The Georgia Senate on Thursday voted to approve Governor Nathan Deal's record-breaking budget, a $23.7 billion spending blueprint for the coming fiscal year, setting the stage for negotiations with House appropriators and a possible, if unlikely, delayed adjournment.
Days remaining until Sine Die: 5 legislative days
The budget, of which a version passed the House of Representatives last month, includes a three percent pay raise for state employees, teachers, bus drivers and school nurses and nutritionists. The legislation also allocates nearly $1 billion in new transportation funds.
The two budgets passed nearly unanimously in both chambers, with only one dissenter in the House and two in the Senate.
But because the two chambers approved slightly different spending bills, a joint House-Senate conference committee will convene this week to marry the competing proposals.
The adoption of a balanced budget is the General Assembly's lone constitutional responsibility, but a host of other marquee proposals, including a contentious religious liberty bill and a proposal to allow for non-lethal electroshock weapons on state college and university campuses, are fast approaching expiration.
After earlier gaining approval from the House, the Senate on Friday voted to green light firearms on state college and university campuses. The bill now moves to the governor’s desk for signature.
In the House, a parade of lawmakers, including Speaker David Ralston, took to the well on Thursday to condemn the comments of a lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, who likened the chamber's deliberate inaction on religious liberty bills to the political climate of Nazi Germany.
In a since-amended opinion editorial, the lobbyist wrote, "We must not let the government do to us what Hitler did to the pastors and churches of his day. He got them to accept his protection from government action if they would agree to stay out of government. He basically said, you take care of the church and leave government to me."
That didn't sit well with House Republicans, and some analysts believe the episode may have damaged the bills' chance of passage.
Speaker Ralston told reporters, "I think his comments and what he said were beyond the pale. I think it's despicable. I think it's deplorable. On behalf of the House of Representatives, I was extremely sickened that someone would compare this legislative body to Hitler and Hitler's Germany."
Qualifying for primaries opened last week and two prominent Republicans, one from each chamber, have drawn opposition from their own party. Speaker Ralston will again compete with Sam Snider, a Gilmer County wrestling coach and tea party activist who previously vied for the nomination last cycle, and Sen. Brandon Beach will square off with Milton businessman Aaron Barlow.