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Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 12:06pm

Lawmakers To Finish 2013 Session

Georgia lawmakers will wrap up the 2013 session Thursday, but they have several major pieces of legislation to pass before celebrating Sine Die.

The Latin term means “without day,” which indicates the legislature will adjourn without scheduling another day to meet this year.

The only bill that members of the General Assembly are required to pass is the 2014 fiscal year budget, which takes effect July 1, 2013.

Senator Jack Hill, Representative Terry England and others have been meeting this week as part of an appropriations conference committee to complete the negotiations on the budget. The biggest differences between the House and Senate versions of the 2014 budget are over education spending.

The House added $6 million to the Technical College System of Georgia over what Governor Nathan Deal had proposed. The Senate gave TCSG an additional $4.5 million on top of that. Senators also voted to restore the HOPE program’s tuition equalization grants to $700 for private college students, which the House had cut to just $500 to save money.

Conference committee negotiations will also play a big role in some of the most publicly scrutinized legislation.

House Speaker David Ralston’s ethics bills have both been changed in the Senate. The smaller of the two outlines how public officials must report contributions to their campaigns. The Senate version prohibits both current members of the General Assembly and those running for the office from fundraising during the legislative session.

The larger of the two ethics bills defines who is considered a lobbyist and how much lobbyists can gift to legislators. The House favors a full ban, but the Senate prefers a $100 cap. Senators believe the cap eliminates the possibility for unlimited gifts, to which the House left the door open.

Senator Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, drafted the Senate’s ethics substitutes and believes the conference committee can come to a consensus that works for all Georgians.

“We’ve got to make sure that we don’t only make it palatable for the members here but we also have to make it the same for the general public,” said Senator Mullis Tuesday. “We want them to have confidence in their elected leaders so that we can do good work and work together.”

Six lawmakers are also working down to the wire to compromise on gun rights legislation. Senate Bill 101 would allow lawful gun owners to carry their weapons on college campuses and at churches.

The legislation has garnered a lot of attention, both positive and negative. Some believe recent mass shootings should spur more gun control, but others believe those events prove the need for people to carry arms to protect themselves.

Lawmakers are expected to take up the budget, gun rights legislation and the ethics bills by midnight Thursday.