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Marijuana, guns, child welfare bills await votes on final day of state legislature
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ATLANTA — With just one day of voting left, state lawmakers in Georgia face decisions on whether to expand the places where people can carry guns, whether to create a medical marijuana program for the ill and how to overhaul the child welfare system.

The General Assembly holds its final meeting of the legislative year today, which it calls “Sine Die.” The legislature meets just 40 working days a year, and any bill that doesn’t pass on the final day automatically fails for the year. Lawmakers typically cast hundreds of votes right up until midnight in the hopes of beating the deadline.

Aside from the usual pressure, this year’s session has been particularly compressed. Lawmakers and statewide officers cannot raise campaign money while the General Assembly meets. With this year’s primary on May 20, politicians are in a rush to wrap up their statehouse business and get on the campaign trail.

They must still make decisions on several high-profile issues.

As the make-or-break deadline approaches, House and Senate lawmakers pressure each other by tying up votes on measures wanted by one chamber in exchange for measures supported by the opposite chamber. That tactic Tuesday stalled a House plan to let people suffering from the side effects of cancer treatment, glaucoma and some seizure disorders to take products derived from cannabis oil in the hope it will ease their symptoms.

To ratchet up the pressure, the Senate has combined the House’s medical marijuana proposal with a Senate plan to require that insurers cover behavioral therapy for Georgia children ages 6 and younger who have been diagnosed with autism. Some House Republicans have opposed it, saying it would be an expensive insurance mandate that raises costs for businesses and employees.

“I’m hoping that cooler heads will prevail and we come to some resolution,” said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, who sponsored the medical marijuana bill.

Like last year, lawmakers disagree on how far to expand the places in Georgia where people can legally carry guns.

House Republicans have endorsed a more-sweeping plan, allowing those with licenses to take their guns into bars and churches. It would also allow school districts to arm their employees. Supporters say it would deter attacks on schoolhouses, though critics argue that allowing more guns in schools will put teachers and staff in more danger.

The Senate has generally been more cautious, and it changed the gun bill Tuesday to restore the ban on carrying them in bars and gave religious leaders more discretion over whether people can have firearms in houses of worship.

Senate Republicans also included a plan to let people hunt with firearms equipped with noise suppressors, which reduce the noise from gunshots.

One of the House leaders, Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, said late Tuesday that he had not yet reviewed the Senate plan in detail and could not comment on the changes. He did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday.

After the deaths of several children, both chambers have differing proposals to overhaul part of the state’s child welfare agency. Senate leaders want to allow faith- and community-based organizations to contract for services such as adoption, foster care and case management. The state would retain responsibility for investigating child-abuse claims. House leaders have called for a limited trial of privatization before committing to larger changes.

Meanwhile, Gov. Nathan Deal has set up his own committee to study the issue and signaled he wants more time. It’s unclear whether a compromise will emerge.

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