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Lawmakers decide issues on Crossover Day

POSTED: March 8, 2013 12:34 a.m.

It was “Crossover Day” in the General Assembly and lawmakers worked into the night Thursday to pass bills so the other chamber could consider them.

There are only 10 days left in the legislative session, so if bills don’t cross over at this point, they’re likely to die without becoming law. Hall County legislators worked to get their bills to the other chamber, with varying degrees of success.

The House of Representatives had more bills to vote on than the Senate. The Senate rules calendar listed 29 bills while the House rules calendar had 79.

The General Assembly meets for about 40 days, but when exactly it ends depends on the legislature passing a budget, the only legislation it is mandated to pass. The assembly has wrapped up its work on the fiscal year 2013 amended budget, and it’s likely to take up work on the fiscal year 2014 budget next week, said Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville.

Lawmakers also voted on some hot button issues in areas such as education and gun rights.

Rep. Lee Hawkins took his turn on the House floor about midday to introduce his bill to move the oversight of licensing for dentists and pharmacists from the Secretary of State’s office to the Department of Community Health.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp has opposed this bill. He said in a letter to House members that the bill creates a new government agency and could take money from the Professional Licensing Boards Division, which is already facing budget cuts, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this week.

Hawkins disputed that view, saying that it’s a great economic move and doesn’t change the way that licensing fees and fines are handled. They would still go directly into the general fund, he said.

The Georgia State Board of Pharmacy and the Georgia Board of Dentistry would become a division in the Community Health Department and share facilities and staff with the Georgia Composite Medical Board. The composite board is responsible for more than 41,000 licensed professionals, including physicians, physician assistants, respiratory care professionals and acupuncturists.

“It doesn’t change the laws or the funding,” Hawkins said. “I think the secretary of state has not had the opportunity to study the bill.”

Hawkins’ bill crossed over by a vote of 122-46. It now goes to the state Senate. He said after the vote that it is the right thing to do.

Rogers and freshman Rep. Timothy Barr, R-Lawrenceville, had bills that didn’t cross over.

Rogers’ bill would have required the community health department to competitively bid out and contract with a single administrator to provide dental services to Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids recipients. PeachCare for Kids is a health care program for low-income children who don’t qualify for Medicaid. Rogers said he hopes to get the legislation out on a supplemental rules calendar.

Barr wrote a bill related to health insurance plans for teachers and other school personnel, but he recommitted it to the Higher Education committee for changes.

Lawmakers also wrestled with some controversial choices.

Gun control has been debated nationwide, but the state may change its laws to allow people to carry guns in more places, contrary to what’s happening elsewhere in the United States.

Representatives voted 117-56 to allow people who have voluntarily sought inpatient treatment for mental illness or substance abuse to get licenses. The same bill would force officials to check on whether applicants have received involuntary treatment in the past five years before issuing licenses. Probate judges now have discretion over whether to grant a license to carry a weapon to anyone who has received inpatient treatment at a mental hospital or substance abuse treatment center in the last five years, whether it’s voluntary or not.

“Simply being hospitalized doesn’t make a person a criminal or a threat,” said Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, the bill sponsor, in a statement. The legislation now heads to the Senate.

That change is part of a larger package showcasing the local Republican philosophy on guns. The plan, backed by a gun owners group called GeorgiaCarry.Org, would allow people to carry weapons in churches, bars and college campuses — despite the objections of higher education officials. In response to a shooting rampage that killed 26 people in Connecticut, it would allow school officials to arm their employees.

Lawmakers also made changes to educational grants and scholarships. Representatives approved a plan to lower grade requirements for those seeking HOPE grants to attend the state’s technical colleges, and it’s likely to pass since it has the backing of legislative leaders and Gov. Nathan Deal.

The plan would return the qualifying grade point average to 2.0 at an estimated cost of $5 million to $8 million annually. Two years ago, state lawmakers had raised the grade point average to 3.0 to address what was then a decline in lottery revenues that fund the HOPE program. Senators took up changes to a tax credit program that provides scholarships for children to attend private schools. Under the program created a few years ago, people can receive state tax credits by giving nonprofit scholarship providers donations of up to $1,000 by individuals and up to $2,500 from married couples.

The Senate also voted to ban law enforcement agencies from setting minimum waiting periods before they will act on a reported missing person case.

The bill clarifies the statewide alert system can be used for a person whose medical conditions could explain their disappearance. The measure passed without opposition and now goes to the House.

The new law would be named for Stacey Nicole English, an Atlanta woman who suffered from mental illness when she disappeared in December 2011. Her body was found weeks later, and an autopsy showed she died from exposure to the cold.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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