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Monday, March 31, 2014 - 12:30pm

Deal Expected To Veto Few Bills

Gov. Nathan Deal has until April 29 to sign or veto bills passed this year by the state legislature. But some experts say he may not veto anything.

That’s partly because Deal works extensively behind the scenes to signal to lawmakers what he will and won’t sign.

“He communicates constantly with legislators during session so that the final products are something he can sign,” said his spokesman, Brian Robinson. “There are exceptions, certainly, but we try to avoid vetoes on the front end.”

Politics may also play a role in the potential low veto count this year.

Tom Crawford edits the Georgia Report, an online political digest. He said while there are some bills that might be challenged on constitutional grounds, they were passed by conservative lawmakers. And Deal won’t want to alienate any conservatives.

“He has opposition from two credible opponents in his own Republican primary so for political reasons alone, I don’t think he could take the risk of vetoing any of those bills,” Crawford said in an interview. “They were passed with the intention of appealing to conservative Republicans. And each of them strikes a chord within a particular segment of Republican voters. If you’re a Republican running for statewide office, I don’t think you want to make any of them angry just before a primary.”

The state’s primary is May 20. Deal faces former Dalton Mayor David Pennington and State School Superintendent John Barge. Neither is expected to win, but each has made his mark on the campaign. Barge, for example, has helped to make education a score card issue. Pennington has appealed to Tea Party voters.

That’s most likely enough to keep Deal from vetoing even the most controversial legislation. The General Assembly’s legislative counsel, for example, has expressed concerns about a bill that would erect a monument to the Ten Commandments at the state Capitol.

But Crawford said there’s virtually no way Deal would veto it.

Even on the budget, Crawford and others say Deal may not issue any line-item vetoes. Georgia’s governor is one of the few with the power to strike individual spending items.

The $20.8 billion 2015 budget passed in record time through both chambers of the state legislature--largely because it changed very little from when Deal proposed it at the start of the session.

“Most years, the governor gets 95 percent of what he wants,” said Alan Essig with the Georgia Budget and Policy. “This year, he got 99 percent.”

That’s not to say the bills don’t require a second look. When Georgia lawmakers gaveled out of the 2014 session 10 days ago, they managed to pass bills that touched on many of the big issues: abortion, guns, welfare and healthcare.

One bill in particular could make Georgia the first state in the nation to force welfare and food-stamp recipients suspected of drug abuse to submit to drug tests. Legal experts say it may face not one but two legal challenges.

Robinson wouldn’t comment on specific bills. But potential challenges in this case are unlikely to sway Deal. The issue has been a longstanding one with some conservatives, and it’s the second time a welfare drug test bill has passed the state legislature since Deal was elected in 2010.

In an interview last week, Virginia Galloway of the conservative nonprofit, Faith and Freedom Coalition, said she backs the bill.

“You don’t want to give benefits to people who are deliberately abusing their own bodies and are unable to work,” she said.

It’s unclear if the bill is actually unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unlawful searches. Officials with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta are considering a lawsuit, but Eric Segal, with Georgia State University’s law school, said the bill might withstand a constitutional challenge.

The bill-signing period lasts 40 days.