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Georgia legislature hits the home stretch

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

ATLANTA - When the Legislature convenes Monday for the 34th day of the 40-day session, the agenda will be dominated by the 2012 state budget, a suddenly revamped proposal to overhaul the state tax code and Sunday alcohol sales. That will leave little oxygen in the Capitol for much else, despite that of more than 2,000 bills introduced this year, only seven have reached Gov. Nathan Deal's desk.

But other major issues, including guns and abortion, might fall victim to the time crunch, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said.

Senate Bill 102, which does away with restrictions on where weapons can be carried, will likely end up part of discussions after the session about an omnibus gun bill that has been taking shape in the House, Ralston said. And SB 210, which makes it easier for women to sue abortion providers for performing abortions, did not get careful enough scrutiny, he said.

Lawmakers will be in session all five days this week, then take a break for the Masters and spring break the week of April 4. They'll return to the Capitol for the final two days of the session April 12 and 14.

Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, pointed out that the Legislature this year has already moved on politically tough or controversial issues such as changing HOPE scholarships to keep them financially viable.

In the Senate, lawmakers are expected as early as Wednesday to adopt their version of an $18 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The House has already passed its version of the budget, and negotiations between the two sides could begin by the end of the week.

The House could vote as early as Tuesday on SB 10, which would allow local governments to ask voters if alcohol by the bottle should be sold on Sundays. It could appear before the Rules Committee Monday morning, where a favorable vote would send it to the House floor on Tuesday.

Lawmakers also have a time crunch in dealing with immigration. Competing bills have passed each chamber to crack down on illegal immigration, but legislators must now scramble over the final seven days to find a compromise.