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Budget boosts education; PTSD cannabis oil bill passes on last day at General Assembly
Gov. Nathan Deal and first lady Sandra Deal
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and first lady Sandra Deal are greeted with a standing ovation as they enter the House where Deal addressed them for his last Sine Die. Thursday, March 29, was the 40th and final day of the 2018 General Assembly. - photo by FCN regional

As the hour ticked toward midnight on the final day of Georgia’s 40-day legislative session, members of the House and Senate worked furiously to pass dozens of bills.

The rush can lead to dramatic last-minute changes to legislation, some intentional and some by accident.

By Thursday evening, lawmakers had given final passage to a wide range of proposals, including a state budget that fully funds the state’s K-12 education formula. Other bills were still hanging in the balance, including a measure to overhaul transit across metro Atlanta.

Here’s a look at some of the top issues at the Capitol:


State budget

The Georgia House passed a budget Thursday for the upcoming fiscal year that fully funds the state’s K-12 education formula after over a decade of cutbacks.

The $26 billion budget will go to Gov. Nathan Deal, who’s expected to quickly sign it into law. The measure passed the Senate on Tuesday.

The proposal, buoyed by a $195 million increase in the governor’s tax revenue estimate, includes an additional $167 million for K-12 education and allows lawmakers to fully fund the Quality Basic Education formula.

The new budget also includes $100 million in borrowing for transit projects, $360 million toward the teacher retirement pension system and about $16 million in funding for school safety in the wake of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida.


Medical marijuana

Georgia lawmakers have agreed to expand the state’s medical cannabis oil program to include those with post-traumatic stress disorder or intractable pain.

Senators voted 38-14 in favor of widening the cannabis oil program and establishing a joint study commission to analyze medical marijuana.

The Senate had weeks ago stripped PTSD and intractable pain from the bill, but the House added it back Thursday afternoon as Rep. David Clark gave a fiery speech accusing Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle of “playing games” with people’s lives by blocking the program’s expansion.

Hours later, while introducing the new version of the bill, Sen. Matt Brass took to the Senate floor to denounce the comments Clark had made in the House. Brass said Clark had acted like a “child pitching a fit.”

Clark, a former Army Ranger, says those suffering from PTSD who have access to cannabis oil are less likely to turn to highly addictive opioid painkillers.


Hidden predators

Differing opinions in the House and Senate on amending the state’s Hidden Predator Act appear to have doomed the efforts of victims’ advocates this session.

GOP Rep. Jason Spencer had sought to significantly expand the law under which adults who were sexually abused as children could file lawsuits against their alleged abusers.

Earlier Thursday, Senators voted 51-0 in favor of giving adults up to the age of 30 to file suit in the future. The current age limit is 23, but the House had last month voted to extend the statute of limitations to 38.

The House sought to create a conference committee in hopes of reaching a compromise, but senators refused to form the committee so late at night.

During a news conference Thursday morning, Spencer said the Senate’s proposal “leaves victims behind.”


Distracted driving

Georgia lawmakers are one step away from giving final passage to a proposal to prevent drivers from holding their cellphones while behind the wheel.

Both the House and Senate have now passed similar versions of the bill. Georgia would become the 16th state to enact a hands-free driving law.

If the House agrees to the Senate’s recently amended version, the measure would be sent to the governor.

Proponents say drivers who look at their phones are largely responsible for a recent spike in fatal crashes across the state.

Under the proposals, first-time offenders would be fined $50, with the fees increasing for repeat offenders. The Senate proposal says first-time offenders could avoid the fine by appearing in court with proof that they have purchased a hands-free device.


Escaping abusers

Georgia lawmakers have given final passage to a proposal to let victims of domestic violence terminate housing leases early without paying penalties.

The House voted 166-0 in favor of the measure, sending it to the governor.

Under the proposal, victims who have received a domestic violence order in either criminal or civil court proceeding will be eligible to terminate their lease early.

Proponents say victims who are trying to escape a dangerous environment should not also have to worry about the fees they would face if they break their lease.

A tenant would need to provide a landlord with a written notice at least 30 days before breaking the lease.


Anonymous winners

Those who win a big lottery jackpot would be able to remain anonymous under a bill that is now awaiting the governor’s signature.

The Senate on Thursday granted final passage to Minority Leader Steve Henson’s proposal, which legislators say will help public safety.

Under the measure, those who win at least $250,000 and submit a written request can prevent their name from being publicly released.

Proponents say lottery winners can become prime targets of criminals.

The proposal has been criticized by open government advocacy groups, who say it is a bad idea to allow the government to hand out millions to private citizens without a public record.