March 17, 2016

Winding down the 40-day session, the legislature met three days this week and will be out of session today and tomorrow to prepare for the final two legislative days.  The Senate had a three- page calendar that they worked through yesterday, finishing around 8:30 in the evening.  The House had a long day, too, but they adjourned a couple of hours earlier. The General Assembly will convene next week on Tuesday for Day 39 and on Thursday for Day 40.

There were several surprises yesterday, like the MARTA referendum replacing the fireworks regulation bill that was the original SB 369, and legislation for lowering the state income tax rate replacing the tax break for aquarium expansion that was the original HB 238.

Another surprise was the passage of a religious freedom bill, after lengthy debate, by both House and Senate yesterday evening. The bill, HB 757, was further amended by House members after different versions of it had passed the House and Senate.  It was presented in the House about 1½ hours after being printed.  The House passed the bill along party lines then sent it to the Senate for consideration, where it also passed along party lines. The bill will now go to Governor Deal for his consideration.

Governor Deal has now expressed concerns about the bill to allow concealed weapons on college campuses (HB 859).  This bill has passed both houses and is on his desk awaiting his action.

The House unanimously passed an education bill that would reduce the number of mandatory tests for students and make teacher evaluations less subject to students’ test scores (SB 364).  They also passed a City of Atlanta voter referendum that would allow a 0.5% sales tax from the T-SPLOST to fund MARTA expansion (SB 369).  The House Governmental Affairs committee passed a substitute-version of a carry-over bill from last session that now contains the medical cannabis bill (SB 145) since it did not get a hearing in Senate committee.

The Senate passed the tax break on sales of tickets to the Super Bowl and other major sports events (HB 951), which had been amended in the House to include the sales tax holiday for back-to-school shopping (July 30-31) and energy efficient appliances (Sept. 30-Oct. 2).  Since the Senate did not make any changes to the bill, it now goes to the Governor for his action. They passed a moratorium on the use of eminent domain for petroleum pipeline construction (HB 1036).  This bill will now go back to the House for agreement with a Senate change that would allow applications for EPD permits during the moratorium although permits would not be issued.  The Senate also passed drone regulation (HB 779) after removing several restrictions that were in the House version.  This bill will now go back to the House for them to agree or disagree to Senate changes.

Based on candidate qualifying that ended at noon last Friday, Republicans will retain control of Georgia’s House and Senate. Out of 56 Senate seats, Republicans will keep 29 of those seats– there are 18 Republican incumbents without any opposition and 11 Republican incumbents with only primary opposition. Out of 180 House seats, Republicans will occupy 92 of those seats–there are 68 Republican incumbents without any opposition and 24 Republican incumbents with only primary opposition. There is also an open seat in House District 29 and only one person, Matt Dubnik, a Republican qualified for that seat, so barring a write-in candidate, there will be 93 Republicans in the House.

Several House and Senate leaders have election opposition: House Speaker David Ralston, House Majority Leader Jon Burns and Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert.  Numerous House committee chairs have opposition, including Tommy Benton, Brooks Coleman, Sharon Cooper, Terry England, Howard Maxwell, Jimmy Pruett, Ed Rynders, Tom Taylor, Tom Weldon, Joe Wilkinson, and John Yates.  Information on all qualifiers can be found on the Secretary of State’s web site: http://elections.sos.ga.gov/GAElection/CandidateDetails

As always, please do not hesitate to contact any of us if you have questions or need information on any legislative issue. All bills can be found on the state’s legislative web site, and live action can be watched in the House and Senate chambers when they are in session.

 

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