ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers are set to adjourn the 2015 session at midnight on Thursday, leaving only two working days left for the year and plenty to accomplish.
Here’s a look at remaining topics:
End of the road?
A six-member committee began meeting last week in search of a compromise bill raising at least $1 billion for the state’s roads and bridges. The biggest area of difference between House and Senate versions of the plan is the amount of excise taxes on gasoline people will pay.
The House version sets that number at 29.2 cents-per-gallon while the Senate wanted 24 cents. The change meant the Senate plan would raise far less, and Gov. Nathan Deal has insisted that lawmakers meet the state’s need with an eventual package.
“The governor has said we need at least $1 billion new revenue annually for maintenance and repair,” Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson said. “That’s what he expects to achieve.”
Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, chairs the Senate Transportation committee and sits on the conference committee negotiating the bill.
“We have a billion dollar need, but we’ve got to be careful,” Williams said. “It should be very difficult to tax people.”
The chambers agree on other provisions — removing a tax credit on jet fuel for airlines and another for those buying or leasing electric vehicles. Electric vehicle owners also would be charged a new $200 annual fee.
State Rep. Calvin Smyre of Columbus, the only Democrat on the panel, said they have an obligation to resolve their differences.
“Were we not to pass something, I think we’d be abdicating our responsibility,” Smyre said.
The state budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 also remains in a conference committee negotiating their differences. It contains another key element of the overall transportation funding target — $100 million in bonds for transit agencies throughout the state.
A divisive religious freedom bill could get new life in a Monday meeting of the House Judiciary Committee announced late Friday.
The legislation stalled in the committee on Thursday after a Republican member of the panel successfully added anti-discrimination language. Supporters of the measure said that would gut the bill’s protection for people acting on religious beliefs, and immediately moved to table it.
Opponents of the bill say it could be used as legal cover for discrimination against gays and transgender people, and pushed for the language to prevent that.
The bill from state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, would forbid government from infringing on a person’s religious beliefs unless the government can prove a compelling interest and would cover individuals and closely held corporations. Critics say such measures are being considered in 13 states as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares for a possible ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
Some Georgia business interests in the hotel and tourism industry have come out against the measure in recent days, arguing it will create a negative perception of the state for people booking conventions and large meetings.
Sine die surprise
The rush to pass bills by midnight of the 40th day can lead to dramatic changes to legislation — whether accidental or intentional. A Senate rule requires that bills be passed by at least one chamber before the 30th day, but it’s possible to get around that.
Opponents of several ideas are closely watching for controversial bills to be given new life by attachment to a related bill. For instance, voting rights groups have sent out email alerts warning of an amendment that could make changes to the state’s early voting process while education groups are watching for language that could expand the locations where guns can legally be carried.