A Georgia House panel heard hours of testimony on a divisive "religious freedom" bill, one of a wave of measures surfacing in at least thirteen states, but no vote was taken Tuesday by a subcommittee of the House Judiciary committee.
As the state legislature heads into its final weeks, there are not one but two so-called religious freedom bills under consideration and causing controversy. They come before the legislature as a similar bill in Arizona has captured the national spotlight. Lawmakers in that state passed a bill that would allow businesses to refuse service to gay customers if employees claimed it was against their religion. But Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, under intense pressure by those who say the measure is discriminatory, has vetoed the bill. Lobbying efforts have already begun in Georgia; Delta Air Lines, one of the state’s largest employers and a corporate titan, has come out against the bills.
Inside the Capitol Tuesday, the Senate gave first reading to a bill that would create a study committee on the issue of legalizing medical marijuana in Georgia. Outside of the capitol, dozens of people were pushing for even more reform, lined up on the steps to show support for legalizing marijuana use in Georgia. 36-year–old John Palmour of Canton says he suffers from Behcet’s disease, an autoimmune disorder and currently buys marijuana on the black market.
A group of state lawmakers wants Medicaid patients to help pay for their care. A Senate committee says Georgia’s current Medicaid program is financially unsustainable. This year, the General Assembly had to renew a tax on hospitals to cover a $700 million shortfall in Medicaid. Medicaid costs in Georgia are also expected to increase by more than $100 million next year, due to changes under the Affordable Care Act.
Voters across Georgia went to the polls Tuesday for municipal elections. In two special elections, they were there to elect two new state lawmakers. Both Representative Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula, and Senator Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, stepped down from their positions earlier this fall to run for U.S. Congress.
State Senator Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, is considering drafting legislation that would require members of the General Assembly to pay for special elections if they resign to run for higher office. Officials say special elections cost anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000.
Georgia voters could elect to give the state's official ethics watchdog dedicated funding under a proposal from a state senator. Currently, the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission is funded by a fluctuating budget approved by state lawmakers.