Among the bills that made the cut with Cherokee legislators behind them was a sweeping piece of legislation that opens the door for guns to be carried in more places and another that limits Georgia’s involvement in the Affordable Care Act. A bill that would ensure counties and cities have the ability to require candidates for local offices live in their district for a year — which has been an issue in Cherokee — didn’t pass for the second year in a row.
Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs) called the session a success overall, with several bills he’d been behind making it to the governor.
Turner, along with Rep. Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock), was one of the signers on the Health Care Freedom and ACA Non-Compliance Act, which was aimed at limiting the federal health care law’s impact in Georgia. That bill, which Turner called “the toughest anti-Obamacare measure
passed by any state to this point,” would bar state agencies from implementing the health care law and is awaiting Deal’s signature.
Turner also carried House Bill 436, the local candidate residency bill. It passed the House and was carried by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) in the Senate but didn’t make it out of committee. The bill would have ensured that local law requiring candidates live in their district a year before running could be enforced.
However, two pieces of legislation for the city of Holly Springs that Turner was behind did make it to Deal. Those bills will separate the city into geographic wards for council elections and change the term cycle of one seat on the council. The city has had an uneven election cycle, with three of five seats coming open every other election.
Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton) can claim victory after she carried a bill to mandate that strangulation is always charged as a felony in Georgia, a measure that easily passed.
She was also a signer on the Safe Carry Protection Act, which passed after hitting road blocks in the Senate for the second year in a row. The sweeping bill would allow churches and bars to make their own call on whether to allow guns, as opposed to the state dictating the rules. It also aims to let local school boards arm certain employees.
“It’s not as big as we wanted, but we’ll take it,” Ballinger said of the bill, which saw changes in the Senate after passing the House. “We’re very happy.”
Beach, who is also a member of the Cherokee delegation, supported the gun bill, which he believed will ensure Second Amendment rights.
Beach also carried a bill to ensure that radio stations can receive the resources they need to keep running in the event of disasters, which passed.
But Beach said he was most pleased that legislators were able to pass a budget that gives more funding to education.
“I think that was the highlight,” he said.
Fellow Cherokee lawmaker Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) seemed pleased with the overall results of the session, though a few bills weren’t as successful as he had hoped.
Thompson said he wished the gun bill would have been a bigger expansion of gun rights.
“But we’re better off taking some steps toward our true Second Amendment rights than none,” he said.
While Thompson could accept the gun bill as it passed, he said he was greatly discouraged that a bill aiming to allow use of a non-psychoactive oil form of medical marijuana died at the last minute.
He was also disappointed that a bill to ensure insurance coverage for autistic children under the age of 6 didn’t make it. The medical marijuana bill had also been geared at helping children, with parents of children with chronic seizures from around the state rallying for it to pass.
“Politics at its best,” Thompson said. “It’s disappointing to me that we can’t set politics aside and help the children of Georgia. I apologize to the families of Georgia for (their government) not being more empathic.”
The medical marijuana measure easily passed the House and was attached to the one for autistic children. The House wasn’t in favor of the addition of the autism bill, according to Beach. As the clock ran out Thursday night, the two General Assembly chambers couldn’t strike a deal, and neither bill made it.
Ballinger also expressed regret that the medical marijuana measure didn’t pass.
“I really wanted to be able to give hope to those families,” she said.
Holly Springs mother Corey Lowe, who had been lobbying lawmakers to pass the bill, was beyond disappointed.
“Unbelievable, unbelievable,” said Lowe, whose daughter Victoria, 12, has had chronic seizures her whole life. “These kids don’t have a chance. (They) can have one seizure and be gone.”
Lowe also attributed the failure to politics.
“It’s not fair,” she said, breaking into tears. “I’m not handling it well.”