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Fate of guns on campus, some taxes now in governors hands
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Dale Jackson shows a video of his 8-year-old autistic son Colin saying his first word after being treated with cannabis oil as state lawmakers look on during a press conference at the Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday. Two years after Georgia legalized medical marijuana, lawmakers are opening the popular program to more patients. The House approved a bill Tuesday that would add six new diagnoses to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis oil, including autism, AIDS, Tourette’s syndrome, and Alzheimer’s disease. - photo by David Goldman

ATLANTA  — Georgia lawmakers closed their 40-day session early Friday morning, sending dozens of proposals for review by Gov. Nathan Deal.

The Republican governor, who has only one legislative session remaining before he leaves office, prompted some nervous laughter when he delivered a message to each chamber on Thursday evening.

“I want you to understand that I may not sign all of them,” Deal said. “I don’t want to shock you with that statement.”

Georgia law gives Deal 40 days from adjournment to sign or veto bills. He also can allow measures to become law without his signature.

Here’s a look at lawmakers’ final decisions:

GUNS ON CAMPUS

For the second year in a row, lawmakers backed a bill allowing licensed gun owners to carry concealed handguns on public college campuses, hoping they have made enough changes to satisfy the governor who vetoed last year’s version.

The bill includes exemptions that Deal requested last year for on-campus preschools, disciplinary hearings and areas where high school students attend college classes.

The bill also bars guns in student housing, including fraternity and sorority houses, and athletic facilities.

Georgia is among 17 states that ban weapons on college campuses. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, eight states allow concealed weapons: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Tennessee allows licensed faculty members to carry concealed weapons on campus.

Deal hasn’t taken a stance on the version of the bill approved just before lawmakers adjourned. Charlie Sutlive, a spokesman for the University System of Georgia, said officials “believe the new exemptions improve the bill.”

“We prefer current law but are reviewing the legislation to see how it could be implemented at USG institutions,” he said.

Opponents contend that allowing guns on campus would create an unsafe environment for learning and critical thinking. Supporters say people licensed to carry concealed weapons should be able to defend themselves when on a college campus.

EASY CALLS

Deal’s likely to sign a $49 billion budget for the state, which largely agrees with his proposal back in January. Lawmakers signed off on 2 percent salary increases for teachers, a 19 percent bump for employees handling child welfare cases and continued 20 percent raises for state law enforcement.

The governor also has expressed support for a plan to “turn around” the state’s weakest schools. Under the proposal, a new “chief turnaround officer” will be hired by the State Board of Education to work with the lowest performing schools. Republicans had to regroup after voters in November’s election rejected Deal’s preferred strategy: a constitutional amendment letting the state take over schools dubbed chronically failing.

Supporters of expanding Georgia’s program allowing patients with certain conditions to possess an oil derived from marijuana also hope Deal will sign off on a bill adding six new conditions. It also would cover individuals in a hospice program.

TAXES

Tax cuts for everybody! Well, not quite.

Several industries saw big tax breaks pass out of the General Assembly, but the two chambers failed to reach an agreement on any broad income tax cuts.

People who get big-ticket boat repairs in Georgia and those who lease cars will get a tax break under laws passed in the session’s final hours.

Lawmakers also are trying to replicate the success of incentives for the film industry by creating a similar, but smaller, tax incentive for the music industry. They are also trying to entice movie and television companies to keep working in Georgia after filming with a tax credit for post-production editing.

OPIOID ADDICTION

Lawmakers worked to tackle the opioid crisis that continues to ravage the state. The governor made the issue a priority and lawmakers responded by passing a law that makes permanent an emergency order to allow an overdose reversal drug to be sold over the counter.

They also passed a law to expand the prescription drug monitoring program that helps track patients to avoid dangerous drug interaction as well as detect addict behavior earlier. The bill requires doctors to register with and use the pill-tracking database before prescribing painkillers and other high-risk drugs. Previously participation was voluntary making it hard to crack down on over-prescribing doctors.

A bill that adds new regulations to opioid treatment programs that use drugs such as methadone got the approval of both chambers. Proponents say that the new rules will help guarantee the quality of care at addiction treatment centers.

UNTIL NEXT YEAR

Senate members prevented a vote on a bill overhauling colleges’ disciplinary processes in reports of sexual assault, concerned by opposition from national and state groups that advocate for victims.

The bill sponsor, Rep. Earl Ehrhart, has argued that accused students’ rights were violated at some Georgia schools. Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, tried to force a Senate vote using a legislative maneuver after his proposal stalled. The Senate wouldn’t agree and let the bill die for the year.

Lawmakers also never approved a bill changing the boundaries of several GOP-held districts in the House, including two that have become competitive in recent years. Democrats opposed it, including former Attorney General Eric Holder who called it a “power grab.” GOP leaders defended the move but didn’t try to force a vote on the session’s final day.

House members ended the session on a low note after senators rejected a last-ditch attempt to update Georgia’s 27-year-old law on adoptions. The original bill stalled earlier this month when Republican senators added an amendment that adoption agencies could refuse placements based on religious belief or other priorities. Despite pressure from the House and the governor, the session ended without a vote on the issue.

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