2013 Legislative Session
Frantic final day at state Capitol
by Sarah Fay Campbell
It was the typical frenzy surrounding the 40th legislative day Thursday at the Georgia State Capitol.
Senators and representatives were looking toward a late night, with most of the major issues still undecided at 6 p.m.
Plenty of bills passed by late afternoon Thursday, a mix of both minor issues and some that, while not exactly major, are important nevertheless.
A conference committee approved the final version of the state’s budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1, shortly after 1 p.m., and copies of the budget were on legislators’ desks around 4:30. The budget has to be there for an hour before it can be voted on. The Senate took up the budget just before 6 p.m.
A compromise on “ethics reform” was reached by a conference committee on Thursday, but had not been voted on as of 6 p.m., and the House was in recess until 7.
The ethics proposal would limit lobbyist spending to $75 on any one legislator and bans lobbyist funding of overseas travel.
On the first day of the session, the Senate had approved new rules that set a $100 limit, with several exceptions. The House had, conversely, talked about cutting lobbyist spending on individual legislators altogether.
Currently, there is no limit on what lobbyists can spend to wine and dine legislators or send them on lavish trips. But all spending must be reported.
The ethics legislation was bogged down for a while over concerns about who had to register as a lobbyist. One version would have required almost anyone who goes to the Capitol to advocate for an issue to register, not just those who are professional lobbyists. Under the proposed compromise, anyone who is compensated or reimbursed $250 or more for their lobbying work would have to register.
“Sometimes you just have differences of opinions with people, and sometimes it’s more important that you do something rather than nothing,” House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, told reporters. “We’ve moved the ball down the field. For the first time, we do have a limitation on spending — and I think that’s important.”
Bills that had passed as of 5:30 include:
• House Resolution 502, which creates the Joint Study Committee on Mental Health Access. The committee was originally to be named the Committee on Mental Health and School Violence.
The committee will have nine members: three senators, three representatives, and three members appointed by the governor.
The committee is charged with studying the “conditions, needs, issues and problems” related to mental health, violence, and the state’s mental health system, and to recommend any changes or legislation that it deems to be necessary or appropriate.
The committee will make a report prior to Dec. 31.
• HB 487 changes the regulation of video poker and similar machines. Under the new law, the Georgia Lottery Corporation will have oversight over the machines, instead of the Georgia Department of Revenue. The bill calls for 5 percent of net receipts to be retained and directed to the HOPE Scholarship.
“It does not make anything legal that was illegal before, and it does provide for the HOPE Scholarship,” said Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, according to The Associated Press.
Currently, the machines are only legal if the payouts are vouchers for merchandise, not including gasoline, tobacco or alcohol. The new law would allow vouchers to be redeemed for lottery tickets.
• HB 156 makes changes to the state’s rules on electronic pornography and child pornography and exploitation.
“House Bill 156 amends our child pornography statues to better protect children,” said Sen. Hunter HIll, R-Smyrna, the bill’s sponsor. The bill makes it illegal to entice, seduce or lure a child into sexual misconduct or behavior through cellular devices or the Internet. According to the Senate Press Office, the GBI approached the General Assembly about loopholes in Georgia’s electronic pornography laws, and it provided the initial framework for the bill. HB 156 will fix the loopholes by making texting or e-mailing explicit photos from one consenting minor to another a misdemeanor; if an adult solicits a child to engage in sexual misconduct, it is a felony. The bill also makes it unlawful for an adult to contact the parents or guardians of a child in order to engage in sexual exploitation.