This Week Under the Gold Dome: Week 7

Despite the weather, last week was a busy week as the House made progress on some of the more visible legislative proposals during this session. The House passed the budget for fiscal year 2016, discussed minority participation in transportation projects, and approved medical marijuana legislation after a two-year effort.

House of Representatives Votes to Approve Budget Bill

Rep. Frye and 170 other members of the Georgia House of Representatives voted to approve the state budget on Thursday.

The $44.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2016 did not include one of the Governor’s original provisions. The proposed budget would have eliminated health care benefits for employees who worked less than 30 hours a week including bus drivers and cafeteria workers. The governor’s office said this would have eliminated coverage for about 11,500 noncertified school employees. Instead, the approved budget included asks school districts to make $102 million more in employer contributions.

The spending plan includes $100 million in bonds devoted to transportation projects and funding necessary to add 278 caseworkers to the Division of Family and Children Services. This expansion was recommended by the Child Welfare Reform Council to improve investigations and services for abused or neglected children.

Additional funding will be added for transportation projects if the legislature passes the pending transportation bill.

The budget bill will now head to the Senate for approval before it lands on the Governor’s desk. However, no matter what the House and Senate pass the Governor can still go back to the approved version with his line item veto. This means the Governor can remove certain lines and provisions in their entirety and still sign the bill into law.

Update on Transportation: Minority Set Asides

A new issue was brought to the transportation debate table involving minorities and construction subcontracts. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the federal government mandates that states establish programs with minority and female interest in mind when they deal with money from Congress. Members of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus are hoping to insert language that will create similar stipulations in the for state transportation funding.

House Bill 170 is still awaiting a vote before the full House of Representatives. Although it passed out of committee on Feb. 19, 2015, it has been recommitted to the Transportation Committee for further debate. As many Republican members see this as a tax hike, and several of those members having taken a no-tax-pledge, supporters of the bill are still looking for votes to reach the critical number of passage. But, with the approach of Crossover Day on March 13, HB 170 bill sponsors must have the bill passed in the House before that date. Crossover day is the last day for bills that have originated in the House to pass and still have a chance in the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

House Bill 1, which aims to legalize medical marijuana in Georgia, passed 158-2 in the House of Representatives. Rep. Frye voted in favor of expanding access to vital care for children suffering from seizure disorders and other diseases.

The original bill, sponsored by Rep. Allen Peake, was amended in committee and on the House floor. The bill will now allow the use of medical marijuana to help in cases of cancer, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease and sickle cell anemia. Earlier versions also had a plan to cultivate the treatment in Georgia, however the final version only allows the import of medical marijuana.

The fight is far from over however since the bill has now been read and referred in the Senate. Some in the Senate hope to restrict medical marijuana use to a four-year-trial and only allow access to those under the age of 18.

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