House overrides get session off to rocky start

By Dave Williams

and Camie Young



ATLANTA - Resuming a power struggle with Gov. Sonny Perdue, the House kicked off the 2008 General Assembly session Monday by overriding a dozen of 41 bills the governor vetoed last spring.

But unlike the last day of the 2007 session, when the Senate refused to even take up a House override of Perdue's veto of the midyear budget, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle sent Monday's overrides to the Senate Rules Committee for consideration.

"We're not just going to ... vote on them," said Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville), the Rules panel's chairman. "We need to understand what all 12 of these issues are before we decide to put them on the floor."

Monday's House votes signaled that Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) is ready to pick up his dispute with fellow Republican, Perdue, that started last year over tax policy.

Last April, the House bottled up legislation being pushed by the governor that would have eliminated taxes on upper-income retirees. Perdue retaliated by vetoing the midyear budget, which contained a House-sponsored property tax cut of about the same amount.

The House then overrode that veto on the final day of last year's session, but the Senate wouldn't go along.

Monday's veto overrides, all approved overwhelmingly, covered bills on a host of subjects. In every case, both the House and Senate either had passed them unanimously when they came up last year or with just a couple of "no" votes.

"I prefer for the legislature to handle most of the policy decisions in this state," Richardson told his colleagues at one point during the series of votes.

The overrides included bills to:

· ease restrictions on therapy visits for children with disabilities

· limit the book allowances students with HOPE scholarships could receive if the program's revenues start to dip

· allow teachers and other employees of charter schools to enroll in the state's health insurance program

· provide tax credits to encourage the development of tourist attractions in Georgia

The latter was one of several tax bills vetoed by Perdue that the House voted to override.

Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna), the governor's floor leader in the House, said lawmakers loaded up all of those bills with unrelated provisions as they went through the legislature last year.

In the case of the tourism bill, the Senate attached a tax break aimed at luring the film industry to the state.

Golick said such amendments violated a requirement that tax legislation focus on a single subject.

"Tax bills deal with unique issues and should be considered individually," he said.

But Richardson said he ruled last year as the bills went through the House that they did not violate the chamber's "single-subject" rule.

Perdue's office defended his vetoes several hours after Monday's votes.

Spokesman Bert Brantley said there was no groundswell of support from Georgians for those bills, and the governor had sound reasons for vetoing each one.

"Today's actions are yet another example of House leadership insisting on making a statement rather than making the state better," Brantley said. "Georgians expect us to address serious issues facing this state and work together to solve problems, not create disputes between the branches of government."

Monday's veto overrides were an extreme rarity for Georgia lawmakers.

Other than last year's unsuccessful override by the House, the last time the legislature voted to override a governor was in 1974, when the General Assembly nixed two vetoes that had been handed down by then-Gov. Jimmy Carter.

Balfour said the Rules Committee won't take up Monday's overrides until Thursday or Friday at the earliest.

The panel will spend Tuesday and Wednesday discussing and voting on legislation easing restrictions on Georgians' right to carry firearms.

In the meantime, Senate leaders said they hope the flap over the override votes won't

get in the way of the major issues lawmakers need to address this year, from water to transportation to taxes.

Perdue and Republican legislative leaders crisscrossed the state for two days last week to promote what they called a "unified" agenda.

"We've got some work to do to get back to unity," Cagle said in the aftermath of Monday's House votes.

Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) sounded somewhat more optimistic.

"If we let every voice be heard, we can find what unites us and not divides us," he said.