Inside an awkward, emotional Georgia truce over adoption

State Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, House Speaker David Ralston and other lawmakers watch as Gov. Nathan Deal signs into law the adoption bill Reeves authored. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
State Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, House Speaker David Ralston and other lawmakers watch as Gov. Nathan Deal signs into law the adoption bill Reeves authored. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Gov. Nathan Deal shared a sometimes-awkward stage with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle on Monday to sign a sweeping update of the state's adoption code. You can read our AJC colleague Mark Niesse's piece about the measure here.

The legislation got held up last year after Cagle pushed for a controversial provision that would allow some adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples.

That provision was stripped from this year’s measure – it lives on in a separate proposal – and there are still sore feelings.

State Rep. Bert Reeves, the measure’s sponsor, gave Cagle a nod but then thanked the “two giants” who powered the legislation – Deal and House Speaker David Ralston.

Pointedly, Ralston noted his chamber voted overwhelmingly three separate times to support the measure.

“This House never wavered,” Ralston said.

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The governor wouldn't bite when asked his stance on the other adoption measure, which recently passed the Senate and is now pending in the House. The legislation has sparked threats of economic boycott and worries about whether it could hurt Georgia's bid for Amazon's second headquarters.

“Let’s celebrate the fact that we have this piece of adoption legislation today,” Deal said. “If and when it comes to my desk, we’ll talk about it then.”

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Of course, the other reason the moment was tense was because it was the first time Deal and Cagle shared the same press conference since a certain Atlanta-based airline's relationship with the Georgia Legislature made international headlines.

To sum it up: The governor included a tax break that would benefit Delta Air Lines in a broader tax-cut plan that seemed destined for his desk ... until the airline cut business ties with the National Rifle Association.

Within days, Cagle vowed to block the tax break unless Delta reversed its position. A behind-the-scenes push for a compromise fell apart and Deal begrudgingly announced he would sign the measure into law without the Delta break. He did exactly that on Friday, after both chambers approved the changes.

Delta responded that same day by announcing it was not backing down – but would also review all its business partnerships in hopes of staying out of divisive political debates. That was the compromise some supporters of the tax break had hoped for, though Cagle and others said it didn’t go far enough.

Deal, meanwhile, has said that he is still pushing for “non-negotiable” changes to the tax code that benefit Delta. He wouldn’t say what those were, but on Monday lamented the tax break “got caught up in a controversy that shouldn’t have been there.”

“The point I was trying to make all along was: this is not just for Delta. They are our largest airport user. They are also the largest employer for our state. And we are competing against other hubs in other states that do not have this tax. So it puts us in a bid of a disadvantage in this regard,” he added.

“I just wanted us to be more competitive. I felt it was a commonsense stance to eliminate this tax, and make us able to compete on the same field as a Charlotte or a Dallas or another major hub.”

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A  parting note on the bill's sponsor, Bert Reeves.

The Marietta Republican has championed this measure for years and brought his family with him to celebrate its signing.

After a glowing introduction by Ralston that essentially cemented his rising-star status in the Legislature, Reeves had personal news to share.

He was so touched by the experience that he and his wife are considering adopting or fostering a child.

“We feel led to be a part of what’s perhaps the single greatest calling we can have.”

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