Last-minute moves take over Capitol
by Bill Barrow
The Associated Press
March 26, 2013 12:13 AM | 1665 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ATLANTA — It’s an old lesson of Politics 101: A bill isn’t actually dead until the legislative session is over. There’s a related but inverse rule: Just because everybody says they’re on board doesn’t mean a deal will be made.

Both were on display at the Georgia Capitol on Monday as lawmakers began the session’s final week with maneuvers on abortion, labor laws and lobbying rules. A House member, meanwhile, wants to force a last-minute debate on metro Atlanta’s transit system that some senators don’t want to have.

Resolutions on those issues — along with a final version of the state government’s $40.9 billion operating budget — must be finalized by Thursday, when the House and Senate adjourn.

Partisan division continued as Republican senators used a late amendment to combine a change on paycheck deductions for union dues and limited unemployment benefits for certain temporary workers.

The dues provision, originally in House Bill 361 by itself, would require that workers be able to opt out anytime from agreements to pay dues through an automatic paycheck deduction. Current law calls for an annual decision.

The unemployment provision was a separate Senate bill that had never emerged from the Senate Rules Committee. The provision, from Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta) would block certain temporary education system workers like bus drivers and cafeteria workers from jobless benefits in the summer months when they aren’t working.

The limitation would apply to workers who expect to be rehired again the following school year. It would put into law an executive decision already made by Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.

“As long as someone has a reasonable assurance of getting their old job back, they shouldn’t get unemployment benefits,” Millar said.

Democrats said the dues check-off provision and blocking unemployment were both a power play by business. “The only purpose of this bill is to kill labor,” said Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Marietta) who mocked the notion that the Georgia Chamber of Commerce plans to use House Bill 361 as one of its “scorecard” votes to assess legislators.

“Go ahead,” said the chamber’s longest serving member. “I’ve been elected 17 times.”

Lawmakers resume work this morning.

MARTA: House, Senate still tussling

Metro Atlanta’s transit system doesn’t reach far outside city limits, but that hasn’t kept MARTA from being the source of a last-minute scrap among state lawmakers. Fulton County Republicans want to overhaul the transit agency’s governing board and require that many MARTA operations be privatized. They approved two such bills earlier this session, but they’ve remained bottled up in a Senate committee. So Rep. Mike Jacobs and his Republican colleagues added several MARTA changes to an unrelated Senate bill on Monday. The amendment doesn’t include privatization, but it would give Atlanta suburbs more control over MARTA. It also would temporarily lift restrictions on how MARTA spends its sales tax revenue. Jacobs says the move forces senators to deal with his proposals. Lawmakers will finish their session on Thursday.


Abortion: Surprise Senate feud breaks out

A bill making changes to employee benefits at a single state agency has evolved into an argument over abortion. As a result, the Georgia Senate voted Monday to forbid any state employee insurance plan from covering abortion services, with the exception of those necessary to protect a pregnant woman’s life or health. Sen. Mike Crane offered an amendment to House Bill 246, which concerned employee benefits at the Georgia World Congress Center. The Newnan Republican says it will protect taxpayers from supporting a procedure they find immoral. His initial proposal did not include any life or health exceptions, but senators added those. The revised amendment — and the bill — passed on a party line vote, with Democrats in opposition. The bill goes back to the House for further consideration.

Lobbying: House revises, sends back plan 

The back-and-forth continues over how to regulate lobbyists as they try to influence Georgia officials. But big questions remain with two days left in the session. Will lawmakers choose an outright ban lobbyist spending or opt for a cap? Either way, what would the exceptions be? Or will lawmakers just leave in place the current law that allows unlimited spending in all cases? The House voted Monday on a series of revisions that ban most spending. But they’d allow lobbyists to entertain full committees or subcommittees up to twice each year. They’d also allow lobbyists to pay for job-related travel for members, family and staff. Senators have proposed a $100 cap on each instance of spending per official. But with no time frame attached, that could allow considerably more spending.

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