Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City), right, talks to Tommy Smith (R-Nicholls) after introducing House Bill 87, Thursday March 3, 2011, at the capitol in Atlanta. The immigration bill contains provisions to similar ones in a tough new law enacted in Arizona last year. (AP Photo/John Amis)
ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers are entering the home stretch of this year’s legislative session bearing a heavy load of legislation.
Today marks crossover day, the 30th day of the General Assembly and the deadline by which bills must pass at least one legislative chamber to have a shot at becoming law. At least 80 bills are set for debate in the House and Senate today, and that list could grow longer.
After weeks of handwringing, the Senate finally decided to take up a bill paving the way for Sunday alcohol sales. The bill — which would allow local communities to decide whether they may sell beer, wine and alcohol in grocery and liquor stores on the Sabbath — made it out of the Rules Committee on Tuesday.
Sen. John Bulloch, R-Ochlocknee, said the bill has bipartisan support and that some of his colleagues were ready to finally put the issue to rest.
“This is the fifth or sixth year that this piece of legislation has been debated,” Bulloch said. “Some people felt like ... let’s get it over with, whether it wins or loses. It didn’t need to be something that we just needed to continue to have out there debating.”
Bulloch said the Senate’s GOP leadership gauged its appetite for the proposal — which had been lukewarm after religious groups weighed in — and found it more favorable. Georgia, Connecticut and Indiana are the only three states that ban the Sunday sale of alcohol at stores.
The Sunday alcohol sales bill will be among the more closely watched issues on the crossover calendar, which has at least 50 bills in the Senate and 30 in the House.
The Senate also will consider a bill that would allow a woman to sue for wrongful death if a doctor performing an abortion fails to follow state restrictions before performing the procedure.
The House calendar includes a bill to create a sentencing reform commission to study alternative punishments for some nonviolent offenders in hopes of slashing the state’s soaring prison costs. The proposal has the backing of Gov. Nathan Deal and legislative leaders.
Another bill would empower the secretary of state to set the date for the 2012 presidential preference primary.
An attempt to attach an amendment that would have forced presidential and vice presidential candidates to prove their U.S. citizenship before landing on the Georgia ballot failed.
A bill providing a tax break for jet fuel parts — designed to help Savannah, Ga.-based Gulfstream — also is on the docket.
A resolution that would have allowed pari-mutuel betting on horse racing in Georgia failed to make the cut.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Harry Geisinger, wanted the proceeds to go to education and trauma care on the state. Also absent from the calendar was a House bill to bar illegal immigrants from attending Georgia’s public colleges and universities.
But all hope was not lost. Rule Committee Chairman John Meadows said more bills could be added today in a supplemental calendar. And lawmakers routinely get around the crossover day deadline by attaching measures to other bills that have made the cut.
Several pending bills that would reform the state’s tax code are not subject to the crossover day deadline.
Those bills reflect recommendations of a panel created by the state Legislature to study the state’s tax code.
Among the recommendations was a proposal to slap the state sales tax back on groceries and lower the personal and corporate income taxes.
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Georgia is one of three states that currently forbids stores to sell any kind of alcohol on Sunday.