The Georgia General Assembly convenes Jan. 14 for its annual session. The state constitution allows lawmakers 40 days of legislative business, but doesn’t set a date by which the session must end. The Assembly usually finishes its business in early to mid-spring.
Here’s a look at the issues and dynamics worth watching:
Budget: Lawmakers are responsible for crafting a state budget for fiscal 2013-14, which begins July 1. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal hasn’t issued the official revenue estimates used to write the budget, but most observers expect the projected shortfall — which means the difference between the predicted revenue and the amount of money necessary to continue existing services, personnel and policies for another year — to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 million.
Hospital Tax: The anticipated budget shortfall does not include the $600 million to $700 million generated by an existing Medicaid financing scheme that runs out this year. Hospitals have submitted a proposal to extend the current scheme and add some new wrinkles. The question is how to get it through a Legislature where many members are reluctant to support anything that smells like a tax.
Ethics: Senate leaders have floated the idea of capping lobbyist spending on lawmakers at $100. House Speaker David Ralston has floated an outright ban. There is currently no limit on what lobbyists spend, as long as they disclose it in public reports.
Criminal Justice: After passing an overhaul of the adult criminal justice system last year, lawmakers are expected to turn their attention to the juvenile justice system. A special council last month released a report with recommendations for juvenile justice reforms, including saving the state’s out-of-home facilities for the most serious offenders and strengthening community programs to reduce recidivism.
Guns In Schools: In the wake of the December massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, gun-related proposals will span the ideological spectrum. There are already calls for more guns in schools, either by expanding the number of armed guards or allowing teachers and principals to carry weapons. Some Atlanta Democrats, meanwhile, want to push discussion on gun-control measures like limiting high-capacity magazines and requiring background checks and public records of private gun sales.
Vouchers: A Georgia program that lets businesses and individuals get tax credits for money that finances private school scholarships could draw proposed changes from both ends of the spectrums. There are always lawmakers who want to expand the existing scheme into a statewide voucher program.
Other lawmakers, particularly among leading Democrats, want to require more transparency in the current structure: what schools are getting how much money, and how are those students doing?
Teacher Evaluations: Lawmakers and the Department of Education must work out details of Georgia’s new teacher evaluation system that ties educators’ job performance assessments to student performance. The key question is how to measure certain teachers — those in art, band or physical education or in early grades — whose students do not take clearly measurable standardized tests.
New Stadium: Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank wants a new domed stadium, but the public investment of tourism tax revenues will require legislative approval.