Ga. lawmakers have many issues still pending

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ATLANTA — The General Assembly convenes Thursday for the final day of the 2013 session. Here’s a look at some of the legislation that’s already passed, what’s pending and some bills whose future is uncertain.

Georgia Rep. Buddy Harden, R-Cordele (from left) Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun, and Rep. Tom McCall, R-Elberton, talk on the House floor. The General Assembly is two days away from ending its annual session.  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Georgia Rep. Buddy Harden, R-Cordele (from left) Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun, and Rep. Tom McCall, R-Elberton, talk on the House floor. The General Assembly is two days away from ending its annual session.

PASSED

• Medicaid financing: What promised to be the dominant issue of the session has already been signed by Gov. Nathan Deal. Lawmakers approved Deal’s compromise plan that lets the state avoid losing $450 million in federal health care support without forcing them to vote explicitly on whether to extend an existing tax on the hospital industry. Under the bill, a board of the governor’s appointees will decide what assessment hospitals will pay to help fund Medicaid rather than pay a tax set by the General Assembly.

• Juvenile Justice Overhaul: Sweeping changes would steer more non-violent youthful offenders to community-based programs, rather than traditional incarceration.

• Youth Concussions: Students at public, private and charter schools would have to be evaluated by medical professionals before returning to competition if the athletes display any concussion symptoms during games, practice or tryouts.

• Local School Boards: School systems couldn’t spend public money on legal fees defending local school board members who are subject to removal from office because of accreditation issues. The bill comes on the heels of the governor using his authority to suspend and replace several DeKalb County school board members.

PENDING

• Budget: The House and Senate each passed a spending plan that approaches $41 billion in state and federal funds for fiscal 2014. But the chambers have to work out the differences. The House wants to avoid cuts to Medicaid providers. The Senate would impose a slight cut, while steering more money to charter schools. Both sides have agreed to more money for pre-kindergarten program and HOPE grants for technical colleges. Most state agencies will get a modest cut, though enough that some layoffs could be ahead.

• Lobbying Rules: The gamesmanship continues on limiting what lobbyists can spend on state officials. The House is arguing for an outright ban, with some notable exceptions. It would also require some volunteer lobbyists to register with the state and report their spending. The Senate wants a $100 cap, also with exceptions. The Senate version also attaches no time frame to the $100 limit, leaving its intent open to interpretation.

• Guns: Several ideas have been rolled into the same bill. House Republicans have supported letting churches choose whether to allow concealed weapons (they’re banned outright now) and allowing local school boards to arm administrators. A point of disagreement is whether to lift existing limits on carrying weapons on college campuses, which has drawn opposition from the university system officials.

• Abortion: The Senate has launched a last-minute effort to ban state employee insurance from covering elective abortions. Now the matter is in the House.

• Labor Laws: The House is expected to offer final approval of a bill that would limit unemployment benefits for certain seasonal workers and also require that workers be able to opt out at any time from automatic paycheck deductions for union dues.

UNCERTAIN

While these bills face an uphill climb, they could be resurrected in the final hours of the session.

• Parent-Trigger: School choice advocates want to allow parents and teachers to be able to vote on governing and management changes at poorly performing schools.

• MARTA Privatization: Besides a board restructuring, House Republicans want to require that many functions of the transit authority, from technology support to human resources and accounting, be privatized. They apparently can’t get it through the Senate.


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