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Bills flood hopper on crossover day
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It was the beginning of the end of the 2012 legislative session.
The Georgia Capitol, normally cleared by 4 p.m. each afternoon, was occupied well beyond nightfall March 7, as lawmakers fought the clock to get their bills to the other side.
The day was called Crossover Day, the final day of reckoning for most bills seeking to become law this year.
Any bill that didn’t pass out of at least one chamber by the end of the day, with a few exceptions, was essentially dead.
The Georgia House of Representatives got moving early, passing a budget for the fiscal year that begins in July before lunch.
The $19.2 billion plan largely mirrors one introduced by Gov. Nathan Deal earlier this year, but some recommendations didn’t make the cut, including the governor’s plans for the state’s Court of Appeals and recommendations for staffing levels for assistant district attorneys.
The plan now heads to the Senate for more carving, but House lawmakers approved the budget with a 151-21 vote and no debate.
“This may be the most straightforward budget we’ve produced in some time,” said Rep. Terry England, a Republican from Auburn and the vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Early in the day, bills moved swiftly through the House. One of the first to pass was a bill by Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, that would allow Georgia businesses to sell insurance on electronic devices like iPads.
Another bill, carried by Gainesville Republican Doug Collins for the governor, expanded eligibility for a tax credit offered to job creators.
The bill, HB 868, came out of the chamber with far less ambition than the way it arrived. A previously hoped-for provision that would have lowered the number of required new jobs to receive the tax credit from 50 to 15 was missing in the bill lawmakers passed Wednesday.
Collins said budgetary issues let the air out of that provision.
But a Deal spokesman said the governor was happy with the House’s product. It, too, passed with little fanfare. But other bills were debated for nearly an hour in the 12-hour day of lawmaking.
After a bitter debate, House members passed a bill that would add drug testing requirements for those who receive public assistance.
The Senate, too, sent a proposed law to the House that would call for food stamp recipients to earn their GED, pursue technical education, attend self-development classes or enroll in adult literacy classes. Sen. William Ligon, the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation is intended to help underemployed Georgians get the professional development training they need to better themselves.
Opponents slammed the proposal as an onerous burden on an already strained population.
If passed, the law would not apply to people under 16 or over 59, the mentally or physically disabled, caretakers of dependent children or adults, people who work at least 30 hours a week, students, participants in alcohol or drug rehabilitation programs or people receiving unemployment benefits.
The Department of Human Services would first implement a five-county pilot program before taking the initiative statewide. The Department of Audits and Accounts estimates the pilot program’s cost at $23 million, with statewide implementation expected to cost $772 million.
Also in the Senate, a proposal giving an exemption for providing birth control to health care providers with a religious affiliation passed by a vote of 38-15, with objection from Senate Democrats, including several women senators. Similar bills filed recently in Idaho, Missouri and Arizona echo a separate proposal in the U.S. Congress that would exempt insurance plans from the contraception requirement if they have moral objections.
The legislation was filed in response to a recent Obama administration decision that seeks to guarantee employees of religion-affiliated institutions reproductive health coverage, which would include contraception. In the House, lawmakers reacted to a recent state Supreme Court ruling that struck down a previous law that banned people from publicly advertising suicide. The ruling kept four members of the Final Exit Network, which helped a Cumming cancer patient die, from standing trial.
“This is an issue that we as a state cannot ignore,” said Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth.
The House voted unanimously to approve a bill that would strengthen the visitation rights for grandparents whose grandchildren are involved in divorce or custody cases.
Other bills that made it through the House included one that lawmakers said made it easier to prosecute metal thieves and owners of dogs considered to be vicious or dangerous.
A bill that sought to give homeowners power to use solar panels at their homes, overriding restrictive neighborhood covenants, failed to pass out of the House Wednesday, despite a plurality of votes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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