EDITORIAL: More disappointment than accomplishment

March 23, 2014 

The 2014 Georgia General Assembly may go down as one of the least productive in history. That’s quite a statement considering the already low expectations for the lawmaking body in an election year.

While accomplishments were few, there were a number of disappointments. Foremost among them was the defeat of the bill sponsored by Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, that would have allowed, for lack of a better term, medicinal marijuana. That would have helped Georgia residents -- a good number of them children -- escape the debilitating impacts of hundreds of seizures a day.

Defeat is too strong a term. House Bill 885, which passed with only four dissenting votes in the House, got waylaid in the Senate by the sponsor of another bill, Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, that would have required insurance companies to pay for certain autism treatments for children. It was a political maneuver in an attempt to get the bill to pass the House. It didn’t work, and by the time Peake’s bill unraveled from the autism bill’s web, it was too late. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Speaker of the House David Ralson, R-Blue Ridge said, “I understand they (the Senate) would rather make speeches than take care of Georgia’s children.”

The Senate did have enough time to pass a sweeping gun bill that, if the governor signs it, will permit those with carry permits to take their weapons almost anywhere, from school grounds to government buildings to bars and churches. The bill grants authority -- and the responsibility -- to school systems to designate teachers who pack, meaning those instructors will carry weapons. Few systems will take the lawmakers up on that ability and for very good reasons. Along with those authorizations comes legal liability. Funny, while lawmakers often decry the ever-increasing burden on schools to deal with social issues, they pile another, this time defense, onto teachers’ shoulders.

As usual, our state lawmakers pass laws without considering the impact on local governments. This new gun law will cost plenty. Access points that are now unguarded will have to be manned and people checked for weapons. Otherwise, those carrying weapons can roam free. No more open county commission meetings, and judges may have to pack weapons underneath their robes.

On the health care front, there is more disappointment. The ideological rift over Obamacare continues to be expressed. Lawmakers made it illegal for the few navigators in the state to operate. That means that if the governor signs the bill, the efforts by the University System of Georgia to assist the uninsured in finding affordable insurance will have to stop.

This session ends with almost 700,000 Georgians still caught in the Medicaid gap without any means of attaining coverage. Just in case a bit of sanity hits the governor, lawmakers passed a bill that requires legislative approval for any increase in those eligible for Medicaid.

Finally, all the talk about helping rural hospitals is just that -- talk. Without the Medicaid expansion and the money that comes with it, the burden for paying for care will fall on hospitals and clinics. We will continue to see more of those facilities disappear.

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