With Crossover Day now past, state representatives from Hall County were left Tuesday counting their wins and losses in this year’s session of the Georgia General Assembly.
Bills must have passed either the House or Senate by Monday to remain eligible to become law during the final 10 days of the legislative session. That cutoff meant success or failure for legislation sponsored by state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, Rep. Timothy Barr, R-Lawrenceville, Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville, Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, and state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville.
The House delegation from Hall County spearheaded a bill that would put a mediation process in place the next time the city of Gainesville proposes to annex unincorporated “islands” in the county.
The city opposes the bill, which passed the House on Monday, and officials say Gainesville has no plans in place for another round of annexations because they would be too costly to provide services.
Rogers said he is working overtime to get the bill passed in the Senate before the final day of the session, set for March 20. He anticipates the bill passing with little dissent.
Because their interests are many times so closely aligned, Hall County representatives find themselves voting in lockstep with one another more often than not. For example, Rogers, Barr, Hawkins and Dunahoo all voted in favor of allowing guns to be carried on school campuses and in churches. They also voted to require any expansion of Medicaid to meet legislative approval.
But Rogers broke from the crowd on a very hot topic: medical marijuana. The House voted overwhelmingly, with only four dissents, to pass the legislation that would allow the distribution of cannabis oil to those suffering specific medical conditions, such as seizures.
“It’s against federal law,” Rogers said. “My belief is it will never happen in the state of Georgia.”
Rogers said each legislative session brings triumphs and defeats. But overall he was content with the bills he was able to pass, and said he was satisfied to share some of his institutional knowledge of the workings of the General Assembly with newcomers.
Barr was able to pass three bills in the House this session, including one that deals with library funding and staffing issues, and one that updates the law regarding child support payments.
“When you pick certain things that you are going to champion, it pays off in the end,” he said.
The big payoff, however, came late Monday night when the House passed a bill outlining how the state would choose its delegates if and when 34 states call a convention to propose adding amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as allowed under Article V. A national movement, led by political conservatives, to use this mechanism is growing more popular.
“It’s a win for Georgia, I think,” Barr said. “I think that speaks volumes.”
Dunahoo had his hands full this session pushing bills related to property the state owns. One bill, which streamlines the sale of state properties, passed the House last week.
He said the bill creates a board to appraise and open bids on state property that is for sale, providing tax benefits by slashing the time it takes to offload such property.
Because the current process, which must be handled by the General Assembly, often keeps properties on the market for a year or more, “You lose a lot of the interest” from investors, Dunahoo said. The legislature will still have veto power.
Dunahoo said this year’s session has been a whirlwind, given the speed with which things have progressed. With the primary election looming May 20, many state representatives appear to be in a hurry to close business at the Capitol and hit the campaign trail, something he called “disappointing.”
Hawkins sponsored the Cancer Treatment Fairness Act, which passed the House on Feb. 21, and aims to prevent higher out-of-pocket costs for oral cancer treatment medications.
“We need to give cancer patients affordable access to the most recently developed and most effective therapies, whether it is in oral or IV form,” Hawkins said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Miller was able to pass a bill out of the Senate that prohibits coverage for abortions in state health plans and through Affordable Care Act exchanges.
Miller, however, was unsuccessful in co-sponsoring the Patients’ Compensation Act, which sought to reform the state’s medical malpractice system and brought out many special interests on both sides. The bill died, just as it did last year, in committee.
Barr said the cooperation of his colleagues from Hall County helped pave the way for a successful legislative session, even if the work isn’t quite done yet.
“It’s a team effort,” he added.