By Pam O’Dell
Thursday, March 20th is the last day of the state legislative session. The 40th final day will likely end at midnight as many bills compete to pass both the Senate and House or ‘die’ for the year.
The Republican lead leadership has made good on its plan to keep the session short due to an early voting primary (May 20).
Still up for consideration are the following bills:
The ‘gun bill’: HB965.
Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper feels confident that a comprehensive gun bill he authored will pass the Senate basically as is. Jasperse, who has pushed the bill for 2 consecutive sessions, was interviewed numerous times on national news circuits regarding the bill. The legislation allows the ‘carry’ of guns in bars, churches, airports and some government buildings.
The ‘medical marijuana’ bill:
HB885, sponsored by Allen Peake, R-Macon allows medical cannabis to be used for treatment in children who suffer from seizures. Already legal in several states, the parents of such children must now leave Georgia in order to seek treatment. The bill ran into surprising but significant opposition and is currently stalled in the Senate. Should the bill pass, it will only allow certain research institutions to study and supervise the drug’s administration. Hence, it will likely take years for the drug to be available to parents.
Privatization of Department of Children and Family Services (DFCS) Functions
Senator Renee Unterman, R-Macon has pushed a bill requiring DFCS to outsource some its custodial functions in an apparent attempt to halt the number of child deaths occurring in the foster care system. The bill has received a tentative nod from Republican leadership but was scaled down in the house to consist of a 2 year pilot program. Modeled after Florida’s child welfare system, the bill was opposed by child welfare groups including the Barton Child Law and Policy Center within Emory University’s School of Law. Barton experts have been the ‘go to’ experts on child policy at the capitol and were instrumental in last session’s push for a total re-write of the Georgia’s juvenile code.
Folly with the Flint
Environmentalists (most notably the Sierra Club) won a significant victory resulting in a very scaled back version of SB213. Ostensibly written to address low flow in areas of the Flint leading to the extinction of endangered mussel species, the original bill would have allowed the state to use a controversial technology to pump water in the aquifer below the Flint (‘aquifer storage’) during drought periods. Concerns about property rights and significant deviations in water policy lead to the bill’s curtailment. The current bill only addresses 4 branches of the Flint. The bill was sponsored by the Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman, Ross Tolleson, R- Perry
Medicaid Expansion Decision Diversion
House Bill 990, sponsored by Speaker Pro-Tem Jan Jones, R-Alpharetta, is quickly being named the ‘pass the buck’ bill of the session. The bill gives the General Assembly the power to prevent Medicaid (a federal insurance program for the poor) expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act (also known as ‘Obamacare’ )remains in the Senate but is likely to pass. Critics of the bill note that Georgia’s Governor, Nathan Deal (currently up for re-election) has already made the decision not to expand the program (in a vociferous, very partisan manner). Concern about public hospital closures as a result of the Governor’s decision lead to a public comment by the Governor regarding a federal law that requiring hospitals to stabilize uninsured patients requiring emergency care. The Governor believes the law should be struck down.
Deal faces significant opposition in the general election from State Senator Jason Carter D, Atlanta (grandson of President Jimmy Carter). Recent polls (notably performed by Republican polling organizations) show Carter in the lead.
Martin Luther King Statue Placement
HB 1080, sponsored by Calvin Smyre, R-Columbus, allowing the placement of a statue of Martin Luther King on the capitol grounds in a “prominent place” has passed both the House and Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature. If approved, the statue would join a sole, small portrait of King in a dark corner on the second floor of the capitol. Representative Tyrone Brooks D, Atlanta, a civil rights leader who worked with King, has been the push behind the bill. Brooks has fought for over 40 years for a capitol statue of King.