Two days remain in 2014 legislative session

by Sarah Fay Campbell

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Smith

There are just two days left in the 2014 Georgia General Assembly session.

The legislature will convene Tuesday for the 39th legislative day, and Thursday for the 40th.

It’s been a quick session, though not as quick as many had predicted it would be.

Because qualifying for this year’s state and federal elections was moved from April to the first week of March, it was expected that the session would move along quickly so legislators could start campaigning and raising money.

It was expected to be a lackluster session as well.

“I don’t think we are going to be doing the things that bog us down into heated debates,” said Coweta’s senior legislator, State Representative Lynn Smith, when she was asked what she expected for the 2014 session.

However, “there will always be controversies,” Smith said at the time.

And there have been a few controversies. An issue few could have expected — medical marijuana — dominated much of the session.

On Wednesday, the medical cannabis bill was wed to a Senate bill that would require insurance policies to cover behavioral therapies for children under 6 with autism. Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Renee Unterman, R-Buford, is a sponsor of SB 397, which has been stuck in a House committee. Underman renamed HB 885, which now includes the marijuana language and the autism coverage, the “Kids Care Act.”

Also on Wednesday, Unterman and her committee married two other bills. HB 990 requires legislative approval for any expansion of Medicaid. It now contains language from SB 350. Unterman is the primary sponsor of SB 350, which requires the Department of Family and Children’s Services to contract with private providers for services such as case management, family preservation and independent living.

Those are just a few of the controversial bills this session. A few have already received legislative approval.

• House Bill 459, which requires motorists traveling in the “passing lane” of a multi-lane highway to move to the right when they are being overtaken by a vehicle traveling at a higher rate of speed, received final passage on Tuesday and is now headed to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk for his signature.

Similar bills have come up in previous sessions but were so controversial they were shot down. HB 459 was actually introduced in 2013, but sat in committee until February.

The General Assembly runs on a two-year cycle, which means bills introduced in 2013 remain alive until the end of the 2014 session. Any bill that isn’t passed by Thursday night, however, will be dead.

• HB 838 addresses the problem of “revenge porn.” It makes it illegal to electronically post or transmit a photo of a person, which depicts nudity or sexually-explicit content, if the posting is done to harass or cause financial harm to the person in the photo. It received full passage on March 12.

• HB 965 is the 911 medical amnesty bill, which provides some amnesty from prosecution for those who call 911 or otherwise seek medical assistance for someone having a drug overdose. The Senate approved the bill on March 13, but some changes were made to it in the Senate committee. The House will have to vote on those changes. The Senate changes added immunity for the crime of underage possession of alcohol.

• HB 770 creates the crime of “home invasion.” It received final approval on March 12.

• HB 153 allows counties to approve a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax of less than one cent. The bill has been approved by the House and Senate, but the House disagreed with the Senate changes, so the bill will likely end up in conference committee.

• Senate Bill 382 creates a crime of “retail theft” when someone uses fraud to return items to a store for a refund. The House and Senate still have to reconcile their two versions of the bill.



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