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Georgia lawmakers begin critical week
Immigrants' driver's licenses, campus carry, medical pot bills move forward before midterm deadline
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Rep. Mandi L. Ballinger, R-Canton, presents her bill to a House committee Monday, Feb. 27, 2017, at the Capitol in Atlanta. With little fanfare, the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee on Monday approved what has become known as the campus carry bill. Ballinger is the sponsor of HB 280, which allows anyone with a Georgia weapons permit to carry firearms onto most parts of public college and university campuses.

ATLANTA - Two bills that would change the appearance of driver's licenses issued to immigrants with permission to be in the U.S. moved toward floor votes Monday as Georgia lawmakers began a critical week. Legislative rules require that bills pass at least one chamber by Friday to remain alive for the year.

Legislation that would allow people to carry concealed weapons on university campuses and a bill expanding access to medical marijuana also moved forward.

Here's a look at key developments from the Capitol:

Immigrants' driver's licenses

The House Public Safety Committee on Monday approved a bill that would label licenses "ineligible voter." Rep Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, originally proposed a "noncitizen" label and said the state's existing "limited-term" label is vague.

Voting rights advocates objected to the change during Monday's meeting, arguing that it adds a barrier to voting for people who earn U.S. citizenship but must first get a new driver's license. The bill passed the committee after several Democratic members' attempts to change it failed.

The Senate Public Safety Committee separately approved a bill from Sen. Frank Ginn, R-Danielsville, requiring licenses issued to people without U.S. citizenship be printed vertically rather than horizontally.

The sponsors of both bills claimed it would ensure that people don't vote illegally.

Following the November election, state election officials have repeatedly said that no illegal votes were cast in Georgia. The state verifies an individual's citizenship after receiving a voter registration application.

Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Brian Kemp, said Monday that the office has investigated four instances of "attempts to register as non-citizens or alleged non-citizen voting" since 2014.

State law allows temporary licenses for people with "deferred action status." That includes young people with temporary permission to stay in the U.S. under a program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, created under former President Barack Obama and others granted similar status by federal immigration authorities. However, a person in the country illegally is not eligible for a Georgia driver's license.

Campus carry

Licensed gun owners could carry concealed handguns on public college campuses under legislation approved by a Georgia House committee.

Members approved the bill on Monday despite opposition from the University System of Georgia and Gov. Nathan Deal's veto of a similar bill last year.

The measure would allow anyone age 21 and up to carry a concealed handgun on campus with a state-issued permit.

The bill sponsor, Republican Rep. Mandi Ballinger of Canton, added an exemption for on-campus preschool to this year's bill, hoping to win Deal's support. The bill also exempts dorms and athletic venues.

Georgia is among 17 states banning concealed weapons on campus.

Medical marijuana

A group of senators have taken steps to ease off on the punishments for possession of marijuana.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure Monday to reduce the charges for up to 2 ounces of marijuana from a felony to only a misdemeanor.

Separately, a House committee approved a bill greatly expanding the list of conditions that qualify for access to medical marijuana.

The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee voted in favor of the proposal, which is sponsored by Rep. Allen Peake, a Macon Republican. It moves to the House Rules Committee for further consideration.

The bill would add AIDS, HIV, chronic pain and autism to the list of qualifying conditions. It removes some residency restrictions.

Qualifying patients have been able to legally possess cannabis oil since 2015, and there are currently 1,300 patients enrolled in the program.

The Senate has separately approved a bill that only adds autism to the qualifying conditions and cuts the potency of THC from 5 to 3 percent.

Opioid crisis

A drug used to reverse opioid overdoses called naloxone will be available over-the-counter under a bill approved by the Georgia Senate.

Senators on Monday unanimously approved the bill, which will codify an emergency order put in place by Gov. Nathan Deal last year.

Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said the change will allow loved ones of an addicted person to be ready for the worst-case scenario.

The House voted Monday to add fentanyl to state laws on penalties for possessing, manufacturing, delivering or selling certain drugs. Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, said the change would give law enforcement another tool against people selling fentanyl.

Synthetic fentanyl is more potent than other prescription opioids or heroin. The Centers for Disease Control says roughly 9,500 people fatally overdosed on synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, nationwide in 2015.

In a separate House committee, representatives approved a measure to expand the prescription drug-monitoring program, which aims to prevent doctor hopping and weed out physicians who are over prescribing opioids.


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