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Legislative update: Calendar packed for 'crossover days'

By Michael Davis

While it may have been a short week in the General Assembly – only two legislative days – lawmakers were hurrying to get their legislation passed and over to the other side of the Gold Dome before the end of "crossover day."

Set this year as the 30th day rather than the usual 33rd, the Republican majority has expressed intentions to finish the 2005 session earlier than the 40 day-limit prescribed in the state Constitution.

But as crossover day approached, debate calendars for the two working days of the week were packed with legislation.

Friday, lawmakers approved a bill to add five judges to judicial circuits around the state. Lawmakers said funding was already in place in the House version of the 2005-2006 budget.

Henry, the only county in the Flint Judicial Circuit, was one of those judges.

"We're in real need of one," said Chief Superior Court Judge Hal Craig.

According to figures provided by the Judicial Council of Georgia, which recommends new judgeships to the General Assembly, the two judges in the Flint Circuit were in 2003 performing the workload of 4.3 judges.

"I don't think anybody questions the need," Craig said.

The House Thursday passed a plan to give Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. a tax break on fuel purchased in Clayton County.

Supporters argue capping the tax the airline pays for fuel at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which is in Clayton County, will help the struggling carrier and act as an incentive to keeping Delta in Atlanta.

The bill would apply to all qualifying airlines.

Clayton legislators said the plan would cost the county millions of dollars in operating revenue and pushed for changes to the bill.

Rep. Gail Buckner, D-Jonesboro, said she called Thursday for the bill to be tabled but that motion failed.

"I have yet to see the parties involved with the issue sit down and look at the details," she said.

Independent Rep. Ron Dodson said he had been working on the bill with the plan's sponsor, Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter, but was sidelined by a heart attack three weeks ago.

"I was hoping to do something to alleviate the pain Clayton County would suffer from that," he said Friday.

Child support changes passed

Thursday, the Georgia House passed an overhaul to Georgia's child support payment guidelines. Under the proposed rules, now in the Senate for consideration, both parents' income would be taken into consideration when child support payments are figured. One provision calls for reduced payments for non-custodial parents who spend at least 100 days per year with their children. Parents who spend less than 60 days with their children would see increased payments.

Redistricting passes House

The House also this week approved a Congressional district map said to keep more counties and cities in single districts.

The current maps, drawn under Democratic control, were designed to give Democrats a better chance of standing reelection. Republicans, who took a majority of the House this year for the first time in more than 100 years, vowed to correct what they see as sprawling, gerrymandered districts.

Under the map approved by the House, all except the northwestern corner of Clayton County would be in the 13th District. A small portion would be in the 4th.

The majority of Henry County would be in the 3rd District while a portion of the north end of the county would be in the 13th.

Dale Earnhardt Day passed

The House Thursday declared every April 29 Dale Earnhardt Day in Georgia. The popular NASCAR driver died in an accident Feb. 18, 2001.

More than two-dozen House members voted against the measure.

"To make it that day forever, I thought it was a bit much," said Rep. John Lunsford, R-McDonough.

Behind-the-counter Sudafed

House members Friday passed a proposal that would put over-the-counter cold medications that contain an ingredient used in making the illegal drug methamphetamine behind store counter.

In recent months, several local governments have considered similar proposals, but if passed by the Senate and signed into law, the rule would apply state-wide.

Another provision limits purchases to no more than three boxes of the medicine at a time.

One House member voted against the measure saying it unfairly burdens consumers and doesn't cut to the crux of the meth problem.

Equal strikes passed

Under a proposal also passed Friday, district attorneys across the state would be able to strike as many potential jurors without reason as defense attorneys.

Prosecutors for years have argued they are out-gunned when it comes to jury strikes. Currently, defense attorneys can excuse without cause twice as many potential jurors as prosecutors.

The measure will be considered in the Senate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.