ATLANTA – Georgia lawmakers are headed back to their districts as election season approaches, giving them and their constituents time to reflect on what issues did, and didn't, make it to the governor's desk.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal has a 40-day window to sign or veto bills that passed the Legislature. Deal could also opt against taking action, in which case the unsigned bills would become law by default.
Georgians around the state found cause to both celebrate and criticize during the 2016 General Assembly, and some of the issues have the potential to resonate well into the next legislative session and beyond.
Several pieces of legislation made their way to the governor's desk before the close of the session.
Some measures were well-received, such as a new state budget that gave raises to teachers and retirees, along with new regulations put on issues ranging from teacher evaluations and standardized testing, to the private and public use of unmanned aircraft, often referred to as drones.
While some bills passed and received praise, others were met with protest. The much-talked about "Religious Freedom" bill, which critics say would allow businesses and organizations to discriminate based on religious beliefs, also passed both legislative chambers and is currently being considered by the governor. However, Deal has been pressured by both the movie industry and professional sports to veto the bill or risk losing the revenue they generate.
Another bill passed and being considered by Deal would allow college students with concealed carry weapons permits to carry handguns on college campuses, which has been debated for both the costs of implementation and safety of students. Proponents insist this will make college campuses safer in the event of an active shooter or other emergency, while the presidents and police chiefs of every public school in the state have expressed their opposition.
Moms Demand Action, a group that advocates against gun violence, protested the bill in the capitol building on the last day of the legislative session, and delivered a petition with more than 30,000 signatures to Deal's office, demanding he veto the measure.
A bill that would have expanded the conditions for patient access to medical marijuana failed to get a Senate vote on the last day of the legislative session, but the bill's sponsor said he won't give up any time soon. Rep. Allen Peake's bill would have widened the list of illnesses to include autism, HIV or AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder and several other conditions.
Peake cited numerous states with medical marijuana laws already on the books, but called for federal action to bring cannabis-based medicines to those in need.
"Congress needs to act ... the message is very clear to Congress, change the damn law," he said.
Several pieces of legislation related to immigration also failed to make it out of the Legislature on its last day, including a proposed constitutional amendment that would have made English the official language of the state. Additionally, the Senate failed to vote on a bill that would have required appointed members of governmental boards and committees in the state to have U.S. citizenship, which critics viewed as a bill that would negatively impact the state's ability to recruit and retain profitable businesses.
A pair of measures that would have implemented tax cuts for Georgians failed to get the House support needed to be sent to the governor's desk. Critics, such as the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, have argued that the adjustment in tax rates would only serve to help those in higher tax brackets. In a recent report, GBPI said the 80 percent of Georgia households with annual income below $100,000 would see average tax cuts of less than $90 per year if the House bill was signed into law.
Deal and his staff are unlikely to support tax cuts, and have voiced concern over jeopardizing the state's bond rating and ability to borrow money for big budget projects.