Governor Deal discusses 2018 legislative session

ATLANTA (WTOC) - Hundreds of bills now await Governor Deal's signature, making them one step closer to becoming Georgia law.

The 2018 session marks the eighth and final one for Governor Deal.

Day 40 was a long and hectic day for lawmakers, but Friday is a new day and many of them are heading home to their district, proud of the work they did this year.

"This was a historic season. Just two major accomplishments - for the first time since our personal income tax was put in place in 1934, we've actually cut the income tax rates, not only for individuals but for corporations, etcetera. Secondly, to be able to fully fund the QBE formula which was put in place in 1985," the governor said.

In a shower of papers and amid chants of Sine Die, Georgia state representatives celebrated the end of this year's legislative session. The House speaker was candid afterward, saying he was disappointed this time last year. Fast forward a year, and his feelings are completely opposite.

"We've done some good things, I think, that are going to matter to Georgians. I'm pretty pleased with that," said David Ralston, House Speaker.

The QBE is the quality basic education fund for public schools. Governor Deal says a bill bringing high-speed internet to the entire state will also have a big impact on education. The state now has a fund dedicated to building the broadband capabilities and a plan in place to lay the fiber-optic cables. One broadband measure passed; another failed.

"If it is not finished this year, I feel sure it will continue to be a high priority for the next legislative session," Gov. Deal said.

The state budget fully funds public education for the first time in 33 years. More money will now be going into classrooms across the state. Speaker Ralston says folks in rural Georgia also win big this year, pointing to improvements in health care and infrastructure like broadband capabilities.

"We actually exceeded my expectations on rural Georgia for this year," Ralston said. "I really kind of thought that most of our work would come next year. I don't think rural Georgia has had a better session than it had this year."

One of the biggest bills this year was the Hands-Free Act. Georgia joins almost 20 other states with a law against holding your phone while driving. The new law only permits Bluetooth or speakerphone use. In a literal eleventh hour vote, it passed 144-18. The governor made it sound like he plans to sign that bill.

"The overall objective here has been to get phones out of peoples' hands so they get their eyes on the road and their hands on the steering wheel," said Rep. John Carson, R, Marietta.

John Carson is the bill sponsor. He hopes Governor Deal signs it sooner rather than later. It becomes law on the day he signs it. State law enforcers will have a grace period for drivers.

"We really don't want to pull people over. We don't want the fines. We want people to be safe. That's our number one goal. There's just way too many fatalities, way too many crashes. Not even just crashes. I haven't even talked much in there about bodily injury."

Overall, lawmakers voted on close to 100 bills on the final day. Governor Deal says the final session leaves a good taste in his mouth.

"From the legislation that my office was encouraging to pass, almost all of it actually get across the finsih line. That's encouraging from our standpoint," the governor said.

One notable bill that didn't pass - the Hidden Predator Act. It expanded the rights of sexual abuse victims. Speaker Ralston says he's disappointed the Senate failed to pass the bill.

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