The Georgia General Assembly entered 2012 saying the focus would be on jobs and the economy -- exactly where voters wanted state lawmakers’ attention, according to a December poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Solutions for more affordable healthcare, less traffic congestion, education choice for students, tax reform and an overhaul of the state’s costly prison system were also priorities, lawmakers said.
Now, it's make or break time: In order to have a shot at becoming law, bills have until Wednesday -- day 30 of the 40-day session -- to pass at least one chamber and have a chance to become law. If they do not pass one chamber, lawmakers are left to less transparent actions to revive a dead bill. That could include attempts to attach it to another piece of legislation with good prospects of passing .
Few of the big-picture bills legislators talked up at the beginning of the session have passed so far, insuring a hectic pace for the last ten work days.
On track, having passed one chamber, are bills that would cut state unemployment benefits, require educators who earned bonuses on bogus test scores to return bonus pay and shorten the period for elective abortions to 20 weeks of pregnancy from 26 weeks.
The House will try to pass a glut of bills Wednesday, 34 are scheduled for a vote, including next year's proposed $19.2 billion state budget plan. Among other bills:
House Bill 1114 prohibits assisted suicide; HB 797 allows the state to establish charter schools; HB 1051 and 1052, reconstitute MARTA's board and change funding restrictions; HB 100 creates a special court for tax issues; and HB 868 provides income tax credits to businesses in less developed areas. House Bill 861 would require police to report drug arrests to state agencies that dole out public benefits, which is part of the push to make recipients pass drug tests.
The Senate has slated 30 bills on its voting calendar. Among them, "there are probably six bills on here I'm going to budget six hours [of debate] on," said Senate Rules Committee Chairman Don Balfour, R-Snellville. They include:
Senate Bill 87, which would create a state-funded education voucher for parents who choose private school; SB 312 and SB 292, which would mandate "personal growth" activities for people who apply for food stamps and require drug tests for parents who seek welfare; and SB 469, which would limit mass picketing outside private residences and force members of unions and advocacy groups, such as the popular Professional Association of Georgia Educators, to put into writing every year that they want to pay union dues or organizational fees through paycheck deductions.
Bills dealing with abortion limits (SB 438) and guns (SB 493 and SB 350) are also on the Senate calendar, as is SB 460, which would exempt religiously affiliated businesses from having to provide birth control coverage.
Bills related to tax reform and overhauling the state’s criminal sentencing laws, two of the big issues pushed by Gov. Nathan Deal, are being studied by joint committees involving both chambers. Wednesday’s deadline does not apply to them.