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Fri March 29, 2013
On Final Day of Session, Ethics Reform Approved, Gun Bill Fails
The 2013 legislative session wrapped up a little after midnight.
Major bills involving ethics reform and video gaming passed muster, while several controversial measures died, including one aiming to expand gun carry areas and another seeking to restrict abortion.
Voters overwhelmingly showed they wanted ethics reform during last year’s primaries.
Shortly before 11 p.m., lawmakers passed a bill imposing a $75 cap on lobbyist gifts and a requirement that all citizens compensated more than $250 to advocate at the Capitol must register as lobbyists.
House Speaker David Ralston didn’t get a ban on spending like he wanted, but called the bill historic.
“This measure improves and strengthens our law and it puts us on the road to doing even better things for the people of Georgia,” said Ralston.
William Perry of the government watchdog group Common Cause Georgia said there are still major loopholes, but he’s encouraged.
“If you’re looking for a law to completely limit spending, you’re going to be disappointed,” said Perry. “The good news for voters - public pressure has created a culture shift. There’s been a huge change in behavior about lobbyist spending.”
Lawmakers also cracked down on illegal video gaming machines and passed a budget for the fiscal year beginning in July. The $19.9 billion budget provides funds to shore up the state Medicaid program, keep up with K-12 enrollment, and incentivize community programs for troubled youth.
Meanwhile, a hotly-debated gun bill that would have expanded the places guns could be carried failed.
House and Senate leaders ultimately couldn’t agree on gun carry rules for college campuses. The House agreed to training courses for students aged 21-25. But the Senate balked.
Representative Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) accused the Senate of backing down to the university system, which opposed the bill.
“The Board of Regents considers themself a fourth branch of government – they are that strong and powerful – and they've just been adamant that they did not want any part of campus carry.”
Other notable bills that stalled include a measure aimed at cutting unemployment benefits to seasonal education workers and another making it illegal for state employee health plans to pay for abortions.
Gov. Nathan Deal said he understood lawmakers' reluctance to vote on the abortion measure, given its late introduction to session. He said he'll explore other options this summer.
“I think it's something that over the recess period we will all be looking at in terms of what our state health benefit plan provides and whether or not there are other ways short of legislation that this subject could be addressed,” said Deal.
Earlier this week, Deal backed a change.
“Within the context of the state employees’ health benefit plan, this should be an auxiliary benefit that’s paid for separately. That’s the effort that was undertaken in the Senate...and I support that,” said Deal.