Christmas comes early

A newly empowered state GOP breaks out its legislative wish list

Now that Republicans control both chambers of the Georgia General Assembly for the first time since Reconstruction, consider this spring's legislative session a playground for the GOP agenda. Some folks will be trying to make up for 130 years of lost time. Others will be coordinating payback for their political supporters. Once things get going under the Gold Dome, expect these conservative-friendly issues to top the legislation shortlist:

Redistricting: All signs point to a retooling of congressional district lines to make it more difficult for Democratic reps Jim Marshall of Macon and John Barrow of Athens to win re-election in 2006.

Faith-based initiatives: Expect holy-roller pols to try to toss out the so-called "Blaine amendment," which prohibits tax money from going directly to churches. And prepare yourself for the possibility of "Choose Life" license plates, with proceeds benefiting "crisis pregnancy centers" that use scare tactics to deter women from having abortions.

Anti-abortion agenda: How far will they go? Dunno, but you can bet the starting place will be bills to require a 24-hour cooling-off period for women seeking abortions and to mandate that doctors read patients a GOP-approved script on the horrors of the procedure.

Insurance rollback: Big insurance would like nothing better than to discard mandatory coverage for mammograms, prostate exams, pap smears, post-delivery hospitalization and a host of other benefits that mostly affect women.

Tort reform: We're likely to end up with more extreme legislation aimed at reducing medical malpractice insurance rates than we would have gotten under a two-party compromise. Besides a $250,000 cap for malpractice victims' "pain and suffering," we could see limits on product liability — such as for faulty tires or dangerous toys — meaning less protection for Georgia consumers.

School vouchers: Will Gov. Sonny Perdue, a big fan of school vouchers, create a modest pilot program somewhere downstate or launch a full-scale overhaul of Georgia's educational system to establish a record for re-election? Stay tuned.

Ethics reform: Perdue says he wants to enact a whistle-blower protection law for state employees; prohibit public officials from lobbying for a year after leaving office; ban campaign fundraising during the legislative session; and require more comprehensive financial disclosure. If it doesn't pass now, he won't be able to blame the Democrats.


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