The Georgia Senate upped the ante on the House as the two chambers attempt to overhaul lobbying rules under the Gold Dome. The Senate passed its version of House Bill 142 after rewriting several key provisions. The current version would limit lobbyists to spending $100 at a time when seeking to influence a state official. The original legislation submitted by House Speaker David Ralston would have banned gifts outright with several exceptions. Ralston’s plan would allow gifts — with no cap — when lobbyists spend on entire committees, subcommittees and legislative caucuses. And he’d allow travel for official duties, except airline costs. The Senate version eliminated most exceptions, but would still permit unlimited spending on undefined group events. Each side says its version is stricter. Any compromise must happen before lawmakers adjourn on March 28.
Odds and ends:
* The House voted 116-66 on Friday to support a proposal that would allow some mentally ill people to legally carry a firearm. The legislation, backed by a group called GeorgiaCarry.org, would permit probate court judges to issue such a license to people who have received voluntary, in-patient treatment for mental health or substance abuse issues in the last five years. Right now, judges can deny permits to those people. It would also allow school districts to arm their employees, a Republican-backed response to a massacre at a Connecticut elementary school. Other provisions would allow students with a license to carry a gun to take their firearms on parts of public colleges and universities, though not student housing or athletic events. College leaders have objected to that plan. The state Senate earlier approved less-sweeping changes.
* The Georgia Senate has adopted its version of a state operating budget. With three working days left in the session, top House and Senate members must reconcile the different versions. Both chambers propose spending almost $41 billion in state and federal money during the fiscal year that begins July 1. Each chamber approved cuts to most state agencies. But they also endorsed Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposals to spend more to extend the pre-kindergarten calendar from 170 days to 180 days and to add money to HOPE grants for technical college. But there’s a long list of differences. The House version rejected Deal’s recommendation to cut payments to health care providers treating Medicaid recipients. The Senate scaled back Deal’s cut, but didn’t eliminate it. Instead, they direct new money to charter schools.
* Georgia lawmakers are considering classifying the names of companies that supply execution drugs as a “confidential state secret.” The language was added in the Senate to a bill sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner. It passed the Senate on Friday and returns to the House. It would prevent the disclosure of information that reveals the name and contact information of any person or entity who participates in an execution. Supporters say it’s necessary to protect the people and companies involved in court-ordered executions. But critics say it violates government transparency surrounding a very serious act, taking someone’s life.
* The Georgia Senate has approved a sweeping overhaul of the state’s juvenile justice system. The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved the bill sponsored by Sandy Springs Republican Rep. Wendell Willard. It aims to reduce the number of repeat offenders and reduce costs. It’s based on recommendations of a special panel convened by Gov. Nathan Deal. It calls for emphasizing community-based programs over residential detention centers for non-violent youth offenders, providing judges with greater discretion in sentencing and offering more mental health and drug counseling. The bill now goes back to the House for approval of minor changes made by a Senate committee.
* The state Senate has approved a bill that allows the University System of Georgia to take over management of the Georgia Archives. The bill unanimously passed the Senate Thursday. It now heads to Gov. Nathan Deal. The archives have been administered by the Secretary of State’s office, where it was heavily affected by budget cuts. It was nearly closed to the public last year except for limited appointments. The transfer is set to begin July 1.
* The Georgia Senate has passed a bill requiring childcare employees to pass a national fingerprint records check every five years. Lawmakers voted 44-4 Wednesday to approve House Bill 350, which requires all childcare center directors and Department of Early Care and Learning workers to pass the records checks. Georgia law currently requires directors of state-licensed childcare centers to pass national fingerprint records background checks, but all other employees are only required to pass background checks based on their names.
* Reacting to high-profile deaths on Lake Lanier, the Georgia House approved a proposal to lower the allowable blood-alcohol limits for hunters and anyone driving a water vessel in the state. Senate Bill 136 would set the limit at .08 grams per 100 grams of blood (.08 percent), where it already stands for anyone operating a motor vehicle on Georgia roads. The sportsmen’s limit is currently .10 grams, where it has remained in the years since lawmakers adopted tougher DUI laws for motorists. The bill cleared the House with little opposition. Because of changes in the lower chamber, the measure now must go back to the Senate for further consideration, but it is expected to pass easily and head to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.
“The Senate bill is a cap that’s not a cap, and a ban that’s not a ban,” said House Speaker David Ralston, on proposed ethics reform by the Senate.
“The gun-free zones that we see today give our citizens a false sense of security,” said Rep. Donna Sheldon (R-Dacula) during discussion of changes to state gun regulations. “We all know that criminals who want to harm law-abiding citizens ... they carry their guns regardless of what our state law says. They don’t walk into a mall and say, ‘Can I carry a gun?’”
Three days remain in the legislative session.
Lawmakers will be back in session on Monday. Several big questions remain, including whether lawmakers will be able to forge a compromise on changes to gun regulations and an overhaul of lobbying rules. They also need to reconcile differences within the fiscal budget.