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Lawmakers reflect on 2013, gear up for 2014 races

Budget, ethics law passed at end of legislative session

POSTED: March 31, 2013 12:27 a.m.

For some political junkies, the close of the 2013 Georgia General Assembly session is just the prelude to the campaigns of 2014, an election year.

Since Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, some Georgians in the U.S. House of Representatives have announced their intent to run or appear headed that way.

That would open congressional seats for ambitious state legislators and could make next year’s session much more interesting, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

And when state senators take a shot at Congress, it opens a seat in the higher chamber for state representatives.

“We’re going to see a lot of campaigning take place,” Bullock said.

Credible candidates for Chambliss’ seat include Republican Reps. Tom Price, Paul Broun, Jack Kingston. Bullock also named Karen Handel, a former secretary of state, gubernatorial candidate and Susan G. Koman executive who instigated a push for the breast cancer organization to pull its grants from Planned Parenthood.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle might be the top candidate for the job because he’s better known, Bullock said. Cagle, a native of Hall County, has been elected statewide twice for lieutenant governor.

Bullock said he expects a challenge to Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., for his east Georgia seat.

“Republicans look at that as the one that got away,” Bullock said.

Cagle’s power and influence in the Senate was restored 2013, with less disarray than in the last two sessions, Bullock said. That could be the result of some senators gaining leadership positions who had closer relationships to the lieutenant governor, including Majority Caucus Chairman Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville.

“It takes patience and working together,” Miller said. “The Senate really functioned well and that’s something I’m proud of.”

Hall County lawmakers made their mark during the session with the bills they sponsored, the positions they held and the issues they championed. All praised the budget process, which is the only legislation that lawmakers are required to pass.

The state’s fiscal year 2014 budget of $41 billion is a combination of state and federal money that cut funding in many state agencies. However, it did restore some money to education, including adding back days to the pre-kindergarden school year and restoring the 2.0 grade-point requirement for Hope Grant students in technical colleges.

The legislature also raised the cap to $58 million on a tax credit program that provides scholarships for children to attend private schools, which will help schools like Brenau University, said Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, chairman of the Higher Education committee and a member of the House Appropriations committee.

Under the program created a few years ago, people and corporations can receive state tax credits by giving nonprofit scholarship providers donations of up to $1,000 by individuals and up to $2,500 from married couples.

“We did some really good things with education this year,” said Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, a first-year House member elected last fall.

Gov. Nathan Deal got much of his agenda accomplished while avoiding controversy by getting some the big things done early, such as the hospital provider tax, Bullock said. That fee is targeted to help fill in a shortfall in Medicaid funding.

“When you only have so much (revenue),” Hawkins said. “In this economy, you do the best you can.”

Legislators went down to the wire on ethics reform and lobbyists’ gift limits, coming up with a law that no one totally likes. It’s a mixed bag, Bullock said, some saying it went too far and some saying it didn’t go far enough.

Hawkins, Rogers and Miller described it as “not perfect.”

“It was a very different session because of the cloud of ethics,” Rogers said. “I voted for it, not totally happy with the way it turned out, but we’ll deal with it.”

In the compromise worked out between the chambers, lobbyist expenditures would be limited to $75 at a time and people would have to register as lobbyists if they are paid to influence public officials or if they accept more than $250 in reimbursements for their lobbying expenses. Deal is expected to sign it.

“It’s just like beauty,” Bullock said. “It’s in the eye of the beholder.”

Hawkins was disappointed that gun legislation got hung up before the session ended, but it’s not truly dead until the end of the 2014 session, and he said he feels good the legislation that did pass was fully vetted. The gun lobby is powerful in Georgia and Bullock was surprised the bill didn’t pass. It will come back up next year, Rogers said.

Hawkins spent a lot of time on a bill he wrote that moves the boards of dentistry and pharmacy from the oversight of the Secretary of State’s office to the Georgia Department of Community Health.

The legislative accomplishments Miller remembers includes boating safety legislation, ethics, and strengthening penalties for repeat DUI offenders.

With an eye toward the 2014 session, Rogers said he plans to work on some forced annexation legislation during the rest of the year. Hawkins plans to tackle lake legislation for next year, but he wants to get back to caring for his patients’ teeth for now.

“I’m proud of the delegation of Hall County,” he said.


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