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Editorial: Some hits, a few misses from the state Capitol
Despite positive moves on cannabis oil, schools, legislature failed with adoption bill, gun fixation
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The General Assembly’s 40-day sprint to spring is done, including both nonsense and worthwhile accomplishments. As the gavel bounced at Sine Die, many North Georgia lawmakers might have been more focused on how to make their way home after Thursday’s interstate collapse.

One hot button issue that made it out of the session would allow licensed handguns in certain areas on state college campuses. A similar version of the bill passed last year but was rejected by Gov. Nathan Deal over opposition from college and law enforcement officials.

This year’s bill includes more restrictions, banning guns from dorms, fraternity and sorority houses, athletic venues, child care centers and classrooms with AP high school students. From a practical view, it would seem rather inconvenient to unstrap your holster several times during the day to comply with which areas do and don’t allow weapons. Even then, many instructors and students may find it unsettling anyone can be armed in a classroom.

In addition to concerns over the potential for violence in an environment stoked with youthful emotion and alcohol, police need to know when they respond to a campus emergency that the only people carrying weapons are themselves and the bad guys. The more people in that situation who are brandishing guns, the harder it makes their job.

The governor has yet to indicate whether he will approve this bill or spike it. If he vetoes it again, it likely will return in some form.

Meanwhile, a plan to make long overdue changes to streamline the state’s adoption laws was bogged down in controversy and didn’t pass. What seemed to be a quick ride proposal a few weeks ago got a stone thrown around its neck when lawmakers attached an amendment that would allow private adoption agencies that accept state dollars to discriminate in deciding which parents are chosen to adopt.

The amendment was widely viewed as a back-door attempt to create a “religious freedom” exception that would allow exclusion of same-sex couples; Deal vetoed a similar approach last year. ; Deal vetoed a similar approach last year. Many leaders in government and business oppose such restrictions, knowing well the backlash similar measures caused in other states. North Carolina suffered economic losses in the billions of dollars over its misguided transgender bathroom bill it revised last week.

With the original adoption bill scuttled, lawmakers tried to attach the plan to other legislation but it didn’t make it to a vote in time. So because a handful of elected officials couldn’t take “no” for an answer on codifying discrimination, Georgia’s adoption procedures won’t get needed updates. That’s a big failure.

Here are a few other highlights from the Gold Dome:

• Medical cannabis: After last year’s attempt to allow production of cannabis oil in Georgia failed, lawmakers succeeded in expanding the number of ailments allowed for treatment, including autism, AIDS, Tourette’s syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease. The people suffering from those afflictions are not looking to get high but relief from their suffering, and medicinal marijuana has been proven effective at helping ease their symptoms. Deal has indicated he will sign it, and he should.

 Failing schools: Lawmakers agreed on a bill to help underperforming schools that addresses some of the weaknesses in a similar plan rejected by Georgia voters last fall. Under the new proposal, which the governor is expected to sign, the state school board will appoint a “chief turnaround officer” to work with struggling schools and district officials in a more team-oriented approach than a blatant takeover, provided schools show progress within three years. In particular, local tax dollars won’t be seized to fund the plan, or fill the pockets of for-profit charter organizations.

If the state can focus on the real sources of low performance, often poverty at home rather than board members, teachers or administrators, this appears a good step toward helping schools succeed rather than punishing them from the get-go.

 Tax reform: The House plan to create a “flat” income tax rate of 5.4 percent from the current progressive levels did not make it out the session due to disagreement with the Senate. A plan to add sales tax to online purchases, evening the playing field with brick-and-mortar retailers, also failed. Tax breaks that did pass were for boat repairs and auto leases.

A “flat” tax could make those struggling to get by pay more, forcing more people to seek public assistance if they can’t bring home enough to live on. That would pass higher costs to local communities that provide such help. For that reason and others, more study is needed to determine if major tax changes will do more harm than good.

 Pay raises: The $49 billion budget boosts pay for teachers, though only by 2 percent, while child welfare workers and law enforcement officers get raises of 19-20 percent. And governors after Deal will get a  pay raise from $139,000 to $175,000 a year, pretty much in line with what most other states pay.

We didn’t know the state had trouble luring candidates for that job; after all, it comes with a pretty nice mansion on West Paces Ferry Road. One wonders how many members planning to run for the office next year voted for their hoped-for paycheck. Georgia voters just need to make sure whoever they choose is worth every penny.

The first candidate, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, entered the field the day after the session ended; look for others to follow soon.

It’s a bit early to offer a grade on this year’s session but the last-minute failure of the adoption plan, plus the continued obsession with expanding guns on campus, overshadow the legislature’s positive accomplishments. It’s a shame bad ideas keep popping up like dandelions in a flower bed even after they’ve been pulled up and cast aside.

And don’t look now, but next year is an election year, when those weeds will be back in full force.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a a letter to the editor; you can use this form or email to The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman. 

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