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Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 12:00pm

Lawmakers Hit Midway Mark

On Wednesday Georgia lawmakers reach the half-way mark of the 40-day legislative session. Many Capitol observers say there are fewer bills under consideration this year. Lawmakers are still working on the 2013 amended budget, which the Senate is expected to take up this week.

Experts say lawmakers write fewer bills in non-election years such as 2013.

Legislative leaders have focused on several key issues, including juvenile justice reform and eligibility changes to the HOPE grant for technical schools.

And, of course, the budget -- the only item lawmakers must pass each year.

Larry Pellegrini heads the Georgia Rural Urban Summit, which bridges the gap between cities and rural areas.

Legislators are still updating the 2013 budget. But Pellegrini says money is so tight, there’s not much they can change.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we know what the figures are, and there’s not much to predict in the next two months," he said in an interview at the state Capitol. "So I think there was very little anybody thought they could accomplish by trying to make changes.”

Under the current spending plan, the state can’t re-build the rainy day fund, which lawmakers tap during tough times, says Taifa Butler, with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

“If we just make ends meet basically, and meet this new four percent revenue estimate and not grow like the ten percent we had in January, we are going to barely make the revenue estimate and we won’t have anything to put away at the end of the year,” she said.

The state’s tax collections spiked in January, but legislative leaders say it’s unclear if that’s the start of a trend.

A spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal says he has no plans to introduce more bills.

But that doesn't mean other lawmakers won't step into the breach. Lobbyist Neill Herring says legislators have drafted just as many bills as previous sessions but haven't introduced them.

He says there's always a danger of lawmakers flooding the Legislature with bills during the last half of the session. And when that happens, he says, either nothing gets passed or bills with questionable consequences slip through.

Bills with any chance of final passage must clear one chamber by Day 30 of the session, which will be in early March.