It’s Legislative Day 40 under the gold dome; the Georgia General Assembly is expected to adjourn Sine Die before midnight tonight, bringing the 2008 session to a close. Lawmakers will have two live broadcasts this evening at 7 and 11 PM. In our special live coverage of sine die at 11 PM, Lawmakers’ Nwandi Lawson and David Zelski will be joined by Tom Crawford, National Editor of CapitolImpact.com for political analysis.
Here are some of the issues, bills and resolutions we think will be making news today:
TAX REFORM: HR 1246/HB 1244
These two pieces of legislation have become the primary vehicles for tax reform in the 2008 session. Earlier this week, the House stripped Senate provisions out of HR 1246 and replaced it with an elimination of the ad valorem tax on personal vehicles. The House also changed Senate provisions in HB 1244, moving a proposed 10% reduction in state income taxes back by three years to begin in 2011 instead of 2008. The measures are expected to be discussed by a Conference Committee today, the House appointed conferees on Tuesday.
SCHOOL VOUCHERS: SB 458
Withdrawn and recommitted to House Rules Tuesday, we expect SB 458 to make it to the House Floor at some point before midnight. The bill is Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson’s school voucher bill. The legislation is designed to give vouchers for students in low-performing public schools. If a school loses accreditation or remains on the “needs improvement” list for seven years, the school system would be required to provide parents with the option of a voucher for use at a private school. The Clayton County school system has been used as an example in the debate this session because the system is in danger of losing it’s accreditation on September 1. Johnson held a press conference last week to clear up misunderstandings about Fayette County schools being forced to absorb Clayton students.
CREDIT FREEZE: HB 130
Lawmakers continue to work towards a compromise on legislation allowing consumers to freeze their credit reports. The Senate passed its version of House Bill 130 on Monday. The bill aims to prevent identity theft by allowing consumers to block credit reporting agencies from giving out their information. The House and Senate reportedly have come to an agreement on the main sticking point: how much the credit reporting agencies should be able to charge for this service. HB 130 now heads back to the House for approval of the Senate changes.
GUN RIGHTS: HB 257
This legislation, which was passed by the Senate on Wednesday night, would allow constables to carry weapons to public gatherings. It was amended to include provisions that would allow licensed gun owners to carry guns into restaurants and onto mass transit. Those Senate changes send the bill back the House.
CRIMINIAL JUSTICE/DEATH PENALTY: SB 145, HB 185 and HB 1245
Senate Bill 185, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chair Preston Smith, would allow prosecutors to seek a sentence of life without the possibility of parole as a sentence in a murder case. The two options currently available at the outset of a case are capital punishment or life with parole. The bill was amended in the House on March 19 to include provisions from HB 185, Representative Barry Fleming’s bill that would allow death penalty verdicts in cases when one or two jurors vote against the sentence. The House amendment sent the bill into Conference Committee. A compromise could be reached at any time. In other criminal justice action, a Conference Committee has also been appointed for House Bill 1245. That legislation was drafted in response to the controversial defense spending in the case of accused Fulton County courthouse shooter Brian Nichols. That case has cost the state nearly $2 million to date. House Bill 1245 mandates that only elected judges oversee death penalty cases and sets up a cost sharing system between the State and counties for indigent defense.
SUNDAY SALES: SB 137, SB 385, SB 454 and HB 1243
Senate Bill 137 was introduced by Senator Seth Harp last year to repeal the prohibition against Sunday sales of alcohol statewide. The bill has languished in the Senate committee ever since, but the provisions of the legislation have been rumored to be attached to three different pieces of legislation this year. SB 385 is Senator Don Balfour’s legislation to allow limousine carriers to sell alcohol in their vehicles. That measure has passed the House and Senate without a general Sunday Sales amendment. HB 1243 is Representative Edward Lindsey’s legislation that would allow alcohol sales for non-profit entities. That measure was approved by both the House and Senate without a Sunday sales amendment. SB 454 would expand the sales of alcohol on Sundays for public stadiums located in counties that already allow Sunday sale of alcohol. That measure is the most likely vehicle for any amendment attempt in the House today.
VEHICLE SEIZURE: HB 978
Tabled in the Senate floor Wednesday, House Bill 978 would allow law enforcement to seize the vehicles of illegal immigrants who are involved in an accident or pulled over for a traffic violation. Representative James Mills says he sponsored House Bill 978 after several of his constituents complained about being hit by illegal immigrants. Senate changes to the bill give it a wider scope, allowing law enforcement to seize the vehicle of any unlicensed driver, with few exceptions. A motion to remove the bill from the table could start debate in the Senate again at any time.
CHARTER SCHOOLS: HB 881
Also tabled in the Senate Wednesday, this is Representative Jan Jones’ legislation to establish the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. This would offer an alternate route for groups and companies seeking to establish charter schools. In addition to applying to local school boards or the state board of education, this bill would allow petitions to be submitted to a seven member charter commission. A motion to remove the bill from the table could start debate in the Senate again at any time.