Week Ahead: Lawmakers get busy as they head to the halfway point

By Walter C. Jones 
Morris News Service
ATLANTA – Wednesday will be "Hump Day" for members of the General Assembly, not just because it's downhill to Friday, but also because it's the midpoint in the 2013 legislative session.
Most of the headline-making bills are already in the mix by now, and it's just a matter of them working through the political machinery, according to House Majority Leader Larry O'Neal, R-Bonaire.
"As far as any major initiatives boiling up, I don't really know of any. We're at that point in time where a lot of legislation has had the opportunity to travel through committees," he said.
So far, 542 bills have been introduced of the roughly 1,500 that's expected in a typical legislative session. Only five have made it all the way to being signed into law.
"I suspect that by the beginning of next week, that's going to be different. There's a lot of legislation traveling out there," O'Neal said.
On Tuesday, the first day after a four-day recess, the House considers four bills, including House Bill 124 that defines what a package store can sell. The Senate considers two bills, including one that shortens the ginseng-harvesting season.
As O'Neal said, the committees plan to be active, pushing out bills for consideration by the full House and Senate.
One committee, the House Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee, even meets Monday during the recess to hear testimony on four bills that would liberalize the state's gun restrictions, including allowing them in churches.
Tuesday, Mental Health Day, committee action includes consideration of a requirement that the General Assembly approve all rules of the Department of Natural Resources, increasing the requirements to run for sheriff, and giving individuals control over the use of their image in photographs. 
Also that day, Gov. Nathan Deal speaks to Augusta civic leaders and the Future Farmers of America. The Cover Georgia coalition holds a two-hour briefing for the press on reasons to expand Medicaid.
Wednesday, committees will consider bills that revise the Tourism Development Act, allow local sales taxes of less than a penny, and limit cities and counties' say over cell-phone towers.
Thursday is Disability Day. It could also turn out to be Ethics Day since the House Ethics Committee considers a pair of bills further restricting people owing late taxes from serving in public office, and Speaker David Ralston's bill limiting lobbyists' gifts could be before the full House that day. 
That's also when the Black Conservative Summit in a legislative committee room will showcase policy proposals important to minority voters.

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