Ethics bill passes, guns fail as GA General Assembly ends session

4:40 AM, Mar 29, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- Georgia lawmakers worked until midnight on the final day of the 2013 legislative session, considering bills and wrapping up business.

Two of the session's most closely watched bills came down to the final hours. In the end, ethics reform passed, but the controversial gun bill did not.

SB 101 would have allowed guns in churches (with church approval), allowed school districts to train and arm administrators, and permitted guns on public college campuses. The bill was stalled in committee for most of the night; house leaders said they could not come to an agreement with key senators over whether to expand gun possession rights on college campuses in Georgia. 

Both sides had agreed to allow local K-12 school boards to choose whether to arm certain school employees and allow churches to choose whether to allow concealed weapons on their property.

Much of the legislative session was centered around the ethics reform bill. Thursday night, lawmakers reached a deal to limit lobbyist spending. The legislation will prevent lobbyists from spending more than $75 at a time on lawmakers. Lobbyists could not expend money on entertainment expenses.

Lawmakers have approved an overhaul of who regulates video poker and similar coin-operated machines in the state, and opened the door for some proceeds to be directed to the HOPE scholarship program.

The House and Senate each signed off on the bill Thursday. The legislation moves oversight of the machines to the Georgia Lottery Corporation and away from the state Department of Revenue. The bill had garnered opposition from anti-gambling groups, but supporters say the goal is to crack down on illegal gambling by making it easier to identify rogue machines.

The machines provide non-cash prizes, including merchandise and vouchers.

The bill calls for five percent of net receipts to be retained and directed to the HOPE scholarship program, reaching a maximum of 10 percent over time.

Republican Gov. Nathan Deal paid legislators a visit late Thursday afternoon as lawmakers neared the final gavel of the 2013 session.

It's a ceremonial tradition for Deal - who served in the General Assembly before being elected to Congress and then the governor's office. But the governor is able to celebrate a session that gave him most of what he wanted from lawmakers.

The final $41 billion state budget is fundamentally similar to what Deal proposed in January. He got new investments in pre-kindergarten programs. He engineered a plan to avoid steep cuts in Medicaid insurance. He took Democrats' push for larger HOPE grants for technical college and made it his own.

Deal says he will begin traveling the state after the session. He faces a re-election campaign in 2014.

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