FY 2010 Budget – While planning an amended FY 2009 and FY 2010 budget, the Legislature is dealing with a $3.1 billion deficit.  If it were not for Georgia receiving federal stimulus funds from The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in the amount of $1.4 billion for the 2010 budget, cuts to education, health care and public safety would be catastrophic. The House passed its version of the FY 2010 budget on Thursday.  The budget bill, HB 119, now moves to the Senate.  The House version contains funds for school nurses.  The Governor had cut out this program in his recommended budget, but due to a huge number of letters, phone calls and emails showing public support, the House restored funding.  I have worked with Chairman Chuck Martin who chairs the Public Safety subcommittee in an effort to keep four regional crime labs open, including the Summerville Crime Lab.  His committee was able to identify and appropriate funds to continue to operate the labs from July 1 through March of 2010.  At that time, the Legislature will be back in session and it is hoped that funds can be found to continue their operation.  Of course, the Senate and the Governor still have to approve these funds in the budget. Another bill of interest to teachers is moving through the Senate.  The bill will extend the time for contracts to be finalized with teachers from April 15 to May 15th.  I support this bill because I feel school systems need more time to be assured of the amount of state funding to expect.  It could be the first week of April before the budgets get final approval by the Senate and House.  Then the Governor and his staff review the budget before he signs it.  Also, the Governor has line item veto powers which he often uses.  It is entirely possible that the economy could continue to worsen and that the Governor’s revenue estimate around which the budget is built would not be accurate.  After all, February’s revenue collections were down almost 35%. School systems across the State are looking ahead and seeking ways to save on expenses in order to save jobs, now and in the future.  Rep. Ed Lindsey who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on K-12 Education suggested furloughing teachers as a way to preserve jobs if the economy continues to decline.  There is no bill requiring furloughs – just a shortage of money.  I am not sure how furlough days for teachers could be planned without affecting the quality of instruction.  But, other departments have already implemented furlough days.  I believe DFACS has been furloughing since October.  Also, Speaker Richardson warned House members that this might not be our last session this year if the revenue continues to fall. Food Inspections­ – SB 80 which passed 158-0 addresses the salmonella outbreak at a peanut processing plant in Early County.  SB 80 seeks to strengthen the reporting process.  The legislation requires food processors to report lab results of any poisonous or deleterious substances in their products within 24 hours to the Department of Agriculture.  Furthermore, this legislation requires those records to be kept by the processor for a minimum of 2 years and they must make those records available to the Department of Agriculture upon request by the Department.  Violators could be charged with a felony. Hunting Measures – Two bills concerning hunting were also voted on this week as well.  HB 111 states it shall be unlawful to hunt at night any game bird or game animal in this state except for alligators, raccoons, opossums, foxes, and bobcats.  Any light used to hunt raccoons, opossums, foxes, or bobcats shall be carried on the person of a hunter, affixed to a helmet or hat work by a hunter, or be part of a belt system worn by a hunter under the bill. HB 110, which also passed 162-3 on Thursday, March 19th, provides an exception to a law against trapping wildlife for wildlife on the rights of way of public roads or highways. Compensation Resolution – On Friday, March 20th the House passed HR 161 by a vote of 122-34.  In 1979 Jerome White was wrongly convicted of rape.  Mr. White was convicted largely on eyewitness testimony.  DNA testing led by the Georgia Innocence Project exonerated Mr. White and led authorities to identify the actual perpetrator of the crimes.  Mr. White, now 48 years old, lost almost three decades of his life, and now he is the longest serving of the nation’s exonerees due to post-conviction DNA testing.  HR 161 compensates him $700,000 from the State for his time in prison.  The funding is spread out over 20 years as long as he does not commit another crime. Blind Pedestrians – In House action on Tuesday, March 17th, House members approved HR 562 by a vote of 159-0.  This resolution encourages all Georgians to be aware of blind pedestrians and their rights.  It also directs the Department of Driver Services to review and assess their current efforts to inform new and experienced drivers that persons with visual impairments have the right of way at all times. Rep. Reece may be reached at 404-656-7859 or barbara.reece@house.ga.gov.  Rep. Reece serves on the Education Committee, State Institutions and Properties Committee, Science and Technology Committee, and the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee.  She is also Secretary of the Rural Caucus