As dusk fell Thursday on the state Capitol, lawmakers were busy on the floors of the House and Senate trying to pass last-minute legislation before the midnight end of this year’s session of the Georgia General Assembly.
Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, came through for Gainesville and Hall County officials before the buzzer sounded.
Following the House’s lead, the Senate adopted two pieces of local legislation that will create the Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau Authority and a new Board of Elections and Registrations of Hall County.
The new CVB will replace the existing tourism and trade office as the official marketing arm for conventions and tourism in the city. City officials have said they will fund the authority with hotel/motel tax revenue in the 2015 fiscal year.
The original bill would have given the CVB power to issue bonds, purchase property and hire personnel, but that language was stripped before passage.
Meanwhile, the new elections board, which becomes effective Jan. 1, will remove supervision of the chief registrar from the Hall County Superior Court and into the hands of the county administrator.
The board will consist of two Republicans and two Democrats, with the chief registrar serving as the chairperson. Each board member would serve a four-year term.
County officials praised the bill, hoping it will provide more resources and oversight to the county elections office.
But critics fear it may politicize the board by staffing it with partisan operatives while giving new oversight to the Republican-dominated Board of Commissioners.
Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, scored a major victory this week with the passage of the Cancer Treatment Fairness Act, a bill that places a $200 cap on out-of-pocket costs for orally administered chemotherapy treatments.
The bill faced a tough challenge when legislation was added last week requiring some insurers to cover autism treatments for children.
But that language was later stripped from the bill, Hawkins said, and replaced with a rider that seeks to undermine the enforceability and expansion of the Affordable Care Act by prohibiting the creation of health care exchanges in the state. It also bars the state insurance commissioner from enforcing or investigating any insurance-related provision of the federal health care law.
The cancer bill then made its way to the governor’s desk.
“It’s a success for the patients facing cancer,” Hawkins said of the bill’s passage, adding that it will become effective Jan. 1.
Hawkins said he would revisit the bill again next year to see if he could lower the out-of-pocket costs further as some nonprofit cancer groups have advocated.
“I realize it’s a little bit high for some folks,” Hawkins added.
Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville, spearheaded the passage of several bills, including one that streamlines the sale of state properties while leaving veto power to representatives in the districts where such land is located. And a bill that bundles easements when utilities like Georgia Power and other agencies come into conflict with state property – and vice versa – also passed both houses.
As part of a consent resolution that combines all road renaming resolutions and road dedications, the General Assembly voted to dedicate Ga. 347 as Lanier Islands Parkway between Lake Lanier and Interstate 985, and as Friendship Road between Interstate 985 and Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway.
State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, has said the roads’ names, as far as mailing and 911 addresses go, is another issue.
“That is not the state’s purview,” he said. “That would be up to the county.”
Per votes taken by the Hall County Board of Commissioners over the past few years, all of Ga. 347 eventually will be named Lanier Islands Parkway.
Miller also co-sponsored a Senate resolution that calls on Georgia to participate in a convention of states to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution as allowed under Article V.
State lawmakers have proposed amendments that would “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.”
A national movement to use this mechanism, brought on by political conservatives, is growing more popular. A total of 34 states would have to sign off on a similar resolution for the convention to take place.
Meanwhile, the $20.8 billion budget passed by the House and Senate this week pumps new money into education, as well as into a project to deepen the Port of Savannah. But it also was laced with some pork, and not everyone was satisfied with the process.
One of the more controversial items was funding for a new Atlanta Falcons parking deck, which can also be used for other events, as well as conventions at the nearby Georgia World Congress Center.
“I’m not happy with how it came about,” Dunahoo said, adding that the item was in one minute and out the next, before finally being added just as lawmakers were set to approve the spending bill.
The end of the legislative session allowed local state representatives to reflect on the season that was.
Despite closing government for several days during winter snowstorms, lawmakers managed to cram the 40-day session into the fewest calendar days possible after moving up the primary election date to May 20.
Dunahoo said he was concerned about how the new primary election schedule might hamper business at the Capitol. He worried lawmakers might be in too big a hurry to hit the campaign trail and begin fundraising, which is prohibited while the General Assembly is in session.
“One of the things I was concerned with was a political factor,” Dunahoo said. “That’s some of the things in politics I don’t like.”
Hawkins said he too had second thoughts about the shortened calendar, but was relieved by how things played out.
“At the beginning of the session … I expressed a concern about not having enough committee days,” Hawkins said, but added that he was pleasantly surprised by how swiftly lawmakers worked to get bills out of committee and up for a vote. “I think, all in all, I’m very pleased with what we’ve done this session.”
Times reporter Jeff Gill contributed to this story.