The eighth week of legislative session included Crossover Day. This is the day that a bill must pass one chamber in order to be considered by the other chamber. Because the House is three times larger than the Senate, the House usually creates three times more bills.
One of the most interesting bills that passed the House last week was the medical cannabis bill that allows a dozen highly regulated distributors to grow cannabis only for the purpose of the medical conditions that are already in law. The reason we need this bill was, although Georgia allowed the use of medical cannabis, there was no way to legally attain it. This bill fixes that, without creating a gateway to legalizing recreational use. It passed with about 40 “No” votes.
An oddly contentious bill was HB 266, which doubles the amount of money parents can put into their children’s 529 College Saving Plan. The Democrats opposed the increase, ostensibly because they think we have too many tax breaks already. It seemed an odd play since education is the only consistent way to rise out of poverty. The bill passed by a narrow 95-64 margin.
I supported HB 444, the new dual enrollment bill, with great reluctance. Gov. Deal’s program that allows high school students to take college course while in high school has been so successful that “guide rails” had to be applied in order to keep costs from getting too high. From now on, only 11th- and 12th-graders will be able to use this program for university level work, and tenth-, 11th-, and 12th-graders for technical school courses. Also, it will be limited to 30 hours per student. Keep in mind, these high-schoolers can still use their very generous HOPE scholarship (127 hours worth) to make up any difference. I was able to make concessions to this bill to make it better for the student, and ultimately supported it in order to keep the program sustainable. It passed by a 99-72 margin.
I opposed HB 198, which I believe would hurt local hospitals by carving out exemptions for boutique hospitals that do not have emergency rooms and refuse to care for all patients. Health care in America requires that all hospitals treat every patient, regardless of their ability to pay. Until that changes across the board, this bill would have been unfair to small hospitals and bankrupt rural hospitals like the one we have in Morgan County. The bill failed on a wide bipartisan vote.
I was very pleased with the LIFE Act, HB 481. The bill recognizes the humanity of children in the womb and limits most abortions once a child has a heartbeat. Exceptions were made for mother’s life in danger, rape and incest. It passed on a narrow 93-73 margin. We also passed a hate crime bill by a narrow 96-64 margin. Forty-five other states already have such laws, but many felt that the language may have unintended consequences.
HB 234 authorizes DFCS to provide emergency care to a human trafficking victim. This is another way that Georgia is addressing our human trafficking problem. HB 132 allows greater use of the film tax credit. That tax credit transformed a $40 million industry into a $10 billion annual pot of gold in Georgia over the past 10 years. HB 353 makes it a crime to stage a car crash for the purpose of committing insurance fraud. HB 83 requires elementary schools to schedule recess every day in order to combat rising childhood obesity. HB 247 makes all forms of battery on a senior citizen to be a felony. HB 424 makes human trafficking or pimping to be a gang activity.
I hope you will continue to pray for me as I serve the people of Newton and Morgan counties.
Dave Belton, R-Buckhead, represents District 112 in the Georgia General Assembly.