The Fayette Citizen-News Page

Wednesday, January 3, 2001

Water, taxes, education top Hecht's 2001 agenda


In addition to tax cuts, teen driving restrictions, additional education and election reforms, and discussions of changing the state flag, Hecht expects management of water resources to be a hot topic in 2001.

"We'll have critical sessions in 2001 and 2002 in terms of managing water resources," Hecht told The Citizen as he prepared for the session.

Making sure that both ground water and surface water supplies stay clean is one battle front, he said, and the ongoing dispute between Georgia, Alabama and Florida over the use of water form the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers also needs attention, he added.

On a topic that is getting a lot of media attention lately, teen driving, Hecht said he favors changing the driving age to 17.

"But that's only a partial solution to the problem," he said, adding that he is working with other legislators on a bipartisan bill aimed at requiring "some level of drivers' education or certification."

He said restricting the number of passengers that can be in a car driven by young drivers is another idea that will get some attention.

Refinements to last year's education reform legislation is likely to include more funding for paraprofessionals, Hecht said, "not just for kindergarten or first grade, but probably K through three or K through five."

A half-billion-dollar classroom construction funding program is on his list as well, Hecht said, and a longevity bonus plan for teachers. "There are a number of teachers who are doing a great job who leave their careers before five years," he said. "We need a bonus for up to 30 years."

The elections process also needs reform, said Hecht, who was chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee's Elections Subcommittee in 1998. "We need to put together legislation that really favors the optical scan equipment," he said. "Punch cards have error rates around 32 per 1,000, while the optical scan error rate is only about two in 1,000."

Hecht said he is not opposed to Secretary of State Cathy Cox's call for ATM style voting machines and other election reforms, but added, "I'm very fearful of the cost. "I'm not sure we can spend the figures I've heard."

The legislature's Black Caucus will be pushing for removal of the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag during 2001, but Hecht declined to declare a stand on the issue.

"The debate is definitely coming," he said, adding, "I'm going to listen to the debate."

More tax cuts should come out of the session, Hecht predicted. The state is in the third year of a four-year plan to cut unemployment insurance taxes by $1 billion, and also in the third year of a plan designed to exempt the first $50,000 of a home's fair market value from property taxes.

This year's property tax cut should be $300 million, he said, out of an overall $2 billion, ten-year plan.

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