Gov. Nathan Deal reminded lawmakers during the legislative session’s final hours that he’s not afraid to wield his veto powers. On Tuesday we’ll find out just how willing he is to use that red pen.
The final day of the 40-day signing period is upon us, and the governor must decide whether to sign or nullify legislation. He can also let legislation become law by not taking action, but he’s never used that option. (“I don’t walk away from bills,” he once scoffed.)
Yet this signing period has left him with easier choices than last year’s fraught experience, when he vetoed both the “religious liberty” measure and a campus gun proposal – and conservatives promised all manner of payback.
Whatever revenge they had in store never really surfaced this legislative session, when Deal managed to avoid tough calls on a “religious liberty” revival and a sweeping income tax cut because they failed to reach his desk. And although he signed this year’s version of the campus carry measure – enraging critics who called him a flip-flopper – the measure included several exceptions he insisted upon.
This time around, only a handful of measures remain pending on his desk. And many of those aren’t too contentious.
A medical marijuana expansion that would cover a range of new illnesses is pending; its sponsor, state Rep. Allen Peake, said he’s confident the governor will sign it Tuesday.
Also still hanging in the balance is a $60 million tax credit bill aimed at investors in rural Georgia. Deal vetoed similar legislation in 2015 but supporters say he’s likely to sign it this year with additional changes.
There are two other measures also worth watching because they touch on hot-button issues, though Deal has said little publicly about them.
The first is Senate Bill 153, which originally dealt with hearing aids but transformed into a bill to allow optometrists to perform certain procedures only ophthalmologists are now allowed to perform. These so-called scope of practice measures always seem to be tough fights.
The second is House Bill 359, known as the Supporting and Strengthening Families Act. The legislation would allow parents to transfer power of attorney over their children to someone else for a year without going through the courts. We’re watching it because it deals with adoption and foster care – a sensitive subject for Deal after Senate lawmakers tied up the adoption overhaul he wanted.
Few will be surprised if he carves up a handful of proposals. Through his first five years in office, Deal averaged about eight vetoes a year, along with a scarcer number of line-item vetoes. But in 2016 he nullified 16 measures.
“I may not sign all of them,” he told fidgety lawmakers before Sine Die in March. “I don’t want to shock you with that statement.”