News Analysis: Measures have many ways to get left behind

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ATLANTA - The reason some bills pass the General Assembly and others don't often mystifies people whose jobs prevent them from walking the halls of the Capitol daily.

Bills popular with the public often disappear. Exhibit A is the Sunday sales of alcohol bill. Two surveys have shown roughly 70 percent support statewide, a threshold House Speaker Glenn Richardson had once set for measures to be added to the Republican agenda.

A Senate committee voted 4-3 Wednesday to recommend its passage, but that doesn't mean the full Senate will have a crack at it. The Senate Rules Committee can stall it forever and will if there's no sign that the House intends to bring it to the floor.

House Speaker Glenn Richardson told reporters Wednesday that he senses the House might be closely divided and that he won't allow the bill to move to the floor unless a head count suggests it will pass.

Because Gov. Sonny Perdue has essentially said he would veto the bill, a floor vote would only serve as symbolism. Georgia governors have rarely issued vetoes before the Legislature adjourns for the year, eliminating any chance for an override without a special session.

THEN THERE ARE the two legislative proposals that harken back to the 19th century. One is a draft resolution issuing a formal apology by the state for its role in slavery. The other would make permanent the Legislature's yearly recognition of April as Confederate Heritage and History Month.

The latter bill's author, Sen. Jeff Mullis, is a Republican from Chickamauga, site of one of the Civil War's major battles. His measure was introduced March 1, well before the idea for an apology was announced by Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. It was also more than two months after the House passed a resolution, without objections, proclaiming 2007 the year of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Because Mr. Mullis' bill is in the system and has received unanimous support at the committee level, it's more likely to pass than a resolution that hasn't been introduced. But that didn't stop commentators from accusing Republicans running the Legislature of rushing it through while stalling the apology.

House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, of St. Simons Island, said Friday that the Republicans' repeal of Jim Crow laws two years ago was more meaningful than the symbolism of a resolution.

Just three hours later, Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, said he and Mr. Williams had struck a deal to jointly sponsor a bill that he says would "be more substantive than a resolution itself." He didn't offer details.

Mr. Johnson's support doesn't guarantee the bill's passage in the House or that it will be signed into law. His message to the House speaker and the governor likely is that the quickest way to end criticism of the GOP on the issue is to just pass it and be done with it.

LITTLE HAD BEEN accomplished in this session until committees got busy during the two-week recess while awaiting Congress to solve the state's PeachCare deficit. Senate committees alone advanced more than 100 bills during the break. Clearly, they won't all pass.

Among the disappointed is likely to be Mr. Perdue. He wants a pair of constitutional amendments to limit lottery spending to the pre-kindergarten and HOPE Scholarship programs and to authorize taxpayer funds to religious organizations operating social programs.

Another constitutional amendment pending would make English the official language of the state.

The amendments, though, aren't exactly pressing issues. They wouldn't even be on the ballot until 2008, which some observers suspect is their main objective anyway, stirring up conservative voters.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com.


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