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Thursday, March 20, 2014 - 12:09pm

Lawmakers Tussle Over Key Bills On Legislature's Last Day

Lawmakers embarked on the final day of the 2014 legislative session Thursday with many of the big issues already behind them.

For example, the two chambers passed the 2015 budget on Tuesday. Often, they leave it to the last day of the 40-day session to iron out the details on the spending plan, even though it’s the only thing they must do before adjourning.

Coming into Day 40, both chambers had also passed a bill that would bar a sitting governor from expanding Medicaid, and another measure that loosens restrictions on where you can take a gun. Lawmakers in both houses have also passed a bill that would ban coverage of abortion in many healthcare plans sold in Georgia.

But they are still ironing out the wrinkles on other measures. And even some of the bills that have passed both chambers have moved to conference committees where lawmakers continue to tinker with the legislation.

The gun bill falls into that last category. The Republican leadership is split on how broad the legislation should be. Under one version, licensed gun-owners would be able to take firearms into churches and bars. Those establishments would need to stipulate that they don’t want guns on the premises by means of a sign or other notification. Some lawmakers, however, object to forcing churches to have to wade into the debate on whether to allow guns or not. They prefer a system where churches would “opt in” if they want to allow guns.

Mid-afternoon Thursday, lawmakers were still debating a bill to legalize medical marijuana and another to force some welfare recipients to obtain drug tests before receiving benefits.

The legislature will gavel out of session Thursday night no later than midnight. Gov. Nathan Deal will then have 40 days to sign or veto bills. He said Wednesday he will sign the bill barring him from adding enrollees to Medicaid.

Lawmakers have presided over a quick legislative session. That’s because they are all up for re-election later this year. That's meant fewer bills, and adjourning in March, rather than in April. But with Republicans holding wide majorities in both houses and all statewide elective seats, they've moved briskly to pass a conservative legislative agenda.

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