ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia lawmakers are mulling a new law that would force them to uphold old laws they already passed.
House Bill 881 would prohibit lawmakers from diverting about $40 million in fees and fines from the purposes for which they were intended. The money is collected for programs that clean up old tire dumps or abandoned landfills and teach teenagers how to drive.
The bill would also reduce the fees and fines if too little of the money goes to the program for which it was created. In previous years, the cash has been diverted to help fill budget holes as the state's economy languished. The legislation overwhelmingly passed the House and now goes to the Senate.
"We have used all these resources we had to keep correctional officers in prisons, State Patrol officers on the road and teachers in the classroom," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, whose committee is considering the bill.
In 2005, lawmakers passed Joshua's Law and tacked on an extra fee onto fines for some traffic offenses to pay for drivers education courses across the state. But last year none of the $11 million collected went to the program.
"Which is more important, your child's life, or wasting money on pork?" asked Alan Brown, whose pushed for the law after his son, Joshua, was killed in a single-car accident in 2003.
Advocates like Brown have been complaining for years that the state has been diverting money meant for important programs.
In the early 1990s, lawmakers approved two pools of money to help clean up hazardous waste sites, update unlined landfills, improve solid waste collection and recycling and get rid of dumps along roads and streams. The money comes from landfill fees that residents pay in their garbage pickup bill and from a $1-per-tire charge for new tires.
So far, $200 million has been collected, but just $76 million has gone to the two funds, according to the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.
"I know in this county, if we had done something like that, we wouldn't have gotten re-elected," said Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker.
He said county residents have paid $1.5 million into the hazardous waste trust fund over the years and gotten nothing back.