Deals were cut, compromises were forged and by the end of the 40-day legislative session that crept into the early hours of Friday morning, the Georgia General Assembly sent a list of bills to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk for final approval.
Here’s a look at who came out on top and who was left behind by this year’s legislation.
- Gun owners : Licensed weapons carriers, who have been fighting for five years to allow guns on college campuses — a matter they view as a Second Amendment right, were given special consideration after legislative negotiations. A conference committee between the House and Senate met Friday to make House Bill 280 more attractive to Deal, who vetoed a similar version last year. In addition to dormitories, Greek houses and athletic events, as well as on-campus child care facilities and classrooms where high school students are present, the committee agreed to add faculty and administrative office spaces and disciplinary hearings to the list of restricted areas where a concealed weapon cannot be carried. Deal has said he is “receptive” to the bill with those changes.
Rural hospitals : Medical centers and hospitals in more rural parts of Georgia have struggled to stay open while treating patients who are often older, poorer and uninsured. House Bill 180, which passed Thursday evening, increases the value of the credit taxpayers can earn from contributions to qualifying rural hospitals from 70 percent to 90 percent to help offset those costs.
The Sine Die 2017 edition of Georgia Legislative Week in Review with Aaron Gould Sheinin, Kristina Torres and the Phrase of the Week by James Salzer. Video by Bob Andres / firstname.lastname@example.org
- Medical Marijuana advocates : Lawmakers gave final passage to an expansion of the state’s medical marijuana laws. Senate Bill 16 makes six conditions eligible for treatment with a limited form of cannabis oil allowed in Georgia: Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, autism, epidermolysis bullosa, peripheral neuropathy and Tourette’s syndrome. Patients in hospice care could also possess the oil.
- Police officers : The Georgia legislature sent a strong message of support for state law enforcement officials in passing Senate Bill 160. Dubbed “Back the Badge Act,” the bill increases punishments to individuals who commit certain crimes against public safety officers. Language was removed that civil rights groups said targeted protesters who block public passageways, such as highways, streets and sidewalks.
- Unauthorized immigrants : Georgia lawmakers also sent strong warnings to anyone who is undocumented. Lawmakers passed House Bill 452, which creates a public database of “persons who are aliens” and have committed felonies, and House Bill 37, which punishes colleges within the state that declare themselves “sanctuaries” for students living in the country illegally.
- Children in foster care: In its last governing act of the night, the Senate voted to send a bill back to committee that would have updated the state’s adoption laws for the first time in a generation. House Bill 159 unanimously passed in the House but was hijacked in a Senate committee with an amendment that would protect private adoption agencies that accept taxpayer-subsidized grants but don’t want to place children with LGBT families. House Speaker David Ralston, Deal and LGBTQ activists condemned the action. An amended version of Senate Bill 130, which included the new adoption rules and helped foster parents find volunteers, was unable to pass through the Senate.
- Religious conservatives : Deal vetoed legislation last year that would have allowed individuals to refuse service to people whose practices did not align with their religious beliefs, seeing it as a potentially discriminatory measure against the LGBTQ community. The Senate made an attempt late Tuesday to revive the measure by attaching “religious liberty” language to House Bill 257, an unrelated bill that involves a proposed mandate for local municipalities to register with the state Department of Community Affairs in order to receive state grants. This is the fourth session that religious groups have sought increased legal protections against marriage between same-sex couples.