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Monday April 22nd, 2019 4:16AM

Georgia's legislative session nears end

By The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's legislative session is almost over. Friday was legislative day 35 of 40.

With just a few days left, lawmakers are working quickly to push through high-profile bills.

The week saw movement on bills that would authorize Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to pursue a Medicaid waiver and allow the in-state production and sale of low-potency medical marijuana oil.

MEDICAID

A bill authorizing Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to pursue a Medicaid waiver cleared a House panel on Wednesday.

The measure gives Georgia the flexibility to adopt a more conservative plan than full Medicaid expansion, which Democrats support. It caps eligibility for any Medicaid expansion to those at or below the federal poverty level, limiting the number of Georgians who could be covered.

Republican Sen. Blake Tillery, who is carrying the legislation for Kemp, has said the bill allows the governor to "define and develop a Georgia-tailored solution to a Georgia problem."

Several health care providers testified in favor of the bill at Wednesday's hearing, saying it would help reduce the number of uninsured Georgians.

But some patient advocates said they wished the bill went further by removing the eligibility cap. Critics say the plan could cost more than full Medicaid expansion and cover less people.

The proposal passed the Senate in February, and could soon move to the House floor for a vote.

AIRPORT TAKEOVER

After appearing to stall in the Georgia House, a proposal for the state to take control of Atlanta's airport has been tacked onto another bill in an attempt to resurrect it.

It was added to a bill that would extend a current tax exemption on jet fuel by 20 years, a tax break coveted by Delta Air Lines and other major air carriers.

A version of the bill passed out of the Senate Finance committee on Wednesday with several changes — the newly added airport takeover bill included. The addition stunned Republican Rep. Dominic LaRiccia, the sponsor of the underlying bill.

"There's 12 pages of language added to the front of this bill," LaRiccia said to the committee. "I literally received that (version) about an hour ago."

The addition would create a board appointed by state officials to oversee operations at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, long owned and operated by the city of Atlanta.

Republican Sen. Burt Jones has said state control is needed because of past corruption issues. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms called the plan "theft" from the people of Atlanta.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

A Senate panel began hearing public testimony on a bill that would allow the in-state production and sale of low-potency medical marijuana oil in Georgia.

Shannon Cloud came to the Capitol with her 13-year-old daughter, Alaina, who her mother said suffers from seizures as a result of Dravet syndrome and has the developmental age of a 4-year-old.

"Every morning, when my daughter wakes up, I wait to see when I go into her room: is she going to be breathing or am I going to find her face down in her pillow?" Cloud said through tears. "If that one seizure can be prevented and that's the one that can take her life, then that's why we need access to this medicine."

Current Georgia law allows patients with 16 specific conditions, including cancer and seizure disorders, to possess the drug but provides no real way to obtain it.

Sheriffs from across Georgia testified against the bill and told lawmakers they worried that legalizing medical marijuana would be the first step toward legalizing recreational marijuana.

The Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities committee did not take a vote at the Thursday meeting and more witnesses are scheduled to speak on Tuesday.

HATE CRIMES

A hate crimes bill that would add penalties for those convicted of targeting certain groups made no progress this week.

It previously passed the Georgia House but has still not been heard in Senate committee.

If the measure becomes law, Georgia would join 45 other states with an official hate crimes law.

The penalties apply to those who target others because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability.

Critics worry a hate crimes statute would not treat victims equally.

The Georgia Supreme Court struck down a 2000 hate crimes law, saying it was "unconstitutionally vague" and could be applied to every possible prejudice.

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