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Gov. Deal intends to sign immigration, APS bills
Gov. Deal intends to sign immigration, APS bills

ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal tells 11Alive News that he intends to sign the illegal immigration bill now on his desk. The bill, which has been compared to Arizona-style immigration reform, passed with just hours left in the final day of the General Assembly's legislative session.

Deal supported tough immigration measures in Congress and campaigned on the issue in the governor's race, but refrained from commenting on the legislation while it was still pending.

Deal said he hopes Georgia and other states that are enacting similar legislation will help spur Congress to take action nationally.

He said he and his staff have studied the legislation as it progressed, and they said they feel it will pass legal muster.

"The law is the law," Deal said, pointing out that if someone is employed illegally, they would be dealt with.

Deal went on to say he hoped a threatened boycott of the state of Georgia would not happen, but that a boycott wouldn't stop the state's efforts at immigration reform.

The law would authorize law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of certain criminal suspects and allows them to detain those found to be in the country illegally. It would also penalize people who "knowingly and intentionally" transport or harbor illegal immigrants.

It also would require employers with 10 or more employees to use a federal database called E-Verify to check the immigration status of new hires.

Legislature OKs state control of Atlanta Schools

Gov. Deal also said he was going to sign legislation allowing the state to step in and take control of Atlanta's school board.  At issue is the ability of the school system, now on probation, to maintain its accreditation.

The legislation would allow the state board of education to investigate the Atlanta board and take action if it is needed, including removing and appointing school board members.

Metro Atlanta lawmakers were split on the measure, which was approved Thursday. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed lobbied his former colleagues to support the proposal.

The governor appointed watchdogs earlier this year, when the embattled system was placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Deal said he has been receiving regular reports, and said the system was making some progress, but that he was not certain if the progress was enough, given the probationary situation the school board finds itself in.

SACS has pointed out six major issues the school board must address by Sept. 30, including internal bickering, ethics issues, and transparency in the search for a new superintendent. 

This new law would include an earlier deadline. It would require the Atlanta School board to appear before the State Department of Education by July 31. It's step one in a process that could remove board members if they're not doing enough to keep accreditation.

Deal expressed concern over the matter earlier this session and appointed liaisons from the General Assembly to monitor the situation.

Democratic Sen. Vincent Fort of Atlanta says if the move is implemented, it clears a pathway to federal court because it usurps the voters' decision in a potential violation of the Voting Rights Act. Fort called the vote "a Republican, anti-Atlanta power grab."

Lobbying Loophole

Georgia lawmakers have signed off on a bill that allows employees of utilities to make contributions to political campaigns. The legislation also closes an ethics loophole that exempted lobbyists from disclosing what they spend on gifts to staff members of elected officials.

The House gave the bill final passage Thursday by a 152-9 vote. It now heads to Gov. Nathan Deal.

Landfill Dumping

Lawmakers have given final passage to a bill allowing Georgians to dump lawn clippings into landfills.

The measure - which passed 118-48 Thursday night - also renews a $1 tire cleanup fee for three more years. But it doesn't require that the fee be spent on tire cleanup. The money instead goes to the general fund.

Health Insurance

The Georgia Senate has voted to join a proposed interstate health care compact, an effort to defy the federal health law.

The bill would allow Georgia to create alliances with other states on health care. Compact bills have been popping up in several states, pushed by tea party groups as part of a national states' rights push. Democrats argued that supporters of the bill are simply trying to snub President Barack Obama and his federal health reform law.

Sunday Sales

Several key pieces of legislation have already passed this legislative session, including a bill that would pave the way for Sunday alcohol sales by allowing local governments to ask voters to decide on the issue.

The bill, passed late Tuesday, now sits on the governor's desk, awaiting his signature. Several Metro Atlanta cities are already looking into putting it on their November ballots.

Budget Agreement

Legislators have agreed to an $18.3 billion budget that pours additional state money into tax investigators, Medicaid and domestic violence shelters.

The House gave its final approval to the spending plan by a 143-32 vote Tuesday afternoon. The state Senate approved the blueprint 48-6 later Tuesday.

Pseudoephedrine Sales

Only pharmacies would be able to sell pseudoephedrine in Georgia under a new bill headed to Gov. Deal's desk.

House Bill 93 would reclassify pseudoephedrine as a Schedule 5 exempt drug. Cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine would still be available for sale without a prescription, but only in pharmacies.

HOPE Scholarship 

A month ago, Gov. Deal signed into law major changes to the HOPE Scholarship program.

Starting this fall, the scholarships will only cover 90 percent of tuition for all but the highest scoring students; that figure doesn't account for expected tuition increases. Students who graduate high school with at least a 3.7 GPA and 1200 on the SAT or students who are among the top two students in their school will still get a full ride under the Zell Miller Scholarship.

Gulfstream Tax Break

A bill that extends a hefty tax break for Savannah, Ga.-based Gulfstream Aerospace is headed to Gov. Nathan Deal's desk.

The bill squeaked by in the House Thursday after Speaker David Ralston cast the deciding vote.

The Gulfstream tax break will cost the state $4.2 million in lost tax revenue in 2012.  It extends until 2013 the tax break on the sale of aircraft parts repaired or maintained in Georgia.

Delta tax exemption

Delta Airlines could save up to $30 million on taxes over two years under legislation on its way to Gov. Nathan Deal.

The bill caps the exemption at $20 million for fiscal year 2012 and $10 million for fiscal year 2013. The current tax break had been set to expire June 30.

Sen. Majority Whip Steps Down

Lawmakers pushed forward at a fever pace despite a stunning scandal earlier in the week. Sen. Cecil Staton (R-18th) stepped down as Majority Whip after being accused of writing a litany of emails attacking Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, posing as a 55-year-old woman named Beth Merkleson, who claimed to be a Republican volunteer. 

In the emails, Merkleson sent to Capitol insiders almost daily, she says, "I think Casey Cagle ought to resign. He's lost his moral and ethic right to hold office. He, unfortunately, is like too many others who are elected and the power goes to the head." 

Staton was one of the organizers of a meeting last fall when Cagle was stripped of most of his powers. Staton's emails went further, accusing Cagle of offering senators powerful committee chairmanships if they would restore his power. 

The Senate's Minority Leader, Sen. Robert Brown (D-26th), responded to the accusations Tuesday morning. 

"I want to stand here today and clear that up," he said. "I want to clear that up, and I want it just as clear as the crystal clear water from the springs of Warm Springs. There's no such deal." 

Republican insiders investigated, emailing Beth Merkleson a letter praise. Investigators say Merkleson responded but signed the letter Cecil Staton. The IP addresses for Beth Merkleson and Cecil Staton matched up -- they're one and the same.

New Legislative Schedule

This is the first year of the General Assembly's new two-year legislative schedule. Any bills not passed by midnight will remain alive for the next regular legislative session, which begins in January.

A special legislative session is expected this summer to deal with congressional redistricting, following the results of the latest U.S. Census.

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Atlanta political bloggers kept a close eye on the legislative action and posted updates on a blog hosted by Georgia Politics Unfiltered below.