ATLANTA — This year’s state legislative session ends Thursday night, with several contentious bills in the balance: medical marijuana, foster care privatization, drug tests for welfare recipients and a possible shortening of early voting periods.
Anything that doesn’t get agreement goes in the trash can.
Supporters of a bill that would decriminalize possession of a single type of liquid medicine derived from cannabis waited all day Tuesday for a Senate vote that never came. With the Legislature in recess Wednesday, Thursday is the last chance for approval this year.
“There is a very real chance that our bill gets caught in a game of tug-of-war,” said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, the author of House Bill 885. It aims to give Georgians access to a non-hallucinogenic medicine made from cannabis that’s used to treat pediatric seizures.
A Senate committee passed a version that would allow people to possess that liquid in Georgia if they go to a state like Colorado where it’s legal, get a prescription and have it filled there. But that version was amended to include a controversial bill to require insurance companies to cover pediatric autism treatment.
The full Senate scheduled House Bill 885 with the autism language on a list of 90 bills it planned to consider Tuesday and Thursday.
There’s little opposition to the principle of Georgia families accessing the medicine. The only policy debate is how to best make sure the bill is not an empty promise.
The House approved a version that called on the state’s five medical research universities to consider growing a single strain of marijuana and synthesizing the medicine. Both the plant and the compound are rich in cannabidiol, or CBD, which does not cause people to get high. It’s already approved for use in the United Kingdom.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t get another step forward today,” Peake said Tuesday night, “but I’m optimistic that we will still get a vote Thursday morning.”
Foster care privatization
Foster care privatization took two votes to pass the House, but the House finally approved a version that’s much more cautious than the Senate’s pitch to mandate bidding out services including family preservation and independent living. Senate supporters have argued that private organizations would provide better services than government.
But the House wants “a pilot program to look into if services should be privatized, and if so … which should be,” said state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, the House sponsor of Senate Bill 350. The program would be set up for two years in parts of the state yet to be chosen.