2013 Legislative Session

Sen. Crane champions pro-life cause in legislature

by Sarah Fay Campbell

Today is the last day of the 2013 Georgia General Assembly session.

The final day, known as “Sine Die,” will be a busy one.

“There are several things up in the air and that is what makes [Thursday] such an exciting day,” said State Senator Mike Crane, R-Newnan.

“It’s like the final volley, as bills go back and forth between the House and the Senate... trying to reach some consensus agreement on what legislation should ultimately look like,” Crane said.

The major issues that are still up in the air are ethics reform for elected officials — especially the legislators themselves — and a few bills dealing with gun rights.

For those issues, “I’m in the conversations but I’m not in the meetings. So I’m not sure what the final results” will be, Crane said.

“We won’t know, really, until the day ends what these will ultimately look like.” Even though both issues are before a conference committee, “they can still change tomorrow,” Crane said late Wednesday.

Conference committees are made up of senators and representatives, and are appointed to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of bills. If they come to an agreement, they will issue a “conference committee report,” which will then be voted on by the House and Senate.

Because this is the first year of the two-year “biennial,” bills that don’t pass today will still be alive and can be taken up when the 2014 session starts. Bills left at the end of 2014 are dead.

One bill that Crane will be following will be House Bill 246, which was sent back to the House after an amendment Crane proposed was approved.

The bill dealt with employee benefits at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Crane offered an amendment that would prohibit state health insurance plans from covering abortions.

Crane’s amendment allowed no exceptions for abortions needed to save the life or health of the mother. An amendment to the amendment, offered by Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, added “unless needed due to the mother’s medical necessity or to preserve mother’s life.”

The bill was sent back to the House.

“It has received some real favorable consideration in the House,” Crane said. “But whether it makes it to the floor for a vote — your guess is really as good as mine,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “We’ll know at some point tomorrow.”

“We’re optimistic about it,” Crane said. He’s heard some good signals and Gov. Nathan Deal spoke out in favor of the change.

“I think we’ve got a good opportunity to do something good for the taxpayers of Georgia, so I’m looking forward to that,” Crane said.

Crane said he is hearing that the bill might be tweaked a bit in the House; if so, it would then be sent back to the Senate, which can agree to the changes or insist on its position.

“What I am hearing is we would agree if they amend it like we think they’re going to,” Crane said. He said he’s heard that the tweaks would be to make sure there is “medically solid language.”

Some people may not realize that the State Health Benefit Plan, which covers all state employees and public school teachers, pays for abortions “like any other” medical procedure.

Using federal money for abortions has been forbidden since the Hyde Amendment in 1976, which has been renewed many times.

“This really kind of mirrors that” at the state level, Crane said.

Crane had sponsored a bill that would prohibit state funding of abortions but “it never made it out of committee,” Crane said. “It was basically the same thing the Senate passed out last year. It wasn’t like it was some new idea that nobody had ever heard of before.”

Crane said it seems to be the case that “it takes multiple attempts over the course of a couple of sessions for any idea to take traction and get hold and see some progress.”

Amending other bills to include the language in bills that didn’t get far is a common practice.

“As you learn the Senate rules better and better, you see where you can use the rules to accomplish your goals,” Crane said.

There are lots of rules for amendments. They have to deal with the same subject matter and code section as the bill to be amended, and there are other requirements.

“You may not ever get a bill coming through that relates to whatever you want to present, but if you find one that does, you have an opportunity to make some changes,” Crane said.

The Rules Committee sets the “calendar” for each legislative day. That is the list of bills that will be heard. Crane goes through the list each night, if its released in time, and there is a group that gets together in the mornings to look over the list. He saw an opportunity for his amendment in HB 246.

“I had legislative counsel draft up an amendment that would work,” Crane said. They got it to him just in time — as the bill was being presented. “It was down to the wire... time wise,” Crane said.

Because this is only the first year of the two-year session, new bills are being introduced.

One bill that will be introduced today would replace the state’s income tax with a “Fair Tax” sales tax. State Representative David Stover, R-Palmetto, is one of the sponsors of the bill. He said Wednesday a that one of the reasons the bill is being introduced now is to allow for discussion over the summer and leading up to the 2014 session.

Though guns and ethics are the big issues for the last day, there are many, many other issues in the mix.

“We tabled probably 20 or more bills that we can take up tomorrow,” Crane said. “The majority of which are House bills. But we’ve got a pretty full calendar with that plus all the agrees and disagrees that we will see come over from the House. It’s a very busy day with information changing rapidly.”

Things can change so fast, “we’ve got to stay focused and make sure you’re looking at the most current language,” he said. Little changes can make a big difference.

Senators and representatives will be running from the time the session opens until late into the night.

“Thankfully there is a time limit,” Crane said. “We’ve got until midnight.”

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