Gambling, guns and taxes fall short in Georgia General Assembly

Amid the whirlwind of debate and votes at the Georgia Capitol last week, dozens of bills didn’t make the cut.

From gambling to gun control, from digital download taxes to private school vouchers, many proposals failed to advance before this year’s deadline for legislation to pass either the state House or the state Senate. No bills are truly dead because lawmakers can revive them by attaching them to other bills, but for the most part, measures that didn’t clear either chamber are less likely to become law.

Legislators did move forward with major bills, including efforts to outlaw most abortionsreplace the state's voting system and allow medical marijuana oil dispensaries. Other measures fell by the wayside, often because they lacked enough support or legislative leaders decided not to bring them to the floor for a vote.

One measure would have asked voters to change the state constitution to allow casino gambling in Georgia, which would have required a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to place the question on the ballot. The proposal, House Resolution 327, never came up in the House.

"I'm not going to give up. I'm going to come back another year," said state Rep. Ron Stephens, a Republican from Savannah who sponsored the bill. "We've got a whole lot of venues out here in Georgia that may have only one or two events per year, and they'd like to add some of these tourism products" such as gambling.

Some lawmakers were uncomfortable with asking voters to expand gambling beyond the Georgia Lottery until legislation outlined details of the plan, Stephens said.

Another measure that would have barred domestic abusers from owning guns won unanimous approval in committee, but state Senate leaders didn't call Senate Bill 150 for a vote Thursday.

"Radical gun groups took to social media to target senators accusing them of being traitors and 'gun grabbers,' " state Sen. Jen Jordan, a Democrat from Atlanta, wrote in her newsletter. "For me, it was a binary choice between protecting law enforcement and women and children or siding with convicted abusers. What does it say about us when we are more concerned with placating special interests than protecting our citizens?"

Even bills with widespread appeal fell short, such as an effective ban on booting vehicles parked on private property.

That measure sought to protect drivers from aggressive booting that hold cars and trucks hostage for high fines. Booting companies opposed the bill, House Bill 469, and it didn't get a vote in the House.

"It's one of these issues that has affected everybody, either personally or they know someone who has been taken advantage of," said state Rep. Matt Dollar, a Republican from Marietta. "These guys are running completely unchecked."

In a close vote, senators defeated a proposal for private school vouchers. The legislation, Senate Bill 173, would have allowed parents to direct the $5,500 on average in state money that now goes to their child's public school to a private school instead. The Senate opposed the proposal 28-25.

An expansion of religious rights stalled in committee last week. Senators didn't take action on the annual effort to create a law limiting the government's ability to pass laws that conflict with religious beliefs. Gay rights groups and business organizations said it could be used to discriminate.

And an initiative to tax video streaming, e-books and music downloads also fell short.

It makes sense to tax online products as well as those sold in stores, House Ways and Means Chairman Brett Harrell said. But House Bill 428 ran into stiff opposition when it was labeled as a "Netflix tax," even after video streaming was removed from the bill.

"Those who were quick to brand it and publicize it stalled an effort that may have resulted in good policy," said Harrell, a Republican from Snellville. "Our whole tax structure has been shifting away from our traditional means of doing business. … The old world, the old marketplace, is going to zero."

It’s possible for bills to make a comeback before the end of this year’s legislative session April 2. One way is for lawmakers to insert the language of one proposal into another bill dealing with a similar topic.

For most bills though, they’ll have to wait till next year.

Pass or fail

Bills that advanced

  • Abortion restrictions
  • New voting system
  • Teacher pay raises
  • Medical marijuana oil sales
  • Penalties for hate crimes
  • State takeover of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport

Bill that stalled

  • Casino gambling
  • Gun restrictions for domestic abusers
  • Religious rights expansion
  • Digital downloads tax
  • Effectively ban car booting on private property
  • Vouchers to use state money to send students to private schools
  • Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

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