Capitol Recap: This year, talk begins early on campus gun bill

Gov. Nathan Deal says he’s talking with the supporters of the campus gun bill that just cleared the House.

The conversation began a lot sooner than it did last year, when the governor vetoed a similar piece of legislation.

“We’re receptive to continuing to talk with them, and hopefully they’re receptive to making some additional changes,” the governor said this past week.

Then he added, “Whether they do or don’t, that’s their decision.”

It was a little different in 2016. Deal waited until an inopportune time to begin chatting up legislators — after both chambers of the General Assembly had approved the legislation but before the end of the legislative session. Basically, he was telling legislators then that, as he put it this week, they should be “receptive to making some additional changes.”

The big alteration he was seeking then: In addition to dormitories, fraternities and sorority houses, as well as sporting events, he also wanted on-campus child care facilities, faculty or administrative office space, and disciplinary meetings off-limits for guns.

The legislators said, “We’re good with what we have.” And out came the veto.

So far, this year’s campus gun bill, House Bill 280, has conceded on-campus child care facilities.

When state Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, proposed the bill, she said she considered Deal’s other requests. But she decided that the critics’ concerns did not outweigh the needs of others.

“We need to permit people to defend themselves,” she said.

House leadership appears to be unmoved.

Speaker David Ralston said lawmakers tried to be “accommodating” to the governor. But he added, “This is the will of the House of Representatives, by a very clear margin, after a bill that has gone through an extensive, very detailed process going back to April of last year.”

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, as head of the state Senate, seems ready to keep talking.

“I look forward to working with the governor’s office to see if there’s a compromise there,” he said.

Now that sounds receptive.

Just a bill, won’t be a law

Georgia legislators waited a few days to go back into session after racing through Crossover Day.

Some had to lick their wounds.

The 28th day of this year’s 40-day session was the deadline for bills, under normal standards, to cross over from one legislative chamber to the other with any possibility of becoming law.

When you have deadlines, some things are likely to die — nobody really pays much attention to a deadline if a little blood isn’t spilled every now and then.

Here are a few bills that face long odds if they’re going to make it to the final verse — at least this year — of the “Schoolhouse Rock” classic “I’m Just a Bill”:

House Bill 54: This was the second year that state Rep. Geoff Duncan tried to set tax credits at 90 percent for donations to rural hospitals. Last year, the Republican from Cumming managed to get the tax credit program created, but the Senate lowered the reward for contributions to 70 percent. It turned out that didn’t help much, so Duncan — who is viewed as a potential candidate for higher office next year — tried again to bump up the credit. Rural hospitals still appear to be struggling — at least five have closed in Georgia since 2013 — so look for this proposal to return next year.

House Bill 145: This was widely known as “the Delta Bill,” except to its sponsor, state Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, who told anybody who would listen that it was not about Delta Air Lines. It’s just that it would have meant up to $30 million in annual savings for the airline that posted a $4.4 billion profit last year. That prosperity may have been a factor in the bill’s demise, but it shouldn’t be ruled out that some legislators remain irritated by the very public advocacy in 2015 by then-Delta chief Richard Anderson for that year’s major transportation bill and the tax increase that went with it.

Senate Bill 17: This bears the markings of a clash between Senate kahunas. Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Renee Unterman, R-Buford, put her considerable clout behind what she called her “mimosa mandate.” The bill would have given privately owned restaurants the same right as government-owned buildings to serve alcohol on Sundays before 12:30 p.m. — actually letting them start serving up those mimosas, bloody marys and screwdrivers at 10:30 a.m. But Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, who’s a little higher on the flow chart than Unterman, stood in the way. The Republican from Athens has blocked similar “brunch bills” over the past two years out of concern that it would scramble a “fragile compromise” between legislative leaders and the faith community over allowing any alcohol sales on Sundays.

Senate Bill 118: This is another difficult loss for Unterman and other Senate leaders who — inspired by the great-niece of a former colleague — pushed through insurance coverage for autism for children up to age 6 in 2015. SB 118 would have raised the age cap to 21, but it would have to get past opposition from insurance and business advocates who have long opposed expanding mandates they say can be costly. This is a fight that could resume next year.

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Staff writers Greg Bluestein, Janel Davis, James Salzer, Aaron Gould Sheinin and Kristina Torres contributed to this article.

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