ATLANTA -- This years state legislative session ends Thursday night, with several contentious bills in the balance: medical marijuana, foster care privatization, drug tests for welfare recipients and a possible shortening of early voting periods.
Anything that doesnt get agreement goes in the trash can.
Supporters of a bill that would decriminalize possession of a single type of liquid medicine derived from cannabis waited all day Tuesday for a Senate vote that never came. With the Legislature in recess Wednesday, Thursday is the last chance for approval this year.
There is a very real chance that our bill gets caught in a game of tug-of-war, said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, the author of House Bill 885. It aims to give Georgians access to a non-hallucinogenic medicine made from cannabis thats used to treat pediatric seizures.
A Senate committee passed a version that would allow people to possess that liquid in Georgia if they go to a state like Colorado where its legal, get a prescription and have it filled there. But that version was amended to include a controversial bill to require insurance companies to cover pediatric autism treatment.
The full Senate scheduled House Bill 885 with the autism language on a list of 90 bills it planned to consider Tuesday and Thursday.
Theres little opposition to the principle of Georgia families accessing the medicine. The only policy debate is how to best make sure the bill is not an empty promise.
The House approved a version that called on the states five medical research universities to consider growing a single strain of marijuana and synthesizing the medicine. Both the plant and the compound are rich in cannabidiol, or CBD, which does not cause people to get high. Its already approved for use in the United Kingdom.
Im disappointed that we didnt get another step forward today, Peake said Tuesday night, but Im optimistic that we will still get a vote Thursday morning.
Foster care privatization
Foster care privatization took two votes to pass the House, but the House finally approved a version thats much more cautious than the Senates pitch to mandate bidding out services including family preservation and independent living. Senate supporters have argued that private organizations would provide better services than government.
But the House wants a pilot program to look into if services should be privatized, and if so ... which should be, said state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, the House sponsor of Senate Bill 350. The program would be set up for two years in parts of the state yet to be chosen.
The Senate seems ready to insist on their more-privatized version. Its been edited into two unrelated House bills, which are both on Thursdays Senate calendar.
Drug tests for welfare recipients
The Senate has scheduled Thursday debate on a bill to require drug tests of certain recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. If they stick to the plan, they will be looking at House Bill 772 by state Rep. Greg Morris, R-Vidalia, which allows program administrators to order such tests if they have reasonable suspicion that a client is using drugs.
Its meant to skirt court rulings in other states that have said testing all TANF recipients amounts to unconstitutional suspicionless searches.
Early voting shortened?
Cities would be able to cut their early voting period from three weeks to one week, if the Legislature approves House Bill 891 by state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem. Its on the Senates debate list. Proponents say early voting is a financial drain on cities. Opponents say the move would cut down voter participation.
Animal cruelty penalties
And theres support for increasing penalties for animal cruelty, but theres debate on what constitutes cruelty. Both the House and Senate require adequate food, water and habitat, but they differ on how to define adequate. Failure to provide adequate care on a second offense would be worth one to five years imprisonment in both versions of House Bill 863 by state Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna. So would maliciously poisoning an animal, even a neighbors shrill dog.