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Goodness, gracious, great bills of fire
Despite the budget crisis, State Legislators are still hard at work making laws.
The Georgia Legislature is always on its toes (and ours)

This week concludes the final session of the state’s current legislative season. Although most of the talk leading up to our politicians’ summer vacation has centered on next year’s budget, don’t make the mistake of thinking Georgia’s elected officials have cleared their schedules to solve the economic crisis.

During the last few weeks, the Capital building has been bustling with bills hoping for Gov. Perdue’s signature. From the curious to the strange, here are a few potential additions to the state code of law that you might not have heard about yet.

The road kill bill

It’s open season on deer, squirrel and other common species so long as you’re behind the wheel of a motor vehicle (and not under it). SB 474 will restore our right to take home most kinds of road kill. The bill states, “In general, any person may take possession of native wildlife which has been killed by a motor vehicle.”

The exceptions to the law are bears, any legally protected species and, judging by the inclusion of “native” in the bill, most zoo animals.

If you do happen to hit a bear, you might still be able to bring it home, but you’re obliged to inform a law enforcement official, who must then certify the accident and award you possession of the victim.

According to the previous rule, if you hit a deer, the police officer or conservation ranger could elect to give the carcass to any nearby “charitable institution or prison” that might be able to make use of said carcass. This bill has passed Senate and received a favorable report from the House Committee on Game, Fish and Parks.

The age of (microchip) consent

Known as the “Microchip Consent Act of 2010,” SB 235 would make it illegal to forcibly implant a microchip into any person in the state.

Critics argue that the legislation lacks teeth when it comes to enforcement. Lawbreakers are only charged with a misdemeanor. The bill has passed the Senate, and was reported upon favorably by the House Judiciary Committee.

This bill got some attention from the blogosphere last week because of the peculiar testimony it evoked from one woman who spoke to the House Judiciary Committee on the importance of passing the legislation sooner than later.

The woman who testified before the Judicial Committee told them that she had already been implanted with a microchip (in the area between her rectum and vagina) by the Department of Defense, who wanted to track her whereabouts.

Just punishment

On a more serious note, HB 323 will change how the State Supreme Court will review death penalty cases and “eliminate the requirement that the court determine if a sentence of death is excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases.”

The plan is to streamline death penalty case reviews, but not necessarily expedite them. The high court would get an extra 25 days to decide whether to review pre–trial hearings.

Georgia is currently tied for 10th in the country for the most exonerations of wrongfully convicted death row inmates.

After passing the House unanimously, this bill is awaiting a second reading on the Senate floor.

The big payback

Among many difficult decisions made by politicians to help balance this year’s budget, the decision to raise the price of several annual permit fees seemed like a relatively harmless one.

In what is one of the longest pieces of legislation to appear during this session, part one of HB 1055 will increase fees on things like “bona fide coin operated amusement machines” (sorry, arcade owners), poultry dealer licenses, annual business registration renewals, carnival licenses, vanity license plates and dozens of assorted court costs.

As potential proof that state government has no interest in lowering healthcare costs, the second part of this Republican-favored bill includes a 1.45 percent tax on hospitals across the state.

The new fee is “a payment to be imposed on hospitals to be used to obtain federal financial participation for medical assistance payments.”

Who’s keeping the federal government out of healthcare now?

Despite the budget crunch, the fee increases were paired with the decision to give over $250 million of the new state revenue money back in the form of a tax cut for wealthy retirees, who may soon reap the benefit of “a complete exclusion of certain retirement income from Georgia taxable net income.”

The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute recommended the governor not pass the bill in its current form, but even heavily amended, it appears to still have support of the House and Senate.

Drugs (even fake ones) are bad

Legislators want to add synthetic cannabinoids, also known as K2, to the list of Schedule I controlled substances (HB 1309). According to their research, this stuff is wildly popular amongst high school and college students, and could be as much as 100 times more potent than traditional THC.

We’d never actually heard of K2 before finding this bill, but writers at the Riverfront Times in St. Louis tested the stuff to find out why Missouri legislators were pondering a similar change. They reported: “I’m a little light–headed...only an extremely desperate teenager would resort to smoking this stuff.”

In a second piece of drug–related legislation, the House of Representatives are also looking to add Salvia Divinorum to the list of dangerous drugs (HB 1021), and finally close the “I’m growing Salvia for aesthetic, landscaping purposes” loophole in the existing law.

Burn, baby, burn... Drill, baby, drill

Known as the “Georgia Energy Freedom Act of 2010” the only real freedom in this bill (SB 401) is giving the governor the power to delay the statewide implementation of any federal legislation dealing with air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, or vehicle fuel economy until the state has had an opportunity to complete “a comprehensive assessment” of the impact of such legislation, and “the Governor finds that the implementation will benefit the citizens of Georgia.”

We’re all going to be free to breathe industrial pollution and burn fossil fuel until Sonny, or his replacement, says it’s all right to stop. It smells like a victory.

The seeds of liberty

Technically only a resolution, not a new law, this important piece of work (SR 274) designates a specific tulip poplar tree, which was planted adjacent to Dalton City Hall in 2006, as the official Liberty Tree of Georgia.

One person in the House voted against this resolution, the lone dissenter in either house of the Legislative Branch. We’re assuming Representative Bobby Franklin (R–Marietta) either doesn’t like to celebrate freedom, or had a Liberty Tree of his own he was hoping to designate.

The resolution will probably not diminish the patriotic significance of the small–scale Statue of Liberty that stands in downtown McRae.