The General Assembly’s 2016 session ended Thursday, and as usual, they got up to a bunch of mischief, good and bad. Here’s what happened with some of the bills that affect Athens:
• The “brunch bill,” which would have allowed restaurants to start serving alcohol at 10:30 a.m. rather than 12:30 p.m.—helping us all deal with our hangovers and putting money in the pockets of servers and bartenders—passed the House but was blocked from even coming up for a vote in the Senate because it might offend churchgoers, as Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) explained to the AJC. “We have some obligation to respect that majority of the population,” Cowsert said. “That’s a very small sacrifice for the millennial: On one of the seven days of the week, to not be able to start drinking until 12:30 p.m.—at least not in a restaurant. They’re certainly free to make a mimosa at home if they’d like to.”
• A bill written by Rep. Spencer Frye (D-Athens) requiring drivers to stop at crosswalks when beacons are flashing likewise passed the House, but failed in the Senate by just a single vote. Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) voted in favor of it, but Cowsert was out of the room in a conference committee meeting.
• A version of a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to test rape kits within 30 days (including more than 150 kits gathering dust in Athens), which had been blocked by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), cleared both chambers with just one dissenting vote. Unterman even voted in favor of it; the lone holdout was Sen. Ben Harbin (R-Augusta).
• The “campus carry” bill was just the beginning: Lawmakers voted to add Tasers and stun guns to the list of weapons you can carry onto college campuses.
• Atlanta voters will be allowed to decide on a half-penny sales tax for mass transit. That doesn’t much help Athenians, but it does show at least a slight willingness on the part of legislators to do something other than pave more highway lanes to ease traffic gridlock.
• The legislature didn’t expand Medicaid, redraw Athens-Clarke County Commission districts the way we want them, move our local elections back to November or take another look at taxi regulations that don’t fit the needs of Athens—some of the key items on the commission’s wish list.
The transit, rape-kit and Taser bills will join campus carry on Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk. He’s already vetoed the “religious liberty” bill and has until May 3 to sign or veto the others.
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