At the Capitol, much left to do

ATLANTA (AP) - As Georgia legislative's session careens toward another frenzied final week, some of the most contentious proposals of this political season are still on the table.

New guidelines for stem cell research, a proposal for a one-cent sales tax for infrastructure projects, an overhaul of the transportation bureaucracy and strict new ethics guidelines for lawmakers are all still pending.

And the biggest issue this legislative session is still unresolved: The $18.6 billion budget for 2010. The spending plan, which uses about $1.4 billion in federal stimulus funding, is still being hashed out by the Senate.

State lawmakers have knocked off a few proposals. They've strengthened food safety regulations in the wake of the salmonella outbreak, approved stiff new fines on drivers traveling far above the speed limit and given Georgia Power the authority to charge ratepayers early for the construction of two new nuclear reactors.

The House and the Senate have also agreed in broad brush strokes to tax breaks aimed at businesses who hire new workers off the unemployment rolls, a two-year freeze on property assessment hikes and citizenship checks for prospective voters.

The chambers must still iron out differences, however, before those bills receive final passage.

A slew of other proposals remain up in the air, many of them among the most heavily debated of the 40-day legislative session. And time is running out. They'll need approval by Friday to become law this year.

"It's time to fish or cut bait," Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said.

One of the most contentious involves vast changes to Georgia's transportation bureaucracy.

Gov. Sonny Perdue and Senate leaders are pushing for an overhaul to create a new agency that gives the governor and lawmakers more control over how transportation dollars are spent, but the House is backing a plan that retains much of the current setup.

Moving in tandem is a plan for a new one-cent sales tax that would fund transportation improvements, but disagreements over how the tax should be levied threatens the proposal's future.

The Senate backs a plan that would allow the tax to be imposed and spent regionally while the House insists on a statewide sales tax.

Also still up in the air is one proposal that would phase out Georgia's corporate income tax over 12 years and another that would wipe out the annual car tag tax and replace it with a new fee of up to $1,500 on newly purchased vehicles.

And there are a slew of non-tax related issues that have yet to reach the governor's desk.

Senate lawmakers have backed a measure that would restrict embryonic stem cell research in Georgia by banning the creation of fertilized embryos for research.

Proposals for new guidelines that empower Georgia's joint Legislative Ethics Committee to sanction lawmakers who haven't paid their taxes and an effort to soften parts of Georgia's strict crackdown on sex offenders are still pending. Those plans could be considered as early as Monday.

House lawmakers may also debate a perennial effort to require adults in pickup trucks to buckle their seat belts. Georgia is the only state in the nation to specifically exempt those drivers from the requirement.

And House Democrats are pressing GOP leaders to revive a resolution that would declare President Barack Obama an honorary member of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. The proposal was defeated weeks ago amid concerns over wording declaring Obama a man with an "unimpeachable reputation for integrity."

The next three legislative days - set for Monday, Wednesday and Friday - will determine the fates of all those proposals.

"It's a race against time," said Republican state Sen. Jeff Mullis.


On the Net:

Georgia General Assembly: www.legis.ga.gov