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Busy finish to Ga.'s annual legislative session

Thursday is the last day

By Ray Henry Associated Press | 3/20/2014, 10:38 a.m.
Eager to get campaigning, Georgia's lawmakers will wrap up an unusually quick legislative session Thursday, likely making decisions on whether ...
Georgia Crossover Day Abortion: Georgia Sen. Judson Hill, R–Marietta, applauds as a bill he sponsored restricting abortion coverage in plans available through the state health insurance exchange is passed on the Senate floor, Monday, March 3, 2014, in Atlanta. State senators voted 35-18 to advance the bill, which now heads to the House for consideration. The federal health care law allows states to draft legislation prohibiting abortion coverage in qualified health plans offered through an exchange. Supporters of the Georgia effort say 24 states have done so. Democrats opposed the bill, calling it a continuation of a "war on women" and saying it infringes on a woman's right to choose. Photo by David Goldman/AP.

ATLANTA (AP) - Eager to get campaigning, Georgia's lawmakers will wrap up an unusually quick legislative session Thursday, likely making decisions on whether to expand the places people can carry firearms and whether to support a medical marijuana program for the ill.

Equally important are the efforts that stall during the final days, a category that appears to include plans to privatize parts of the state's child welfare system and to pull back from national education standards.

By law, the legislators in Georgia's General Assembly meet for just 40 working days every year. The tight schedule means that state lawmakers invariably spend the final day of their session, called Sine Die, rapidly voting on dozens and dozens of bills until the clock strikes midnight. Any legislation not passed by then automatically fails for the year.

Lawmakers are in a hurry to get out of the Statehouse. They cannot raise campaign money for the upcoming primary and general elections while the General Assembly is meeting. Still, they will need to resolve several statewide issues - not to mention scores of local concerns - before early Friday morning. Here are a few of the big issues:

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Patients suffering from illnesses including cancer and seizures could take a form of medical marijuana if Senate lawmakers vote to approve a pending proposal from the House of Representatives. The legislation from state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, would let certain patients take products derived from cannabis oil in the hope it will ease their symptoms. Peake said Georgia will not legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

FIREARMS

For a second year, House and Senate lawmakers are approaching the end of their session in a rift over firearms legislation. Senior Republicans in the House proposed earlier this year eliminating a blanket prohibition on carrying guns in churches and bars. Their proposal would also allow school districts to arm their employees, which supporters say would deter attacks on teachers and students. Lawmakers in the Senate have historically been more cautious on the issue than their counterparts in the House.

ABORTION

Plans offered through Georgia's health insurance exchange could impose further restrictions on abortion coverage under a plan before House lawmakers. The federal health care law allows states to draft legislation prohibiting abortion coverage in qualified health plans. Supporters of the plan in Georgia say 24 states have already put the restrictions into place. Democrats oppose the bill, saying it infringes on a woman's right to choose.

MLK

Georgia would erect a statue to honor the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. under a plan likely to receive a final vote this week. The political legacy of the Atlanta-born clergyman was long politically charged in his native state. On the day of King's funeral in 1968, then-Gov. Lester Maddox refused to close the Capitol in King's honor and was angered when state flags were flown at half-staff. While there is a portrait of King in the Statehouse, there are more pictures, statues and other monuments depicting Confederate leaders and segregationists, though they were placed there years ago. Republican and Democrats have given the plan support by wide margins in earlier votes.