The Georgia General Assembly adjourned sine die as scheduled on Thursday, March 20.
The General Assembly took action on the following bills in its last days. Governor Deal has forty days after the end of the session to sign or veto bills that have passed.
Abortion Funding in Insurance Exchanges. Both the Senate and House of Representatives adopted SB 98 to prohibit funding of abortions under health insurance policies issued through the health insurance exchanges established in accordance with the federal Affordable Care Act. The bill also enacts into statutory law the action of the Department of Community Health in eliminating abortion funding from the State employees’ health plan. The Conference strongly SUPPORTED SB 98.
Gun Control. Although the Senate Judiciary Committee initially made favorable changes to HB 875 related to the availability of guns and other weapons, the Senate ultimately accepted the House version of the bill with only limited changes.
The final bill continues to prohibit weapons in houses of worship “unless the governing body or authority of the place of worship permits the carrying of weapons or long guns by license holders.” The bill, however, diminishes the penalty for carrying weapons to a $100.00 fine with no arrest permitted for a license holder. A person carrying a weapon without a license can be charged with a misdemeanor.
Beyond houses of worship, the bill is wide ranging and, among numerous provisions, will allow carrying weapons in bars; in any government building not restricted or screened by a security officer; and, in school safety zones if authorized by a duly authorized officer. The bill also provides a judicial licensing process for those adjudicated mentally incompetent or not guilty of certain crimes by reason of insanity; prohibits local governments from regulating gun dealers or guns shows; protects those who claim to have inadvertently entered restricted parts of commercial airports; prohibits law enforcement from requiring production of a carry license when someone is carrying a weapon; and, provides that defense of self and others is an absolute defense of any violation of weapon regulation.
The Georgia Catholic Conference, along with other religious and civic leaders, OPPOSED HB 875.
Insurance Coverage for Autism. The General Assembly failed to pass any legislation that would have required state-regulated health plans to cover the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism through age six. In the next plan year, however, the State employee benefit plan will provide some coverage for autism to State employees. The Conference SUPPORTED the coverage for autism.
Drug Testing for Food Stamp Recipients. The General Assembly passed HB 772 which will require body fluid drug testing for food stamp recipients any time that a “reasonable suspicion exists that such applicant or recipient is using an illegal drug.” The Conference OPPOSED HB 772. Similar legislation passed several years ago has been enjoined and, despite some modifications, many lawyers believe that this bill is unconstitutional. Our opposition is based on the dignity of the human person and the need for protection of children, many of whom could lose food stamp subsidies if the law goes into effect.
Child Testimony. The General Assembly adopted HB 804 which will allow children under 17 years of age, who are victims of violent crimes, to testify against their perpetrators by video rather than in person. The Conference SUPPORTED HB 804.
Immigration. For the first time in several years, the General Assembly has not passed adverse legislation specifically directed at immigrants.