ATLANTA — With just hours left in Georgia’s 2014 legislative session, Georgia lawmakers moved Thursday to allow the government to drug test people who seek or get government assistance to buy food.
The state Senate voted 29-22 for the tests, which would be administered if a state official has a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is using drugs.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal abandoned a previous law to test welfare recipients after federal courts invalidated a similar Florida law. The measure was pending in the House as the clock ticked on the session. Any legislation not approved by midnight automatically failed for the year.
Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, said most residents would find the testing requirement reasonable.
“They get drug tested when they go to work, he said. Other Republicans countered that Georgia will wind up in court.
“I do not see how a state bureaucrat, not a law enforcement officer, is supposed to determine what the phrase ‘reasonable suspicion’ means,” said Sen. Joshua McKoon, R-Columbus.
Here’s where other major issues stood Thursday night:
MEDICAL MARIJUANA: There was no resolution late Thursday on a measure that would authorize the medical use of a marijuana derivative.
Proponents pushed a program that would allow people suffering from the side effects of cancer treatment, glaucoma and some seizure disorders to take oil derived from cannabis in the hope it will ease their symptoms.
Few lawmakers opposed the idea on principle, but senators used it as a last-minute bargaining chip. Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, attached the legislation to a proposal that would require insurance companies to cover behavioral therapy for children 6 and younger who have been diagnosed with autism.
Republican House leaders balked at that requirement over concerns that it will raise costs for employers and workers. Unterman said she expected the differences to be worked out in a compromise committee.
“It’s a mandate,” said Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon. “It’s always been problematic for our side.”
GUNS: Also unsettled Thursday was legislation to expand the places where people with a license to carry guns can bring them.
COMMON CORE: Republican leaders appeared to settle a contentious internal GOP debate, bypassing a push from some conservatives to block Georgia from implementing education standards called Common Core.
The curriculum guidelines were developed by education leaders and governors – including then-Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue – from both parties. Some archconservatives blast them as a takeover of local schools.
House Speaker David Ralston opted for a study committee, approved in a floor vote Thursday. The panel of lawmakers, teachers and parents appointed by the speaker will be charged with exploring the origins of Common Core and the federal government’s role in Georgia’s K-12 education system. They will be asked to recommend any policy changes to state authorities.
E-CIGARETTES: The Senate gave final approval to a bill to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors. The bill, approved unanimously, would impose a $300 fine on any retailer who sells the noncombustible nicotine alternatives to anyone younger than 18. Any minor who buys, tries to buy or otherwise possesses the products would face up to 20 hours of community service.
TAX RATES: Residents will get to vote on whether to cap the state’s top marginal income tax rate at 6 percent under a resolution approved Thursday.
CONNELL HONOR: The House voted to hang a portrait in the Capitol of the late Jack Connell, an Augusta Democrat who was the House’s longest-serving speaker pro tem.