalize it, GOP leaders say less sweeping restrictions are likely to be passed.

Gov. Sonny Perdue Friday announced his support of a constitutional amendment that would allow state tax dollars to go to faith-based charity organizations that perform public services. Republican leadership said that the practice of financing some religious organizations' human services programs has been going on for years contrary to the provision and they are trying to clean up the language.

Perdue supported a similar measure last year that passed the Senate but stalled in the Democratically controlled House.

Democratic opponents say the measure will open the window for state money to be used to fund vouchers for private religious schools.

Another proposal to amend the Georgia Constitution abolishing property taxes used to fund local school systems was introduced in the House by Republican Majority Leader Jerry Keen of St. Simon's Island. Keen's proposal would establish an across-the-board 3-percent state sales tax and phase out school ad velorum tax by 2008.

Some Democrats argued that the sales tax is too prone to dips in the economy and could leave education underfunded. But Keen said a reserve fund would make up the difference when necessary.

The proposal, HR 58, has been read twice in the House and is expected to be scheduled for a vote.

Also introduced this week was a proposal by state Rep. John Lunsford, R-McDonough, to create a state infrastructure bank through which local governments can pull down federal transportation dollars with direct local matching funds.

The bill was introduced last year but in the fury of the final days of the session, got lost in the shuffle. Wednesday, it was assigned to the House revenue watching ways and means committee.

A bill to outlaw the practice of female genital mutilation was assigned to the Senate judiciary committee Monday. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Gloria Butler of Clarkston, is co-sponsored this year by Sens. Valencia Seay, D-Atlanta and Emanuel Jones, D-Ellenwood.

When the measure moved through the House of Representatives last year, it was amended to include a prohibition on elective female genital piercing.

Georgia senators unanimously passed a bill Thursday making virtual classrooms available to high school students statewide.

Such a measure would open up easy access to college credit for all high school students, and it would be a boon to home-school students and private school students, offering them access to advanced placement (AP) classes.

State Sen. Terrell Starr, D-Jonesboro, who serves on the Senate Education Committee, said the bill originated as part of Perdue's legislative package on education.

The bill initially did not include private and home schools but was amended to do so, as long as priority is given to public schools.

Starr said students of the other schools would have access if funding is available. The bill will move to the House.

Daily Herald staff writer Aisha I. Jefferson and The Associated Press contributed to this article.