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Greg Bluestein

Five issues to watch during today’s bill signing deadline

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It’s crunch time for Gov. Nathan Deal. He has until the end of Tuesday to decide whether to sign the dozens of bills still pending into law or take out his red veto pen.

The governor has already inked some of the bigger itemnathan-deal-signing-law-aps, including the $20.8 billion spending plan and the broad expansion of gun rights. But plenty of high-profile issues still await his decision.

Here are the five issues we’re closely watching:

Obamacare

Deal will decide on two pieces of legislation today that aim to send an unwavering message that President Obama’s healthcare overhaul is an enemy of the state.

The first, House Bill 990, gives lawmakers the authority to decide whether the state should expand its Medicaid program – a power that now rests in the governor’s office. The second, House Bill 943,  restricts state and local agencies or their employees from advocating for a Medicaid expansion and bans the creation of a health insurance exchange.

Both were strongly supported by Republican activists, and Deal is expected to sign them.

UPDATE: Deal has signed both pieces of legislation into law.

Food stamps

The governor has strongly hinted that he will sign a bill that would require drug testing for some recipients of welfare and food stamps — and require them to pay for the tests out of their own pockets. The measure, House Bill 772, is by far the toughest in the nation when it comes to public assistance.

Deal suggested Monday he would sign the measure, which he said does helps strike a balance between two competing forces: “One is the right of individuals if they qualify to be given assistance in terms of food stamps. And on the other hand, the right of the taxpayers not to be putting money in the hands of those who are abusing drugs.”

Update: Deal has signed the legislation.

Private Probation

This may be one of the governor’s toughest decisions. House Bill 837 would allow private probation companies to keep secret from the public details such as how many people they supervise and how much they collect in fines.

He told WABE earlier this month that he was concerned with language added into the bill late in the session meant to shield some of the records, but Deal walked back those comments on Monday. He said a deeper look made him “feel a little bit better” that the law would still allow the public to access aggregate data about powerful private probation firms.

Complicating his decision is a recently-released state audit that found courts provide little oversight of private probation companies and the companies do little to supervise the low-level offenders they are supposed to watch. Deal said he would read the audit before making his final decision.

Update: Deal said he will veto the legislation.

Snowjam response

In the wake of this winter’s double-whammy, a weather task force has endorsed stronger punishments for tractor-trailer drivers and others who ignore warnings and block the flow of traffic.

House Bill 753, which Deal plans to sign later today, allows authorities to fine truck drivers $1,000 if they ignore warnings to use snow chains during weather emergencies. It also imposes new restrictions on truckers from driving inside the Perimeter during a state of emergency.

Update: Deal has signed the legislation.

Political Monuments

Deal plans to live up to his pledge to honor Martin Luther King Jr. by putting his name on the statehouse grounds. He made that vow at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on King’s holiday, a move steeped in symbolism (and political undertones).

The legislation, House Bill 1080, requires the civil rights icon’s statue on the capitol grounds or another prominent place – one potential is the new park to be built across the street. 

Another monument bill is far more controversial. House Bill 702 calls for a granite monument containing the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state Capitol. Supporters hope it passes legal muster because the display also includes parts of the Georgia Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. But at least one scholar says it’s still “clearly unconstitutional.”

UPDATE: Deal signed the MLK statue legislation at a ceremony flanked by Martin Luther King III and Bernice King. He later signed the Ten Commandments legislation.

Check out this link for a running tally on all the high-profile bills up for consideration today.

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