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Legislators tend to their real business - getting reelected

Posted: March 26, 2014 - 12:05am

The week before Georgia legislators finished their session, Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Marietta) made a floor speech that put it all in perspective.

“God, guns, abortion!” Thompson shouted to his Senate colleagues. “Now I’m ready to run.”

His assessment was accurate. The abbreviated session was dominated by the GOP majority’s passage of bills they hope will please conservative Republicans who can vote to reelect them.

Guns? You’ll see them more often in churches, bars, government buildings and K-12 schools if Gov. Nathan Deal signs the firearms bill passed on the last night of the session.

Abortion? Republican lawmakers passed a bill prohibiting the state employees’ insurance plan, as well as policies sold through the health insurance exchanges, from covering the costs of that procedure – with no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

God? The Legislature passed a bill authorizing the erection of a Ten Commandments monument on the capitol grounds, although the measure could well be tossed out if it’s challenged in court.

It was also a good session if you happen to be a raccoon.

Legislators actually spent their important time considering a bill that would allow hunters to trap raccoons and use them in field training exercises for their hunting dogs, a practice that animal rights activists say is rather cruel. The bill passed the House with strong bipartisan support on a 162-1 vote – the only lawmaker standing with the hapless raccoons was Rep. John Deffenbaugh (R-Lookout Mountain).

The bill, like one of those caged raccoons, got trapped in the Senate and did not make it to the floor for a vote. This means raccoons will be spared for at least another year from the indignity of being used as live targets in field trials.

There was something about the issue of animal cruelty that made legislators act strangely. A bill to strengthen the penalties for mistreating animals got caught up in a bizarre debate in the Senate when Sen. Mike Crane (R-Newnan) used the measure to make a point about outlawing abortions.

“We’re not talking about taking puppies from the womb,” Thompson reminded him.

If you’re a child who suffers from a debilitating seizure disorder or from autism, it wasn’t such a great session.

Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) introduced legislation to allow the use of cannabis oil, a marijuana derivative, in treating young children afflicted with seizure disorders. There have been encouraging instances in other states where the use of this substance has quieted these seizures and provided some comfort to the children.

Sen. Tim Golden (R-Valdosta) and Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) sponsored a bill to require health insurance firms to provide coverage for the treatment of autism in young children, another vexing ailment that torments many parents.

The medical marijuana bill passed the House overwhelmingly and went to the Senate. The autism bill passed the Senate unanimously and went to the House. That’s where the process broke down.

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce opposed the autism bill, calling it a government “mandate” on businesses, so the House did not call it up for a vote. Unterman then tried to save the autism bill by attaching it to the medical marijuana bill.

In the discussions of those bills over the session’s final days, the House refused to support the autism bill and the Senate refused to pass the medical marijuana bill if it didn’t include the autism provision. As often happens in these circumstances, both bills died and the parents of all these ailing children will have to cope as best as they can without any help from the Legislature.

It was not a matter of discriminating against children, of course. Lawmakers also passed bills that will make it more difficult to expand Medicaid coverage to adults who can’t afford health insurance.

On the other hand, Republicans and Democrats worked together to approve $17 million in tax funds for another parking deck at the new football stadium being built for Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank. We may not take care of the sick and the helpless, but we do have a soft spot in our heart for billionaires.

As the session adjourned, Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) observed: “We did nothing for kids, but we passed a gun bill.”

That’s as good a summation as any.

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