Monday marks a key deadline as bills must pass either the House or Senate to remain active for the last 10 days of the session. Known as Crossover Day, it marks the 30th day of the 40-day session.
Major bills like the budget and foster care reform have already cleared this hurdle so they will not be on the agenda. However, a number of other bills including medical marijuana and civil forfeiture reform, must be dealt with by the end of Monday or they are considered dead for the rest of the session. There are some exceptions, when language from a bill shows up in the last few days as a part of another bill that already passed one chamber. That is considered unlikely, however, for major policy proposals.
The following is a rundown of key issues to watch on Monday.
A bill to bring a form of medical marijuana to Georgia under certain circumstances has passed a key committee vote and is expected to come up for a vote Monday on the House floor.
House Bill 885, also known as "Haleigh's Hope Act," is named after Haleigh Cox, a young girl who suffers from a medical condition that causes severe seizures. Republican Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, has said he was spurred to draft the bill after meeting with her and her parents. The bill has gained momentum in large part due to Cox's mother and other parents who have lobbied lawmakers.
The bill would revive a long-dormant research program allowing academic institutions to distribute medical cannabis to those suffering from specific medical conditions. The cannabis oil would be administered orally in a liquid form, and Peake has been adamant it would not open the door to recreational use of marijuana in the state. He has said the cannabis oil is low in THC, the active ingredient that produces the marijuana high.
A major question has been access since federal regulations block cannabis from crossing state lines. Peake recently revised the bill to allow approved academic medical centers in the state to grow it. The Georgia Sheriff's Association, which supported the initial version, is reviewing the revised bill before deciding whether to take a position. The Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia hasn't taken a position on the bill, which drew at least 80 co-sponsors in the House including a handful of Republicans in leadership positions.
A bill with the backing of House Republican leadership would give the General Assembly the authority to decide whether the state should expand Medicaid under the federal health care law.
House Bill 990 is co-sponsored by House Speaker David Ralston and Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, both Republicans, and is expected to receive a vote on Monday. The bill would essentially negate Gov. Nathan Deal's ability to expand Medicaid, something the Republican governor has already refused to do under the federal health care law. In addition, the Republican-controlled House and Senate are unlikely to vote in favor of expansion.
Democrats oppose the move, saying it puts off expansion at least another year. Supporters of the bill, including Deal, say lawmakers should have a say over a policy decision with a significant effect on the state budget.
Meanwhile, a bill known as the "Georgia Health Care Freedom Act" could also come up for a vote. House Bill 707 would prohibit the state from using money or resources to advocate for Medicaid expansion or to establish a health exchange under the federal health care law.
An effort to overhaul Georgia's civil forfeiture laws stalled last year amid objections from law enforcement and could face the same fate again.
Rep. Wendell Willard, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, pre-filed House Bill 1 back in November 2012 with the goal of adding certain procedures for the handling of assets seized by law enforcement and increasing reporting. He revised the bill this year to address some of the concerns, working with the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia and earning their support. Under the revised bill, the state's burden of proof would remain the same, along with the $25,000 threshold under which authorities can seize assets without judicial approval.
Willard, R-Sandy Springs, had initially sought to raise the burden of proof and lower the threshold to $5,000. His bill passed out of committee on Feb. 7, but has yet to be scheduled for a House vote. Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association, said the group remains opposed to the bill.
A bill to restrict abortion coverage in the state's federally run health care exchange is scheduled to reach the Senate floor on Monday.
In the past few years, nearly half the nation's states have passed laws prohibiting abortion coverage in health insurance plans offered by the new state health exchanges, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The group notes the federal health care law maintains existing restrictions that prohibit federal funds from being used for abortion services except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the woman is at risk.