Legislative Notebook: Gov. Nathan Deal to sign or veto myriad of bills

March 18, 2014 

ATLANTA -- It’s time for Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to find his signing pen or his veto stamp.

The second-to-last day of the annual state legislative session closed Tuesday, sending bills to the Republican governor’s desk on topics ranging from car tags to gopher tortoises.

Georgia’s plan to spend $20.8 billion in state revenue for the fiscal year ending June 30 may get some trims in Deal’s office, but the budget will definitely be signed. It will be signed without $25,000 dedicated to researching a plan to provide emergency room services in underserved rural areas.

The Senate endorsed the spending after the death of Senate Bill 338, by state Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon. That bill would have lifted some licensing restrictions on standalone rural ERs. Lucas objected to the House-Senate compromise that cut the spending, but Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, told Lucas he had made his point.

“I don’t think $25,000 could have done it” or even $1 million, Hill said. The language in the budget and the attention, he said, are more important than the cash.

In a separate bill, some $2 million annually could go to nongame wildlife conservation programs if Deal signs House Bill 881 by state Rep. Bubber Epps, R-Dry Branch. It would cut the renewal fee on “Give Wildlife a Chance” special car tags and would channel more of that fee to the forest, instead of the state’s general bank account.

A yearlong effort by state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, to channel some cash into downtown redevelopment efforts finally was sent to the governor with Senate passage of House Bill 128.

If signed by Deal, it would set up a revolving loan fund of up to $20 million for authorities aiming to redo their downtowns.

The cities that offer the most matching money to go with the loans will get highest priority, said Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, who sponsored the measure in the Senate.

Gopher tortoises will be protected from people piping exhaust into their burrows if Deal signs Senate Bill 322.

The gopher tortoise is not the intended target of the deadly exhaust, but rather its sometime housemate, the poisonous rattlesnake.

To run out the snakes, people “sometimes take a rubber tube and put it in the hole to emit fumes” from gasoline, explained state Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, the bill’s sponsor in the House.

If people continue to take that approach, they risk the wrath of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service for endangering the vulnerable tortoise.

Bills become law 40 days after passage if the governor does not veto them.

Writer Maggie Lee compiled this report.

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