Today is the last day of the 2013 legislative session, and state lawmakers are busy passing bills before the midnight deadline.
As of mid-afternoon, lawmakers had reached a compromise on the signature bill of the session, ethics reform. It would cap lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers at $75 per expenditure. The Senate had been pushing for a $100 cap, while the House had favored banning all gifts to individual lawmakers.
"Sometimes you just have differences of opinions with people, and sometimes it's more important that you do something rather than nothing," said House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican. "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."
As of 3 p.m., the bill hadn't come up for a vote in either chamber. Lawmakers in the House and the Senate will need to officially agree to the changes before it heads to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.
Legislators in both chambers have also agreed on a bill that would give the state a handle on video lottery terminals found in gas stations and other places. The amended bill would give more control to local authorities in regulating the machines, which award non-cash prizes.
Gov. Nathan Deal, who backs the measure, has made it a priority to crack down on the machines’ illegal payouts.
Lawmakers will also have to vote on the 2014 budget. They hammered out some small differences during lunch, and Ralston said he expected them to vote on the $19 billion spending plan late afternoon or early evening.
The budget largely spares K-12 education from budget cuts, while many state agencies will see slight cuts. The pre-kindergarten school year will be expanded, as will HOPE grants for technical college students.
Deal has called for cutting payment rates to health care providers treating Medicaid patients. Lawmakers rejected that idea.
As yet, they’ve not been able to come to an agreement on a measure that would loosen restrictions on where licensed gun owners can carry firearms.
The last day of the 40-day session, known as Sine Die, is often hectic, with lawmakers and lobbyists wheeling and dealing into the final hours of the night.
Contributors: The Associated Press