Controversial Hacking Bill Could Face Veto in Georgia

The governor has stayed mum on the several difficult legislation decisions he will have to make this week.

by Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution / May 8, 2018
Gov. Nathan Deal announced Aug. 11 that Osmotica Pharmaceutical Corp. will open a manufacturing operation in Marietta and plans to create 156 jobs over five years, many of which will be high-wage positions. This city of Marietta photograph is being made available for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, e-mails, products or promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the city of Marietta, its elected officials or staff. Publication of this photograph must include a credit: "Photo courtesy of the city of Marietta." Flickr/The City of Marietta

(TNS) — Gov. Nathan Deal will decide Tuesday whether to sign dozens of pending measures into law, including a bill that would carve out a chunk out of Stockbridge to create a more affluent city and a hacking crackdown that has infuriated cybersecurity experts.

The governor was mum on details of what he would ink on the last day of the 40-day signing period for legislation, but officials said he could issue more vetoes in his final year in office than he has ever done before.

The two-term Republican has already signed the most consequential measures of the year into law, including a $26.2 billion budget, a measure that cuts the state’s income tax, a bill that allows for a significant expansion of mass transit and an update of the state’s decades-old adoption rules.

The governor has shown little aversion to using the red pen. He averaged about eight vetoes a year during his first five years in office before nullifying 16 measures in 2016 - including a broader "religious liberty" bill and a campus gun measure. He nixed nine lower-profile measures last year.

Speaking broadly about his vetting process, Deal said Monday he prefers to give lawmakers the “benefit of the doubt” but that the crush of bills up for votes in the final days of the legislative session can sometimes breed unintended consequences.

“I try to listen to all sides. Unfortunately, sometimes the suggestions to what could have been done come too late,” he said. “I try to get as much concrete information – not just opinions – on the effects if legislation is signed into law.”

Here’s a look at several of his most difficult decisions:

Stockbridge

Stockbridge officials have threatened litigation if Deal signs Senate Bill 262, which would de-annex parts of the Henry County city to create a new municipality called Eagles Landing. And the fight has taken on economic and racial undertones.

The bill’s supporters say Stockbridge has long neglected to provide services such as parks and roads and that forming a new city would help the more affluent area to attract higher-end retail and restaurants.

The opponents say the changes would rob the city of its most lucrative properties and set a worrisome new precedent by cannibalizing an existing city. They also contend the move is racially motivated, as the new city will be whiter and wealthier than Stockbridge.

Deal has not said where he stands on the measure, though he disclosed that he’s met with leaders from both sides of the debate in his Gold Dome office. He’s also revealed that analysts vetting Georgia’s AAA bond rating have also raised questions about the measure.

Among the sharpest critics is Capital One’s public bonding arm, which owns the majority of $14 million in outstanding bonds owed by Stockbridge and warned Deal that the legislation could create “unprecedented risk” for firms that hold municipal debt in Georgia.

If signed, residents in the area of Stockbridge and unincorporated Henry County that would become Eagles Landing could cast ballots on cityhood as early as November.

Snooping

A proposal that would create a new crime of “unauthorized computer access” has drawn the scorn of tech giants and cybersecurity experts around the nation.

The measure, Senate Bill 315, was backed by Attorney General Chris Carr and other Republicans to give law enforcement officials new powers to pursue hackers who probe computer systems but don’t swipe any data.

It was spurred in part by a security researcher who alerted Georgia election officials of a vulnerability at Kennesaw State University’s elections center, which was handling the data for the secretary of state’s office.

But critics worry it could outlaw so-called “white hat” hacking by benevolent researchers who then report security weaknesses to those operating the computer system.

And a group of security experts and tech firms warned Deal it would “chill security research” and harm the state’s growing cybersecurity industry that’s centered around Augusta’s Fort Gordon.

Healthcare

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has high hopes for Senate Bill 357, which would create a new healthcare council composed of public health directors around the state – along with a director of policy and planning to report directly to the governor.

The measure was cast as a way to help Georgia grapple with the opioid crisis and plan for other epidemics. And it would create an 18-member Health Coordination and Innovation Council to help hash out strategy.

Still, even though it sailed through both legislative chambers, some conservatives have raised concern about creating a new government body to coordinate health policy when several state agencies already have similar missions.

©2018 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.