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Balfour presides over Ga. Senate

It wasn't that long ago that Sen. Don Balfour was banished to the back of the room.

But this week the Republican from Snellville got to hold the gavel and preside over the General Assembly's highest chamber.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle handed over the reins to Balfour Tuesday, one of the busiest days of the 2007 session, when the Senate president had to leave the floor.

"It was neat," said Balfour, who rose from legislative back-bencher during Democrats' reign over the General Assembly to become chairman of the powerful Rules Committee but has never presided over the Senate. "I had no idea it was coming."

Balfour said his time in the hot seat did not give him any ambitions about running for the state's second-highest office.

"I probably wouldn't be good up there," he said. "I like to walk around too much."

Unterman chomps

No, Sen. Renee Unterman wasn't imitating a Florida Gators fan on the Senate floor last week.

The Buford Republican was bringing her arms together in chomp-like fashion, looking sure enough like one of the Gator faithful.

But she was imitating the hungry lobbyists outside the Senate chamber watching on a TV monitor as senators debated a bill on the future of Jekyll Island.

"Why are those lobbyists in the hall? The ones in alligator shoes?'' Unterman asked her colleagues during a speech from the Senate well. "The alligators are out there and they're snapping. It's big money.''

Unterman supported an amendment to limit development on the southern end of the island, a turnabout for the former Gwinnett County commissioner, who referred to her reputation in those days as the "queen of sprawl.''

"We're known for gangs, graffiti and a growing crime rate,'' she said. "I'm tired of the sprawl. I'm tired of the overgrowth. I'm tired of the crime.''

Marin takes stand

Supporters of a Senate bill making it a felony to be caught driving without a license for a third time say it's a public safety measure.

But Rep. Pedro Marin, D-Duluth, said last week that the real targets are illegal immigrants.

Marin, one of the three Hispanic members of the House, reminded his colleagues of the negative publicity Georgia received earlier this month when a young Canadian woman on her way to Florida was jailed overnight in Brunswick after being pulled over for running a red light.

"What kind of message will this send to Canadian tourists, European investors or the executives of the Kia plant we're building here?'' he asked. "If the perception becomes that Georgia will incarcerate all foreign nationals for even minor offenses ... the unintended consequences will be far and wide.''

Marin suggested the General Assembly hold off on further bills affecting illegal immigrants until Congress addresses the issue.

Political Notebook appears in the Thursday and Sunday editions of the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Staff Writer Dave Williams contributed to this report.

Camie Young can be reached via e-mail at camie.young@gwinnettdailypost.com.