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Georgia lawmakers preparing to end special session Saturday

November 16, 2018

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia lawmakers are preparing to finalize $470 million in emergency aid and tax credits for victims of Hurricane Michael as well as a $40 million tax break for airlines in a final round of votes Saturday.

The state Senate will meet Saturday morning for floor votes on the proposals, which have already passed the House. If the Senate approves the hurricane relief bills and tax exemption on jet fuel without making changes, those bills will be immediately sent to the governor to sign into law.

“For those who are the beneficiaries of this legislation, timing is of the essence. They need help now,” Gov. Nathan Deal told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Friday. “I can assure you that if you complete this task as of tomorrow, I will sign it so that the relief will begin to flow immediately.”

Deal wants $270 million to help south Georgia farmers whose crops got destroyed by Hurricane Michael in October, and to pay for cleanup of vast acreage of shattered timberland and cover emergency response costs of state agencies and local governments. The governor is also seeking $200 million in tax credits to encourage commercial timber growers and pecan farmers to replant the trees they lost.

State law also requires lawmakers to vote on Deal’s summer executive order that suspended collection of the 4-percent sales tax on jet fuel. The governor acted on his own after the Senate in February stripped the perk out of a larger tax bill. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who presides over the Senate, said the move was to punish Delta Air Lines for ending fare discounts to members of the National Rifle Association.

Even if lawmakers agree to pass the jet fuel tax exemption, they may have to revisit it next year. The version being considered during the special session would expire at the end of the fiscal year June 30.

The House won’t convene Saturday. Many lawmakers plan to attend the funeral of Rep. John Meadows of Calhoun. The powerful Rules Committee chairman died Tuesday.

A resolution the House adopted Friday calls for any bills passed Saturday by the Senate to be sent immediately to the governor’s desk if senators don’t amend them. That would end the special session five days after it began.

Three Senate committees handling the proposals approved each of them Friday without amending the House versions.

If the full Senate changes any of the bills before passing them, both chambers will return to work Monday to hammer out agreements. House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, told lawmakers he’s hopeful that won’t happen.

“I am so hopeful and so confident they will do the right thing that I’m going to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving,” Ralston said.

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