- Associated Press - Saturday, March 19, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) - This year’s legislative session will come to an end next Thursday, and the future of several key pieces of legislation remains uncertain under the Gold Dome.

Both chambers have already given the greenlight to send many hotly contested bills to the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal, including a measure allowing college students to carry concealed handguns on campus.

Looking ahead into the final two days of the session, here are some of the issues that could still see movement in the legislature:

STATE BUDGET

Lawmakers still must pass a final state budget for the financial year starting July 1.

Approving a budget is the only constitutionally required measure that must be passed before the close of the session, and negotiations are expected to include debate over a spending plan that would increase salaries for thousands of state employees and teachers and give state retirees a one-time boost.

Both chambers have voiced support for Gov. Nathan Deal’s recommendation to allocate $300 million to local school districts. These funds are intended to end furloughs and lengthen school years after cuts during the recession.

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MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Rep. Allen Peake, a Macon Republican, said he will continue pushing for an expansion of people allowed medical marijuana in Georgia. The proposal hit a major roadblock when it recently failed to get a Senate committee hearing.

Peake’s bill would allow patients diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, Autism and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, among other afflictions, to possess cannabis oil.

Peake said he still hopes the bill can get a Senate floor vote.

“You never want to give up on an issue like this until midnight on the last day of the legislative session,” he said.

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RAPE KIT TESTING

A bill recently stalled in the Georgia Senate would require law enforcement officers and agencies to expedite the processing of rape kits for sexual assault victims.

The bill would require law enforcement officials to retrieve the findings of a forensic medical examination no later than 96 hours of being notified.

Rep. Scott Holcomb, an Atlanta Democrat, said supporters might try to attach the bill to another piece of legislation in order to get it passed. Republican Sen. Renee Unterman of Buford opposes the bill, saying the backlog on rape kits has been taken care of.

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ENGLISH AS OFFICIAL LANGUAGE

A constitutional amendment setting English as the “official” language of Georgia has failed to make it out of House committee. Sponsoring Sen. Josh McKoon said the hope was to get a floor vote in the House after receiving 39 votes in the Senate. The legislation needs two-thirds support to pass the House.

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TAX CUTS

A bill to set a flat state income tax rate of 5.4 percent requires House agreement to become law. The Senate has passed the measure. Critics argue that the adjustment in tax rates would only serve to help those in higher tax brackets. The decrease would lower the state’s maximum income tax rate down from 6 percent.

Gov. Nathan Deal and his staff have remained wary of any tax cut proposal, concerned about harming the state’s bond rating and ability to borrow money. Deal also has made it a priority to build up the state’s “rainy day” fund before his final term in office ends.

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