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Georgia House, Senate pass state budget amendment with judicial raises, restored school cuts

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ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers approved a $40 billion state spending plan for the next year Tuesday night, giving raises to the state's top judges and pushing $103 million in costs for some part-time school employees' health insurance to local districts.

A six-member conference committee negotiated differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, sending the plan to lawmakers late Monday. The state's economy has shown signs of growth after the recession, giving lawmakers more flexibility as they developed the spending plan.

The measure now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal, who can accept, reject, or revise it.

The budget plan restores $280 million cut from public school districts in recent years, but it does not raise it to levels recommended by the state's funding formula.

Lawmakers also fully funded Deal's request of about $768,000 for eight new positions at the state's ethics commission, which enforces campaign-finance and other ethics laws. But they disagreed with Deal's recommendation to remove some part-time school employees, including bus drivers, from the state's health insurance plan, instead opting to require that districts pay the employer contribution.

During floor speeches summarizing the budget plan, both chairmen of the chambers' appropriations committees said increases in Medicaid reimbursement rates for some primary care, obstetrics and gynecology procedures would make up for federal decreases.

Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, was the lone vote against the plan in the Senate and said he could not support a budget without expansion of Medicaid.

"There is one issue that remains, like a sore thumb, in the public discourse here in Georgia," Fort said. "That sore thumb, that obvious issue, is Medicaid expansion. This is an issue that cries out for attention."

A state budget is the only action lawmakers are constitutionally required to take. By law, the legislative session runs 40 days. The General Assembly is not in session on Wednesday and must adjourn by midnight Thursday.

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