Speaker Ralston Comments on Day 40, Sine Die

House Speaker David Ralston.  Photo: Jon Richards
House Speaker David Ralston.
Photo: Jon Richards
Speaking to reporters shortly after banging the gavel to close out the 2016 legislative session Sine Die, House Speaker David Ralston said the the House was able to overcome partisanship and work on important measures, including the rape kit bill that was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Scott Holcomb of Atlanta. After House Bill 827 failed to receive a hearing in the Senate. the measure’s language was attached to Senate Bill 304, which had already passed the Senate. That bill was the first one called up for debate Thursday morning. It passed unanimously and was sent to the Senate where after being amended received final passage early Friday morning.

One of the more controversial things from Thursday night was a provision inserted into the conference committee report on House Bill 904 targeting the business community’s opposition to House Bill 757, the religious liberty bill that awaits the governor’s signature or veto. The language would have allowed an employee of a company which had published anti-discrimination policies to file a class action lawsuit against the company if the company had not followed its policies properly. However, the bill stated that such a lawsuit could not be filed if the policy “substantially restates or summarizes an existing law of the federal government or of this state.” making it likely that a suit would only be filed if the policy dealt with sexual orientation, gender identity, or other classes not mentioned in civil rights law.

Commenting on the conference committee report, the speaker said,

I’m not sure where [the language in the report] came from. You’ll have to look maybe over on the Senate side. I was very troubled by the first version of the conference committee report, and had no intention of calling it. I knew there was a Labor Department technical change that needed to be done so they redid it in order to get that done. You know, at some point we just have to lay these battles down and move forward as a state. I thought that the first version of that took us back.

One measure that didn’t pass was legislation that would have increased the number of conditions allowed to be treated by medical marijuana. While the House was able to pass a bill, it failed to come to a vote THursday night in the Senate. However, Ralston pointed out that it took two years to pass House Bill 1 in 2015, and that he will work with Rep. Allen Peake of Macon to try to move forward on additional legislation during the 2017 session.

The 40th day of the legislature typically ends at midnight, but the session didn’t end until 12:30 this morning, largely because of the need to pass House Bill 904 without the anti-discrimination language. According to Senate rules, that version had to be on Senators’ desks for two hours before being voted on, which meant a vote would have to be held after midnight. Speaker Ralston said an opinion letter was issued by the office of legislative counsel saying that a legislative day did not have to correspond with a calendar day. “Does that mean you could have gone to 11 AM?” a reporter asked. “I’m ready,” said the Speaker.

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