Medical marijuana, Medicaid expansion, and drug testing for food stamp and welfare recipients are just some of the topics state House members debated well into Monday night during Crossover Day, the key deadline in which legislation must pass at least one chamber to remain alive for the session.
Two of the most closely-watched bills involved the Affordable Care Act.
House Bill 990 would give the Legislature new power to decide whether the state expands Medicaid under the health law. Currently, the governor has sole authority.
Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta, is staunchly opposed to expansion and said the financial stakes are simply too high.
“Budget issues should start here in the people’s chamber. The folks who are closest to the people,” said Lindsey.
The bill ultimately passed along party lines, 118-57.
Another bill, HB 707, would prohibit state and local governments and agencies from using any of their resources to assist the rollout of the health law. The navigator program at the University of Georgia, for example, would be halted. HB 707 passed 115-59.
Less partisan was HB 885, a bill legalizing the limited use of medical marijuana to treat seizures.
“This is an opportunity to say to the state, ‘we have compassion and we want to be committed to seeking a solution for Georgia families,’” said bill sponsor Allen Peake, R-Macon.
Under the legislation, a handful of academic research centers including Emory and Morehouse would cultivate the marijuana and process it into cannabis oil.
Despite concerns from Majority Leader Larry O’Neal that the marijuana could be used for “hippie reasons,” HB 885 passed overwhelmingly, 171-4.
Around 11 p.m., House Republicans passed one of the more controversial bills of the day. HB 772 would subject food stamp and welfare applicants and recipients to drug testing if there’s “reasonable suspicion” they are using drugs. It passed 107-66, with Democrats speaking strongly against it.
In 2012, state lawmakers passed similar legislation that required drug testing for all welfare recipients, but Fourth Amendment issues of illegal search and seizure kept it from being implemented. Democrats say the new drug test proposal is unconstitutional and would undoubtedly attract a costly lawsuit.
In other action, a bill paving the way for a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. on the Capitol grounds easily won passage, 173-3.
“My vision is it will become a shrine of achievement,” said O’Neal, a co-sponsor of HB 1080. “A shining beacon for many people from all around the world to come and see and enjoy and not just to enjoy, they will come and reflect.”
O’Neil says construction could begin as soon as 2015.
Another approved bill – the more controversial HB 702 – calls for a Capitol monument featuring, among other documents, the Ten Commandments.
Among the more high-profile bills that didn’t make the Crossover deadline, HB 907 would have placed new regulations on smartphone-based car services such as Uber and Lyft. It was never called for a floor vote.
All approved legislation still must pass the Senate and be signed by the governor. The session is set to wrap-up March 20.