Gov. Brian Kemp. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

How will Georgia governor deal with major bills from the 2019 session?

The end of the legislative session triggers the start Wednesday of another 40-day period — this time for Gov. Brian Kemp to sign measures into law or veto them.

Over the next few weeks, the Republican will set a tone for how he will handle some of the state’s most contentious debates, including an overhaul of election policy, an expansion of medical marijuana programs and what would be one of the nation’s toughest abortion restrictions.

His immediate predecessor, Gov. Nathan Deal, was never shy about using the red pen: He nixed dozens of measures over eight years, including a “religious liberty” bill and legislation that would allow gun owners to legally carry firearms on most parts of college campuses.

Live: Use AJC tracker to follow Georgia bills

Photos: Sine Die at the Georgia legislature

Kemp has until May 12 to decide whether to issue vetoes or allow bills to become law, but he has already staked a position on many of the highest-profile measures that cleared the General Assembly. But each piece of legislation must first go through an extensive legal vetting that could jeopardize legislation that may otherwise have broad support.

“I’ve always tried to be a governor who lets people know when we have issues early, so we’re not in a position to veto bills,” Kemp told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “There may be things we didn’t realize there’s an unintended consequence, but I’ve been pretty consistent in letting legislators know where we are.”

Here’s a rundown of where the biggest bills stand: 

Abortion

In a series of votes packed with drama and tension, Georgia lawmakers narrowly adopted House Bill 481, which would outlaw most abortions from the moment a doctor can detect a heartbeat in an embryo – as early as six weeks.

The measure passed over the objections of a broad coalition that included influential medical groups, Hollywood celebrities and a small band of suburban Republicans. Supporters promised it would preserve the sanctity of life — if it first survives a legal challenge.

Will Kemp sign it? Certainly. The governor pledged on the campaign trail to sign the nation’s toughest abortion restrictions, and he told the AJC this measure fits the bill.

“I can’t govern because I’m worried about what someone in Hollywood thinks about me,” Kemp said.

Budget

State lawmakers approved a record $27.5 billion budget for the next fiscal year that includes $3,000 pay raises for public school teachers and 2 percent hikes for tens of thousands of state workers.

It would be one of the largest teacher pay raises in state history, and increases have been small or nonexistent for many years since the Great Recession crippled the state’s budget in the late 2000s. It passed with broad bipartisan support.

Will Kemp sign it? Yes. He’s called the spending agreement a “balanced, conservative budget” that reflects the state’s values and funds priorities.

Certificate of need

After a decade of debate, lawmakers approved legislation designed to free up some competition for hospitals and ease state certificate of need restrictions.

The compromise over House Bill 186 would allow the Cancer Treatment Centers of America to expand, while also protecting hospitals from the threat of a new wave of outpatient surgery centers they fear would gut their bottom line.

But they don’t go far enough for critics of the regulations, who say they are an obstacle to free-market competition.

Will Kemp sign it? It seems likely. After negotiations stalled, Kemp threatened to take “executive action” if the General Assembly failed to pass legislation.

Elections law

Legislation to replace Georgia’s electronic voting machines with a touchscreen system that spits out paper ballots was approved after a polarizing debate over how to protect the integrity of the vote while ensuring accurate election results.

House Bill 316 also would rewrite election laws dealing with voter registration cancellations, recounts and precinct closures that surfaced during the 2018 governor’s race between Kemp and Stacey Abrams.

She and other Democrats fought the legislation, saying it would leave Georgia’s elections vulnerable to hacking and doesn’t include meaningful changes to encourage more voter participation.

Will Kemp sign it? Yes. As secretary of state, Kemp created a panel that recommended that the state move to these types of ballot-marking devices. He said the measure “ensures our elections remain secure, accessible and fair.”

Medical marijuana

Georgia lawmakers struck a deal hours before the legislative session ended to allow medical marijuana patients to buy the cannabis oil they’re already legally allowed to use.

The compromise on House Bill 324 would for the first time legalize the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana through small growers, state universities and licensed sellers.

Will Kemp sign it? Likely. The governor helped broker the deal between House and Senate leaders who struggled to strike a balance between providing access to legitimate patients while preventing illegal marijuana distribution. But he still seemed torn over it.

“It’s a very, very tough issue. But there’s a lot of legislative support for it. I respect the legislative process, and I understand why people are doing it, and I understand why people have grave concerns about this,” he said in an interview. “I have all of those feelings. It’s a really tough spot.”

Health care waivers

Shortly after he was sworn into office, Kemp sought to regain broad powers to allow his administration to pursue two separate waivers with the federal government that could set a path toward limited Medicaid expansion and create new funds to stabilize private insurance premiums.

The proposal sets a limited timeline for him to fulfill the plan — and bans pursuit of a full Medicaid expansion, which he opposes in any case. Still, it would allow Kemp’s office discretion to seek vast changes that could reshape how hundreds of thousands of Georgians get health care coverage.

Will Kemp sign it? He did so last month, promising “this process will remain transparent” as his administration negotiates changes with the federal government that are no sure thing, despite Kemp’s alliance with President Donald Trump.

Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at www.ajc.com/politics.

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