ATLANTA – Legislators will work into the evening Thursday racing to beat their own, internal deadline for considering bills they want to keep alive for the last 10 days of the 2013 legislative session.
The House starts the long day at 10 a.m. with 37 bills on its agenda, including ones that could help attract grocery stores to downtown Athens, prohibit cities from running public WIFI networks and revise a tax break designed to spur large tourist attractions.
The Senate also meets at 10 with 29 of its own bills, including ones that would allow pumping surface water into some aquifers, make medical-identity theft a felony and provide car tags to retired legislators.
Lawmakers call the 30th day in the legislative session Crossover Day because general bills that haven’t passed the House or Senate and “crossed over” to the other side of the Capitol are dead for the year. The proposals may still show up as amendments to other bills dealing with the same section of the law.
Resolutions and local bills concerning a single city or county aren’t subject to the rule. Neither is the budget for next year, which isn’t due for a House vote until March 20.
The House and Senate’s rules committees decide which of the bills approved by the dozens of standing committees get voted on by the full body. The leadership packs the rules committees with allies to ensure that minority bills only get to the floor for a vote with the leaders’ blessings.
Usually, the leadership will include a few bills that the minority party considers important at the end of its agenda. They serve as a reminder to the minority not to drag out debates on majority bills which could use up all the time before their own bills are called for a vote.
Typically, both rules committees meet two or three times during Crossover Day to add bills for consideration, depending on how fast debate is going on those already scheduled. The House Rules Committee has 33 more bills to choose from of those already recommended for passage by the standing, subject-matter committees.
If it added all 33, hundreds of bills will have never reached the floor. While midnight will formally mark their death, most effectively died Monday and Tuesday when the subject-matter committees completed their last meetings before Crossover without considering them.
To show how carefully the leadership picks bills for the floor, consider that in the first 29 days of the session 41 percent of the 153 House votes on bills and 69 percent of the 115 Senate votes have been unanimous. Bills are rarely defeated on the floor, but they may be recommitted to the rules committee if they appear to be in doubt.