ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday signed into law a sweeping overhaul of the state’s open-records rules, touting the measure as among several legislative successes from this year’s General Assembly session.
The measure, which takes effect July 1, reduces the cost of obtaining public documents and stiffens penalties for illegally withholding public information. But it narrows the period of time when the public can scrutinize university president candidates.
Attorney General Sam Olens, who supported the bill, also attended the bill-signing Tuesday. It followed an appearance by Deal before the Atlanta Press Club.
There, Deal said the Legislature was focused on making the state more business-friendly and getting Georgians back to work. He cited tax and criminal justice reform as major achievements, reiterated his support for the passage of the statewide transportation tax referendum this summer and urged renewed commitment to improving K-12 education.
All, Deal said, are crucial to making the state competitive as the economy recovers.
“All of the things that we did were under the big umbrella that I had set for my administration ... to work very hard to make Georgia the number one place in the nation to do business,” Deal told the audience of journalists, lobbyists and lawmakers. “Many of the ills of our society can be traced to the lack of good employment.”
Toward that end, Deal said he would be prioritizing education reform alongside the sentencing changes approved during this legislative session.
A Republican in his second year in office, Deal said the bipartisan support for both the tax and criminal justice measures was a model for how he would like to see government work in Georgia. Faced with enormous prison costs, political leaders said their goal is to steer nonviolent offenders into treatment rather than prison.
The tax code overhaul approved by lawmakers cuts taxes for married couples, slowly repeals the property tax on married couples and phases out the energy tax that companies pay to produce their goods.
“When there were differences, we tried to work out differences,” he said. “When there were legitimate reasons for doing something a little different than our original format, we tried to accommodate those legitimate reasons. I believe that’s the way we should try to govern.”
Deal is in the midst of the 40-day period during which he must sign or reject bills passed during this year’s session. The Republican-controlled Legislature also voted to restrict abortions five months after women get pregnant; ban assisted suicide; and reduce unemployment benefits for workers.
Also this week, Deal signed into law a requirement for welfare applicants to pass a drug test to be eligible to receive benefits. Some have questioned its constitutionality and it faces a likely court challenge.
Deal said “breaking the cycle of dependency” is good for the state.
“We can improve our state dramatically if we improve the ability for children to grow up in a home where their family is supported by a tax- paying parent rather than in a home that continues to depend on government assistance in order to sustain themselves,” he said. “A good job is the best way to break that cycle.”
The governor also highlighted the 2013 fiscal year budget, which includes funding for 400 new residency slots for doctors. The budget will also restore $200,000 to the state ethics board. The agency has suffered more than $1.2 million in cuts in recent years, hindering its ability to conduct investigations and make technology upgrades.