More money to keep children active and healthy, increased support for education, health care and infrastructure, and a fourth-consecutive balanced budget are the highlights of the spring session of the provincial legislature. The House of Assembly concluded Thursday, May 19, after passing 25 new government bills and six opposition bills into law thanks to the co-operation of all parties. “Passage of what is a very positive budget for Nova Scotians was only accomplished thanks to the continued co-operation of all MLAs,” said Premier John Hamm. “It is another example of how our government and the opposition are keeping our collective commitment to make minority government work for this province.” Budget 2005 also invests more money to strengthen the Nova Scotia economy, help struggling families make ends meet, and help seniors and people with disabilities live more independently. The budget contains no new taxes and will mean the year ends with a $63.3-million surplus. In a measure called for by both businesses and municipalities, legislation passed this session will axe the business occupancy tax, with a phase-in of April 2006. Law and order measures include a change to clamp down on some teenagers who use vehicles to break the law. This means 16- and 17-year-olds will be treated as adults in court if charged under the Motor Vehicle Act. Changes were also adopted to assist cross-border policing efforts and to enact a law that allows responsible drivers to have unopened liquor in a motor vehicle. “Although I am disappointed that an important act regarding the crucial issue of involuntary psychiatric treatment was unable to proceed, we remain committed to advancing this in the fall session,” the premier said. “This mental health reform speaks for those citizens without the ability to make their own treatment decisions.” Other highlights of the spring session include a change to the Public Utilities Act to ensure Nova Scotians have a voice to represent them at major utility hearings; legislation to provide government with all necessary powers, including full regulation, to protect consumers at the gas pump; a bill officially setting up the new Office of Immigration as the province moves toward doubling the number of immigrants moving to Nova Scotia; a new Paramedics Act to ensure safer patient care by regulating the practice of paramedicine; a Special Places Act so that Nova Scotians will be enjoying more new nature reserves sooner and; a new law to allow children in permanent care to be adopted, but still continue contact with birth parents or other relatives. The 2005 Financial Measures Act touches on some of the key priorities of the budget this year, ranging from raising healthy children to promoting good fiscal management with an updated debt management plan. Bills that passed after being brought forward by opposition include changes to ensure that funds flowing from the federal government further assist post-secondary education students with their debt loads, an act to recognize one-time Nova Scotia resident Alexander Graham Bell Day (March 7), and a bill to enhance the self-managed attendant-support program. All members of the legislature held a special ceremony at Province House to mark what is both the Year of the Veteran and the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Veterans were present for the announcement that the province would honour them with new certificates of recognition and a book of remembrance to commend them for their contributions and sacrifices. “The legislature is an important and appropriate place to recall those sacrifices, because it is thanks to our veterans that we are able to enjoy our democratic freedoms,” Premier Hamm said. Nova Scotians will also benefit from other legislation passed this spring, including: changes to the Elections Act to solve former difficulties for voters with the electoral list; a bill to provide increased protection and improved enforcement under proposed amendments to the Nova Scotia Securities Act; a bill that gives municipalities the ability to establish a policy providing for the reduction of municipal taxes in the 2005-06 year; and a change to allow the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission to provide its MACPASS technology to other authorities and improve its service.