Georgia lawmakers leave gambling, medical marijuana and abortion pill laws unchanged
This year’s legislative session was filled with landmark bills like the president’s mental health reform bill and numerous tributes to the culture wars brewing on the GOP home front.
Many of these bills are now on the governor’s desk, kicking off a month-long signing period. Some of them got away with it in the last few hours, like a so-called “electoral police” bill and a proposal that could lead to a ban on transgender athletes to play on women’s high school sports teams.
But there were also several closely watched measures that spat out on the final day of Monday, such as the ban on mail-order abortion drugs that was in the works last week. Certain bills, such as a controversial bill crackdown on protestersfailed in the run-up to Monday’s session final.
here is the Recorder staff recap on notable bills that ultimately failed and will need to start from scratch to be revived in future legislative sessions.
More than 20,000 Georgians who hoped the legislature would launch the state’s stalled medical cannabis program lost their chance for the year on Monday after the Senate failed to approve a last-minute compromise.
“I’m lost on this,” House Speaker David Ralston told reporters. “How long are these people going to have to wait? I’m really, really disappointed. We worked, we couldn’t get the Senate to get much involved in the conference committee. We thought we hired them, they came back with a report from the conference committee, and they published it and it was beaten. I hope Georgian families know that we have done our best. The blame is there, as far as I’m concerned.
In 2015, the state legalized a low-THC form of oil for a list of specific medical conditions. Georgia law does not allow smoking marijuana, only a specialty substance that contains a very small amount of the chemical that causes the marijuana high, and only for people with serious medical conditions including seizure disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and cancer.
But legal threats and inside-dealing charges have stalled the state’s cultivation program and forced patients to continue to leave the state or circumvent the law to buy a drug they are legally able to possess but not to buy in Georgia.
Relief seemed to be in sight as a committee including members of both chambers formed a compromise aimed at putting the oil in the hands of patients and families.
Under the compromise agreement, the state would have reopened the process for three more facilities in addition to the initial six that had received preliminary approval. The 63 companies that originally applied but were not approved would have been eligible and exempt from paying application fees again, provided they opted out of protests or lawsuits against the state.
The House approved the 95-73 measure on Monday night.
“We have finally come up with a plan that is fair to everyone involved,” said House Majority Leader Jon Burns, a Republican from Newington. “This fills a need, a desperate need for the citizens of our state to use this product which is making a huge difference in the health of the people of this state.”
The Senate was less satisfied with the terms of the arrangement. Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a Democrat from Stone Mountain, offered to table the bill, preventing it from going to a vote. His motion passed 28-27, despite pleas from the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, Republican Senator from Savannah Ben Watson.
“We’ve been working on this for 10 years, we haven’t gotten this oil to the kids they deserve,” Watson said. “That’s what the kids of the state of Georgia and all those enrollees deserve, by bringing them this oil.”
An expansion of legal gambling options in Georgia was not on the cards for the 2022 legislative session despite the efforts of powerful lawmakers.
A push to legalize horse racing betting fell through as the session entered its home stretch, but bills allowing referendums on sports betting and potentially other forms of betting appeared to defy the odds, passing before the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee and raising hopes that it might receive a House vote.
Supporters said allowing more forms of betting would bring new revenue to the HOPE scholarship program and allow for some need-based scholarships for students who are accepted to college but do not meet HOPE’s academic requirements. Opponents said growing the gambling industry beyond the Georgia Lottery would only invite addiction and other social ills.
Republican Savannah Rep. Ron Stephens sought to downplay those concerns Monday with a bill stripped of anything but sports betting.
“Like the other 33 states that do, you have to sign up, they have to guarantee you’re 21 or older, and then they can’t use a paid account,” he said. “Unlike those overseas (who) may get into debt, this is strictly a cash deal. And it’s an app on your phone. I have it on mine. And that will basically be the same people who contract with the state, the state will take 20% of every bet you make, and that will fund HOPE and pre-K and the opportunity fund Education, all education.
But the bill failed to pass the House Rules Committee on Monday, reducing its chances of receiving a full vote.
Gambling expansion is an ongoing topic of debate in the Georgia Legislature, but passage is difficult because the Georgian constitution specifically prohibits gambling with very few exceptions, which means that any action to expand the industry would require a two-thirds vote in both houses rather than a simple majority. .
A proposal to make it harder for women to access abortion drugs was blocked in the House on Monday.
the invoicewhich cleared the senate last month with a party line vote, would have required women to undergo an in-person exam – as well as an ultrasound – before being prescribed drugs like mifepristone. It would also have prohibited the drugs from being distributed on college campuses or sent by mail.
The GOP proposal was rejected by the committee on Friday but was delayed by an attempt to merge it with another controversial proposal requiring hospitals and nursing homes allow one hour visit during a health emergency.
The abortion measure is a response to the Biden administration’s relaxed rules that allow mail-order abortion and ease access to medication as more women turn to telemedicine for care. The Food and Drug Administration made the change permanent in December.
Proponents have called the issue a safety issue and pushed for an in-person exam, but opponents have argued Republican lawmakers are trying to create unnecessary barriers for a woman who wants to terminate her pregnancy.
Rep. Katie Dempsey, a Republican from Rome who sponsored the bill in the House, opposed the addition of the patient visitation bill and opposed a proposal to change the name of the bill from the “Women’s Health and Safety Act” to the “In-Person Access to Care Act.
“We’re dealing with a very important issue – an issue much more focused on maternal health than on patient visits, and I really think that will kill it,” Dempsey told his House Rules Committee colleagues.
The original proposal was then taken out of the scheduling committee, but it was never called for a vote. House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, partly blamed it on the clock.
“You can’t access everything,” Ralston told reporters. “Sometimes I react to the scheduling based on the level of interest that’s there, and there didn’t seem to be a lot of that. So we have to prioritize towards the end, and I think we did that fairly.
Ralston also said early in the session, when asked generally about potential new abortion restrictions, that he wanted to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision. decision on abortion case in Mississippi. The strict anti-abortion of 2019 in Georgia the law is pending while waiting for the result.
This year’s session also ended Monday without the full House voting on a bill requiring anyone arrested for a crime to post cash bail before could be released from prison.
Criminal justice reform advocates and Democratic lawmakers celebrated the demise of Senate Bill 504which could have forced thousands more people to remain locked up due to their inability to pay cash or deposit property as collateral.
Senator Randy Robertson, a former police officer, argued that his bill encouraged people to stay out of trouble and show up in court putting something at risk. The Cataula Republican said judges are getting too lenient in letting people pledge to appear in court, only for them to commit other crimes outside of jail.
In 2020 and 2021, laws were passed removing cashless bail for violent criminals and felony charges for burglary, harassment, and entering an automobile.
Senate Bill 504 passed on party votes in the Senate and in a House Public Safety Committee, but Robertson’s efforts to add hundreds more offenses did not cross the line. legislative arrival.
Get morning headlines delivered to your inbox