- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) - Monday marks a key deadline for Georgia lawmakers, who are rushing to wrap up the 40-day legislative session by late March.

Bills must pass at least one chamber by the 30th day to remain alive for the year. There are some ways to get around that deadline, but the House and Senate still are expected to work late into the night.

Top issues include:

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CASINOS AND GAMBLING

An effort to bring casino gambling in Georgia appears dead for the year.

House Speaker David Ralston said Monday that he would not call a bill and accompanying constitutional amendment for a floor vote.

Ralston said that as he talked with people about the measure, “the faith community felt they had not been heard,” and he added, “I want them to know they have been heard.”

The proposal would have allowed up to four casinos in Georgia, with two in the metro Atlanta area.

The Georgia Senate finished its calendar for the day without voting on two gambling-related measures, making it difficult for either to become law this year.

A Senate proposal to allow bets on horse racing received approval from a committee early this session. But Democrats opposed the measure, and Republicans need their support to pass a constitutional amendment through the chamber. A separate bill would have allowed fantasy sports sites in Georgia.

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MEDICAL MARIJUANA

House members approved a bill expanding the list of conditions under which residents would be eligible to possess medical marijuana in Georgia.

Lawmakers voted 152 to 8 on Monday to add seven medical conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, to those already allowed to possess cannabis oil with a doctor’s permission and inclusion on a state registry. The bill also allows manufacturers of the oil to legally ship it to people on the state’s registry.

Rep. Allen Peake’s original proposal to allow state-licensed manufacturers of medical marijuana products to operate in the state was dramatically scaled back in the face of opposition from Gov. Nathan Deal.

Lawmakers last year approved allowing people with certain medical conditions to legally possess cannabis oil in Georgia. Patients say they still must travel to states where the product can be manufactured, at a high cost and risk of legal trouble while crossing state lines.

“This isn’t an issue that is going away,” Peake said. “Even if it is not me, someone else is going to be leading the charge on this.”

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IMMIGRATION

People who came to the U.S. as children and have been permitted to stay under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, could only receive drivers’ licenses that explicitly state they are not citizens under a bill passed by the Senate.

The bill from Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, would require that those licenses include the words: “NO LAWFUL STATUS,” along with other labels. The cards also would be printed vertically, rather than horizontally to distinguish them from identification available to citizens.

McKoon said current state law allows people in the country under DACA to obtain identification including the words “limited term.” The label isn’t noticeable enough to prevent use for voting or other purposes, he said.

Sen. Curt Thompson, D-Tucker, said the bill would stigmatize people “for political gain.”

“Your sincere belief that this problem exists does not make a problem a reality,” Thompson said.

The Senate also approved a constitutional amendment making English the state’s official language. State law already contains that designation.

Both proposals go to the House.

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TAX CUTS

The Senate approved a constitutional amendment requiring an income tax cut if the state’s reserve fund is full and tax revenue continues to climb. Cuts would continue over time if those conditions are met.

It now goes to the House. Constitutional amendments must pass both chambers with support from two-thirds of members and get voters’ approval in a statewide election.

Critics warn the proposal would limit Georgia’s ability to prepare for challenging financial times, such as a recession, and would decrease funding available for transportation, schools and other state expenses that continue to climb.

“I am telling you that you are showing the people of Georgia that you don’t know how to govern if you pass this amendment,” said Minority Leader Steve Henson, a Democrat from Tucker.

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