Posted: 7:57 p.m. Thursday, March 28, 2013
By Jim Galloway
Gov. Nathan Deal began this session of the Legislature by avoiding a nasty fight over extension of the hospital bed tax. He may end the session by helping lawmakers avoid another unpleasant confrontation.
Hours ago, we reported Speaker David Ralston as saying that a measure to ban abortion coverage in state employee insurance policies would not pass his House this evening.
The issue – which came up suddenly on Monday, attached to H.B. 246 – requires more study, Ralston said.
When the AJC’s Greg Bluestein caught up with the governor, he appeared to back the speaker up:
"That is an issue that I think probably needed more time and discussion to make the members familiar with the situation. And I think it's something that over the recess period we can look at in terms of what our state health benefit plan provides and whether or not there are other ways short of legislation that this subject can be addressed.”
The highlights are mine. Remember that Deal is up for re-election in 2014. And minutes ago, I ran into Mike Griffin of Georgia Right to Life, the anti-abortion group behind the legislation. Here’s what he said:
“Governor Deal has offered an executive solution, by using his regulatory powers, to assure that taxpayer funds will not be used for elective abortions. We hope that he’ll be able to work with the Department of Community Health and be able to apply an executive solution where a legislative solution is not going to be found.”
The GRTL spokesman said he’d conferred with the governor’s chief of staff, Chris Riley, on the matter. Griffin acknowledged that the governor might not have the authority required to erase abortion coverage from insurance policies.
“If he does not do it, it will be because he can’t. We trust him to be willing to try,” Griffin said.
While a deal has been reached on an ethics bill, H.B. 142, that would subject lobbyists to a $75 cap on gifts to lawmakers, a companion bill setting new rules for campaign disclosures is just now making it to the desk of lawmakers.
The bargain on H.B. 142 was struck shortly before 3 a.m. today, we’re told. But a House-Senate conference committee on H.B. 143 was just appointed in the six o’clock hour.
The House, we’re told, had balked at an addition to H.B. 143 demanded by the Senate – an incumbent-protection provision that would prohibit challengers to sitting lawmakers and statewide election officials from raising campaign contributions while the Legislature is in session.
Lawmakers and constitutional officers are prohibited from raising cash during the session. Supporters say this would “level the playing field.”
We just looked at the version placed on the desk of senators. The incumbent-protection clause has apparently been removed.
AJC reporters have been told that the governor, in his post-midnight negotiating session with House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, threatened to call a special session if the two didn’t come to terms on H.B. 142, the main ethics bill.
But in a late afternoon scrum with reporters, Deal refused to confirm the accounts. "I don't think I should comment on that one," he said with a chuckle.
Nor would he render a final verdict on a bill that no one has really seen yet – but clearly Deal doesn’t think the $75 gift cap, with no other limitations, goes far enough. Said the governor:
"That was a difficult discussion as to what the appropriate level should be. I'm glad that they have a piece of legislation because i think that's an indication they have listened to the concerns of the public. I'm sure in the future someone would like to tighten it."
A bill that would give foreigners quicker access to Georgia driver’s licenses won final passage in the House this afternoon and is heading to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk for his signature. Deal has already indicated support for House Bill 475, which passed the Senate Tuesday with a few amendments. The governor has said the bill would make Georgia more business-friendly. A spokesman for the governor said his office would start reviewing approved legislation Friday.
Georgia college students may find packaged beer and wine a brief walk away, given final passage of House Bill 517. The measure would allow local governments decide the distance between college campuses and stores selling beer and wine. Currently, stores can be within 100 yards of a college campus.