Politics & Government

Legislative Notebook: Last call for votes

ATLANTA -- The 40 days of the Georgia General Assembly end Thursday, and that usually means more than 12 hours in session with 236 elected senators and state representatives scrambling to perfect and pass each of their favored bills.

This year, anything that is not approved by the time the clock strikes midnight turns dormant until lawmakers come back in January 2016 and start debate again.

HOGS AND DOGS

The House and Senate both want to loosen hunting rules on farm field-wrecking feral hogs, and they will try Thursday to settle their minor differences over House Bill 475. Both versions would let permit-holders “shoot ‘em with anything from a pellet rifle to a bazooka and at any time of day or night except deer season,” said author state Rep. Tom McCall, R-Elberton. Both allow using lights at night and hunting from vehicles. The Senate version adds a ban on transporting live feral hogs pretty much anywhere except to slaughter.

The House and Senate also agree that injuring or killing an on-duty police dog should be punishable by up to five years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines, depending on how bad the dog is hurt. They need to settle on the maximum fine.

And in return for their final signature, the House wants the Senate to agree with two unrelated amendments. One would expand the definition of “incest” to one’s half-grandparents, half-aunts and half-uncles. Another amendment adds text messaging and e-mail to the definition of “harassing” communications.

It’s a common tactic to add odd amendments to a bill as the legislative session ends. It’s called “Christmas treeing” a bill: hanging all kinds of assorted things on it.

FAIL, FOR NOW

A bill to allow Georgia’s licensed gun-toters to tote their weapons on public college campuses did not get a House hearing. The point of the very late bill from freshman state Rep. Heath Clark, R-Warner Robins, is to lay the groundwork for asking for a hearing next year.

The Georgia Board of Regents recently won a two-year fight against a similar proposal and is not interested in changing the law that bans concealed carry on campus.

Hopes are even dimmer for a bill to mandate that a special out-of-town prosecutor handle cases when someone dies at the hands of law enforcement. State Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, filed House Bill 37 to ensure a neutral party -- one who has no local friends, connections or co-workers -- prosecutes officers. A state Senate subcommittee heard her bill and declined to recommend it to a full committee.

An idea to study the feasibility of a state takeover of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport proved unpopular in the Senate and does not look likely to get a floor vote. Senate Resolution 451 from state Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson, proposed that several senators spend the summer listing the pros and cons of the state managing the airport just as it does the Port of Savannah.

Atlanta is not trying to get rid of it. One of the cons would have to be the enormous fight that would result between Atlanta and the state if Georgia decided it wanted one of the city’s icons.

The state Senate also declined to hear from landowners who want to harness solar energy without losing a property tax break they get on land used for conservation or conventional farming. House Bill 496 would have allowed solar farms to be carved out of such low-tax land and taxed normally. Cell towers are treated much the same way. But the bill from state Rep. Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, did not get out of the Senate Finance Committee.

FORSYTH, GORDON MAKEOVERS

The mayor of the city of Forsyth will get some professional help soon, subject to Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature on a bill that overhauls how the city is governed, putting a manager in charge of day-to-day oversight. The city requested the change, and the Legislature overwhelmingly approved.

The city of Gordon might be the next city to get a rule change. Two related disputes between the mayor and some City Council members over spending, voting, hiring and firing have landed in Georgia’s Supreme Court this year. Its state senator, David Lucas, D-Macon, plans to work with the city of Gordon over the next few months and propose some city charter rewrites next year.

Telegraph writer Maggie Lee compiled this report. To contact her, email mlee@macon.com.

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