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The battle over a legislative proposal that would open the Georgia Bar exam to more applicants has expanded into a two-front war. Last week, the House approved language for the second time that allows students who do not meet the State Bar’s education requirements to sit for the exam if they have passed the test in another state. This time, however, the proposal came by stealth. It was tacked on to a Senate bill that’s primary purpose is to provide funding for the statewide public defender system. The Senate voted Tuesday to reject the House version of the PD funding bill, throwing the whole bill, including the bar exam amendment, into a conference committee. The backers of House Bill 150, the original bill for the bar proposal, argue that competent bar applicants who meet the standards of other states shouldn’t be prevented from practicing in Georgia. The State Bar, the proposal’s most vocal critic, contends that the Georgia Supreme Court, not the Legislature, should regulate the practice of law in Georgia. Opponents also fear that the bill would lower Georgia’s standards for lawyers by allowing graduates of non-accredited law schools to take the bar exam. The bar currently limits the exam to students who graduate from law schools accredited by the American Bar Association, though there is a waiver process. Each state has its own guidelines for bar admission, which can vary greatly. California, a frequent example during the debate on the bill, allows applicants from non-accredited law schools to take the exam and is one of five states that license lawyers who “read” the law. House members passed the contentious bill earlier this month by a 94-59 vote, receiving the needed constitutional majority with only three votes to spare. The bill’s progress in the Senate soon appeared to screech to a halt. The legislation was assigned to Democratic Sen. Michael S. Meyer von Bremen’s Special Judiciary Committee, where it seemed likely to languish through the end of the session. In frustration, the bill’s House Republican backers took another tack Thursday, pinning it to Senate Bill 203. Rep. Thomas C. Bordeaux Jr., D-Savannah, who opposes the bar bill, then appealed to Rep. Wendell K. Willard, the moderate Republican who vouched for the bill in the House. “How is this possibly germane?” Bordeaux asked the Alpharetta lawyer. Bordeaux proposed an amendment to delete the law school language from the bill, but that amendment failed Thursday by a 92-65 vote. Bordeaux won over at least one former supporter of the measure, however. Rep. Edward H. Lindsey, who had approved the measure when it was in his Civil Judiciary subcommittee, voted this time to scrap the language. “I think it’s best for the State Bar to deal with it,” Lindsey said.

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