ATLANTA - Georgia lawmakers gave final approval Thursday night to an $18.65 billion budget, sending the spending plan to Gov. Sonny Perdue's desk in the final hours of this year's legislative session.
The budget for the fiscal year starting on July 1 increases spending by about $1.2 billion over the current year.
It includes 4 percent pay raises for teachers and 2 percent to 4 percent increases for most state workers.
Just the teacher raises alone will cost the state $364 million next year.
"That's a huge commitment to education, to the people who do the jobs in the classroom,'' said Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Beyond those raises, about 10,000 law enforcement and public safety employees will get an additional 3 percent increase that was added by the Legislature to the request Perdue submitted in January.
The Senate took up the budget first, passing it 51-0. Then, the House followed suit 168-3.
While approving the budget was the only duty the General Assembly had to perform under Georgia's Constitution, lawmakers also passed a host of other major bills during a marathon final day at the Capitol.
The day got off to a slow start, with few bills gaining final passage until after the dinner hour, when the House and Senate picked up the pace by adopting a flurry of conference committee agreements on various measures.
At the top of the list were Senate passage of legislation cracking down on sex offenders in Georgia and approval by both the House and Senate of a bill limiting the power of local governments to condemn private property.
The conference committee's recommendations on the sex offender bill, which already had cleared the House on Tuesday, passed the upper chamber 52-1.
The bill lengthens prison sentences for sex criminals who victimize children under age 14. Once offenders finally are released from prison, the measure also provides stricter monitoring requirements so authorities can keep up with their movements.
The so-called eminent domain bill cleared both chambers unanimously, 171-0 in the House and 55-0 in the Senate.
The legislation limits eminent domain to public projects such as roads, schools and water and sewer lines. It would not allow local governments to condemn private property to make way for development that would enhance their tax bases, the scenario that led to a controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year in a Connecticut case.
"Public use is defined for the first time in Georgia law,'' said Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, who served on the conference committee. "What came out of the conference committee is stronger than what was voted on in the House and Senate.''
Meanwhile, the House adopted a compromise version of a bill authorizing cities and counties to post copies of the Ten Commandments in their courthouses. The legislation stems from a lawsuit that forced Barrow County officials to remove a Ten Commandments display from the courthouse in Winder.
However, with less than two hours to go before midnight, the Senate still had not signed off on the bill.
Earlier in the day, the House approved a major overhaul of Georgia's child-support laws. The bill passed 158-14 and went back to the Senate, where it originated.
The measure is the follow up to legislation enacted last year authorizing a new system for awards in Georgia based on the income of both parents.
Previous state law based child support only on the income of the noncustodial parent.
The Senate passed this year's bill in January.
But just in the last few days, the House stripped out a key provision that would reward noncustodial parents with lower awards if they spend a lot of time with their children.
The provision's critics argued that it would give noncustodial parents a monetary motive for being with their kids and could even prompt custodial parents to keep their ex-spouses from visiting their children for fear of losing child-support money.
"I do not like it when a child is used as a pawn in any situation,'' said Rep. Mack Crawford, R-Zebulon.
Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, a longtime advocate of the parenting-time provision that the House removed, said the bill still was worth supporting because the section requiring both parents to share in supporting their children remained intact.
"You can go home knowing that with income shares, you've done the right thing for Georgia's kids and Georgia's families,'' he told his colleagues shortly before the vote.
As is customary on the final day of the session, Perdue addressed the two legislative chambers separately.
"I think you should go back (home) with your head held high on a solid set of accomplishments this year,'' he told members of the Senate.
While the budget battles in the beginning of Perdue's term took place during times of low revenues, he said he was grateful spending was reined in and breaks were given on gas taxes and natural gas costs.
"We're in better skies and calmer waters now,'' the governor said in his remarks to the House. "We're glad Georgia has started moving forward again.''
Facing a re-election battle later this year, Perdue said he hoped to be back in 2007.
Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, who presides over the Senate, definitely won't be back in that role next year.
Taylor, who is leaving after two terms to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Perdue, was honored on his last day in the Senate chair.
"I've learned a lot in eight years,'' said Taylor, who represented Albany in the Senate for six terms before winning statewide office.
"(But) it's not goodbye. It's just farewell. I'll see you down the road.''