Georgia Legislature

Religious freedom, gun bills revisited on final day

by Sarah Fay Campbell

The presumed dead issues of campus carry and religious freedom legislation were revived Thursday during the 40th and final day of the 2014 Georgia General Assembly session.

Votes on various bills were held throughout the day, but final passage of most were held late Thursday and occurred after The Newnan Times-Herald’s press deadline.

Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, was trying to attach his religious freedom language to two bills, one involving unemployment insurance and one regarding unemployment for bus drivers.

A conference committee on HB 60, which expands the places Georgians with firearms licenses can legally carry weapons, was appointed around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Senate Bill 93, which authorizes the use of “suppressors” when hunting, was amended to include provisions that will allow some to carry firearms on college campuses. There were concerns the amendment wasn’t “germane,” and therefore not proper. The bill headed to the Senate Rules Committee shortly before 6 p.m. Thursday.

One bill that was headed to the governor’s desk before 5 p.m. expands the HOPE Grant for technical college students so that it will pay the entire tuition cost for tech college students who have at least a 3.5 grade point average.

House Bill 772, which puts in place drug testing requirements for food stamp recipients, was a topic of hot debate in the Senate. After it passed 29 to 22, there was a motion to reconsider the passage, but that motion didn’t get enough votes. Differences between the House and Senate versions still had to be worked out late Thursday.

A similar bill requiring drug tests for those seeking public assistance was passed last year, but parts of it have been held up in court.

Under HB 772, anyone applying for food stamps must pass — and pay for — a drug test. Those on Medicaid will only have to pay $17, but others will pay the full cost of the test. A person who fails is ineligible for one month and must test clean to receive the benefits. The second failed drug test makes someone ineligible for three months, and the third failure makes someone ineligible for a year. That period can be cut to six months if the applicant completes a drug treatment program.

Children of those who fail the drug tests are still eligible for food stamps. However, someone else must be designated to receive the benefits, other than the parent. That designated person may be tested for drugs, if there is reasonable suspicion to believe the person is on drugs.

The Senate voted down HB 757, which would have allowed people who have property under a conservation use easement to remove the property with no penalty if they wanted to install solar panels.

At just after 5 p.m., HB 885, which deals with medical cannabis for certain illness, passed the Senate, and was heading back to the House for approval of Senate amendments. The Senate amendments deal with insurance coverage for children with autism. They require insurance companies to cover certain behavioral treatments for those 6 and underw with autism. Insurance mandates aren’t popular in the House, and there have been concerns that the mandate could kill the medical cannabis bill.

“It’s still going to be problematic,” said Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, the author of the cannabis bill. “It’s a mandate. It’s always been problematic for our side.”



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