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Last day of Georgia session: Marijuana, school safety plans

April 3, 2019
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Georgia lawmakers Rep. Mark Newton, R-Augusta, left, and Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, celebrate the end of the 2019 legislative session in the House chambers at the State Capitol late Tuesday, April 2, 2019, in Atlanta. A medical marijuana bill sponsored by Gravley was passed by the house in the final moments of the session. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA (AP) — Tuesday marked the final day of Georgia’s 2019 legislative session, and lawmakers worked until midnight making compromises and passing legislation.

Several major proposals had already been passed and sent to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. That includes a bill moving the state to new touchscreen voting machines that print a paper ballot and another that would ban almost all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

But there was still plenty to consider on Tuesday, including proposals to raise the minimum marriage age, allow for the in-state production of medical marijuana and preserve evidence in rape cases for longer periods of time.

Here is a look at some of the action on the final hectic day:

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Georgia could soon allow the in-state production and sale of low-potency medical marijuana oil under legislation headed to the governor’s desk.

The compromise measure was passed by the state House and Senate late Tuesday.

It would fix an issue created by the state’s 2015 medical marijuana law that allows certain patients to possess the drug but provides them no legal avenue to obtain it.

The final bill grants six growing licenses to private companies — two for larger organizations and four for smaller organizations. That’s four more licenses than what the Senate had allocated and four less licenses than what the House had originally specified.

It gives pharmacies the “first shot” at distributing the drug but allows a state commission to seek out independent retail locations if there is a need.

Critics worried that the bill could be the “first step toward the commercialization of recreational marijuana.”

SCHOOL SAFETY

Public schools in Georgia could soon need to receive a threat assessment every four years under school safety legislation passed by the General Assembly.

Passed late Tuesday, the legislation also says public schools must conduct regular violence and terrorism response drills. It allows for a new position called “school safety coach” and creates an app with which students and others could report suspicious activity.

Republican Sen. John Albers said previously that the goal of the legislation is to identify problems before they happen. Albers said he spoke about the bill with parents from Parkland, Florida, where 17 high school students and staff were killed by a gunman in February 2018.

Critics worried that the legislation would bring law enforcement into routine behavioral issues that should be dealt with by school officials.

CHILD MARRIAGES

A bill raising Georgia’s minimum marriage age to 17 is heading to Kemp’s desk after the House approved it by a vote of 155-14 on Tuesday.

Under current Georgia law, 16-year-olds can get married with parental permission.

Under the bill, a 17-year-old that wanted to marry would have to be legally emancipated from their parents by a judge and undergo pre-marriage counseling. A 17-year-old would also not be allowed to marry someone more than four years older.

Rep. Andy Welch, the bill’s author, has said he worried about young people making decisions that could negatively affect the rest of their lives.

RAPE KITS

Law enforcement officials in Georgia could soon be required to preserve rape kits for a longer time under a bill approved by the state House.

The House unanimously approved the measure on Tuesday. The Senate approved it earlier in the day, and it now goes to the governor for his signature.

Current law requires rape kits to be stored for 10 years. The proposal would require Georgia to preserve the evidence 30 years after the arrest date or seven years from the completion of a prison sentence, whichever occurs later. If there are no arrests, the kit must be stored for 50 years.

The bill’s author, Rep. Scott Holcomb, is an Atlanta Democrat and lawyer who said he’s prosecuted rape and sexual-assault crimes.

After the vote, Holcomb said the measure is “among the best in the country, if not the best.”

In an emotional speech on the floor, earlier this session, Holcomb said, “These crimes change and damage lives to a degree that is really incredible.”

Holcomb was one of the main backers of a law passed in 2016 that helped cut down on the state’s backlog of rape kits.

ABORTION RESTRICTION PROTESTS

Actress Alyssa Milano on Tuesday joined several Georgia-based TV and film industry workers in protesting a “heartbeat” abortion ban awaiting Kemp’s signature.

Milano delivered a letter signed by other prominent Hollywood actors to Kemp’s office before speaking against the bill.

Republican Rep. Dominic LaRiccia confronted Milano in a packed reception area in front of Kemp’s office and asked her which Georgia district she votes in.

Milano replied that she was currently working in Georgia, but did not live in the state. She said other film workers with her did.

Backed by Kemp, the legislation would ban almost all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. That can be as early as six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant.

Kemp’s office declined to comment.