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Monday, April 22, 2013 - 12:30pm

It's A Big Week To Sign Bills

Gov. Nathan Deal will accelerate the pace of bill-signing, with four public ceremonies this week. He has until May 7 to sign or veto bills passed during this year’s legislative session, which ended last month.

Among the bills he’s expected to sign this week is a measure that will aim to reduce alcohol-related boating accidents. Another key piece of legislation he’ll sign this week is a bill that will reduce the grade point average requirements for those applying for the HOPE technical college grant. Lawmakers hope to boost the number of students applying for and receiving the scholarship.

What Deal isn’t expected to sign this week are some of the top bills from the 2013 legislative session. For example, he has yet to sign a bill that will limit lobbyists’ expenditures on Georgia lawmakers to $75. The bill is considered a historic step in a bid to rein in the influence of special interest groups at the Gold Dome.

The Governor also hasn’t signed what’s arguably his signature bill: the juvenile justice reform bill. It will make wider use of treatment, rather than traditional jail sentences, for some non-violent youth offenders. It follows a criminal justice reform bill that passed last year, which also shifts emphasis away from a tough-on-crime approach.

Environmental lobbyist Neill Herring says governors take their time about signing their big bills. And he said they also are on the receiving line of pleas to sign and veto bills.

“There’s a lot of lobbying going on,” he said. “It’s invisible for the most part except for the Governor’s office. They’re snowed under with it.”
Herring said one of the most interesting parts of the bill-signing period is the statements governors sometime include with vetoes. They can run two to three pages sometimes.

“You learn a lot more about the Governor from veto statements than other sources,” he said.

Tom Crawford, the editor of the online political digest, “The Georgia Report,” says in some cases governors delay bill-signing events until all of the parties who lobbied for the measure can attend.

“A lot of times that’s part of the thinking that goes into when do you sign a bill. You know, when can everyone get here to take a picture with the Governor and take credit for it,” he said.

In the case of the juvenile justice bill, many groups including Voices For Georgia’s Children worked for years to convince elected officials that the harsher sentences for teens weren’t paying off for anyone.

Everyone from child advocates to the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, Carol Hunstein, say young people convicted of low-level offenses often learn how to be real criminals once incarcerated.

The Governor has also not signed the 2014 fiscal budget, which is the only bill lawmakers must pass each year.

Georgia’s governor is one of the few with the power to line-item veto the budget. Crawford said as a result, governors here typically sign the fiscal plan towards the very end of the 40-day bill-signing period. He says that’s because any group affected by a line-item veto would otherwise lobby the governor to avoid making a particular cut.

On Friday, Deal signed a bill that gives high school students more incentives to take dual credit courses. Those are courses where students enroll in a college course, and simultaneously earns college credit and high school credit for the course.

Deal also signed some bills before the session ended, including one that will extend a Medicaid provider fee to hospitals.