Georgia House, Senate get busy day underway

ATLANTA -- There are three bills of Columbus-area interest to be debated today in the Georgia House.

The General Assembly is in the final days of the legislative session. Wednesday is the 39th legislative day. The 40th and final day of the session is scheduled for Friday.

The bills that are drawing local interest:

* Senate Bill 114: The bill would have a direct impact on transfer students of military personnel. Which means it will have a direct impact on many of the Fort Benning students in Georgia public school systems.

The bill would make it easier for students to transfer hours into school districts from systems in other states. This bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Ed Harbision, D-Columbus, has already passed the Senate. A similar version passed both the House and Senate last year, but was vetoed by Gov. Sonny Perdue. To become law, it would have to be signed by the governor.

* Senate Bill 164: This bill would change the law and allow billboard companies more access to cut trees on the state right-of-way. The billboard companies, after paying a $4,500 fee, would be able to clear trees that block views to billboards.

A number of Columbus lawmakers have lined up against the bill, sponsored by Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville.

Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, sent out an e-mail Tuesday night strongly opposing the bill.

"The author of the legislation pointedly reminded the Transportation Committee twice, 'that next year is a election year.' The clear implication is, that no one in their right mind would vote for SB 164 in an election year," Smith wrote. "If we wouldn't vote for SB 164 in an election year, why would we vote for it this year? If voting for SB 164 is bad politics in an election year, why isn't bad politics in a non-election year? I will speak against this bill."

Debbie Buckner, D-Columbus, said she would vote against it as well.

A number of Columbus residents were in the Capitol to work against the bill. Trees Columbus Executive Director Dorothy McDaniel and Keep Columbus Beautiful Executive Director Gloria Weston Smart were on the third floor.

* Senate Bill 200: This is one of the most heated bills in the General Assembly this year. It would change the way the Department of Transportation is governed. Gov. Sonny Perdue is pushing to take authority away from the DOT board and put it in the governor's office and legislator.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, is in the middle of the fight.