The Georgia Legislature only met two days this week–Monday’s Crossover Day and a relatively abbreviated session on Wednesday–and will return to the Gold Dome on Monday. The long weekend provides a break for most legislators after a long second half of February that saw floor action every day after President’s Day, but it also gives leadership a bit of time to go through the bills and prioritize those that made it past the 30 day mark.
Progress was made on several issues on Wednesday, though. The House unanimously passed HR 1135, which establishes a 15 member committee to study how to protect Georgia’s military bases from a possible round of military base closures. The federal government is expected to convene a commission to examine which military bases could or should be closed, possibly beginning in 2017. The study committee is being created to prepare for the next round of the BRAC process and to determine how to protect the $20 billion in economic impact of the state’s military installations.
The bill is sponsored by Republican Dave Belton of Buckhead, along with several other representatives who have military installations in or adjacent to their districts. The issue of protecting the state’s military installations is also a priority for Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and the House Democratic Caucus. Early in the session, Leader Abrams named the issue one of her caucus’s top priorities, and the caucus has created a website in support of the idea.
Senate committees held hearings on several bills Wednesday afternoon. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on HB 859, the campus carry bill sponsored by Rick Jasperse of Jasper. Over the course of the two and a half hour hearing, committee members heard from around 40 witnesses, including University System Chancellor Hank Huckabee, who testified that the Board of Regents firmly opposes the measure. The hearing room was completely full, with many supporters wearing buttons or stickers identifying them as members of pro or anti gun groups, including Moms Demand Action, Gunsense Georgia, Outcry Georgia, and Georgia Carry.
After giving all who wanted to testify a chance to speak, Judiciary Committee Chairman Josh McKoon adjourned without taking a vote on the bill. The committee will likely vote on the bill next week. Previous efforts to pass similar campus carry bills have failed in the Senate, largely because of opposition by the Board of Regents. The situation could be different this year because of statements by Governor Nathan Deal who expressed support for the measure on Monday. Governor Deal’s change of heart, along with the support of Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge could mean a different outcome this year.
In a separate hearing, the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee issued do pass recommendations for several sales tax breaks, including one that exempts sales of tickets to large sporting events such as the Super Bowl. The measure has drawn controversy from those who don’t believe the state should subsidize sports franchises or the construction of new stadia or arenas. The committee also gave the go ahead to the annual back to school and energy efficient products sales tax breaks.