Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Cannabis Oil Legislation in Georgia


ATLANTA, GA (Harold Jones) - UPDATE 4/2/2015 - My first Day 40 at the capitol was an eye-opening experience. Let me update you on some of the key issues that we worked on during the final week.

Transportation

A slightly-amended version of House Bill 170, the transportation spending plan, received final passage from the House and Senate this week. The bill will raise $900 million in new transportation spending largely from an increased gasoline tax.

I believe that Georgia needs to invest in transportation, but I voted against the statewide tax increase because Augusta is already facing tax increases: the new stormwater fee, the SPLOST package, an increase in the millage rate, and the TIA. Let's be honest: if Atlanta had passed their TIA, this wouldn't be an issue. Augusta did its part.

Religious Freedom

I am pleased to report that S.B. 129, the so-called "Religious Freedom" bill, failed to pass the House on the last day of session. I was concerned that the bill would open the door to discrimination, as similar bills made national headlines this week for that reason in Indiana and Arkansas. Here in Georgia, House leadership did not wish to see it pass and the bill thankfully died.

Budget

On Tuesday the fiscal year 2016 budget received final passage. It represents approximately $40 billion in spending. I had some issues with the budget but ultimately voted in favor of it to fund our schools and infrastructure projects.

It has truly been an honor representing you at the Capitol this year, and I look forward to seeing many of you in Augusta this year as I return home. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

Medical Marihuana

This week, the Senate debated and passed House Bill 1, which would allow the medical use of cannabis oil for some illnesses. I was proud to cast a "yes" vote on HB 1 - I believe that it will help Georgians, including children, get relief from painful conditions. I also did it to support Georgia Regents University: GRU is conducting cannabis oil research trials. Next week, the House and Senate will work out differences in conference committee, and then the bill will go to the Governor.

Gov. Deal's school takeover

On the other side of the capitol, the Georgia House passed Governor Deal's proposed constitutional amendment to allow the state to takeover failing schools. When we debated the bill in the Senate, I stood with my fellow Democrats in voting "no". I want to do everything we can to help students in failing schools, but I don't believe a state takeover is the answer. Unfortunately, as the amendment passed both houses with a 2/3 majority, it will go before voters in a referendum in 2016.

My legislation

This week, my resolution studying the decriminalization of some driving offenses in Georgia passed the Public Safety committee. This issue is something that I spoke about on the campaign.

The Georgia House passed H.B. 1, which would decriminalize the possession of cannabis oil for medicinal purpose. I look forward to supporting that legislation when it comes to the Senate. As you may know, Georgia Regents University is conducting trials for the cannabis oil.

The Senate debated and passed two key issues - the 2016 fiscal year budget, and the transportation spending bill (H.B. 170).

I stood with my Democratic colleagues in voting against transportation. I believe that we should invest in our transportation infrastructure, but in Augusta we have already done that. We passed our portion of the TIA (Transportation Investment Act), and we already have a T-SPLOST. H.B. 170 did not do enough to address those areas such as Augusta that had already approved such measures, and so I voted "no." It ultimately passed 29-25.

We also heard the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget on the floor today, and I voted "yes." I have many issues with the budget- there is not enough money for education, for example- but I believe that we must ultimately fund our schools and our state government.

One bill that I am interested in debating in the Senate is H.B. 1, the medical cannabis oil legalization bill. It passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services committee this week and hopefully will be on the floor soon. It would legalize a type of cannabis oil for medical use in Georgia. I look forward to supporting the bill if and when it comes to the floor.

News headlines

ABC: Georgia Senate scales back transportation bill
The Georgia Senate Friday narrowly passed a transportation funding bill that would raise just more than half of the $1 billion a year for transportation projects sought by legislation passed by the state House of Representatives.

WXIA: Medical marijuana measure passes Senate Committee
A Georgia Senate committee passed a medical marijuana bill on Thursday, but hurdles remain before it can become law.

Friday -3/13- was Day 30 of the legislative session, also known as "Crossover Day". It was the last day for a bill that originates in the Senate to pass before it heads to the House. 

I have been pleased to continue to work on the issues that I spoke about during my campaign. As I said in last week's update, I have introduced legislation that would be the first step towards creating a statewide competition for students interested in cyber security, ideally centered in Augusta. With the headquarters of the Army's Cyber Command moving to our city, it makes sense for Georgia to look at creating this. 

Another issue that I ran on was the backlog in our judicial system caused by traffic tickets. I believe that we should take a look at treating minor driving offenses as civil violations rather than crimes. It would save time, save taxpayer dollars, and cause fewer headaches for Georgia drivers. My resolution, Senate Resolution 460, would create a committee to study this issue and make a recommendation by the end of the year. My hope is that in a year's time we will be able to have a bill on the floor. 

The Senate passed S.B. 185, which would allow the use of medical cannabis oil for children with seizure disorders. I voted yes because I believe that we should not deny those children relief. I supported an amendment to add more medical conditions to the list of eligible conditions to be treated with medical marijuana, and strongly prefer House Bill 1, which has those conditions. I look forward to getting that bill in the Senate. 

The Senate also passed S.B. 154, which would allow law enforcement officer to use body cameras. I voted yes. It was sponsored by Senator Jesse Stone from Waynesboro. 

The Georgia House also passed -$21.8 billion- their proposed version of Georgia's budget for fiscal year 2016. When it comes to the Senate, I will be sure to stand up for what I believe should be our priorities as a state: educating our kids and encouraging economic growth all over the state, including in the Augusta area.

I have continued work in the following committees: Public Safety, Economic Development and Tourism, and Judiciary-Non Civil.

In the Public Safety Committee, I voted to pass a bill that would no longer allow the state to suspend drivers licenses for non-driving offenses. While I believe that licenses should be suspended for those who commit certain traffic violations, I don't believe that the state should be taking away a person's right to drive because of something unrelated to safety on the road.

Thank you again for the honor of representing you at the Capitol.

Senator Harold Jones II
District 22

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