Drug testing, abortion bills get 11th-hour approvals

Major social issue legislation related to health received last-minute approvals Thursday night before the close of the 2012 Georgia General Assembly.

In the last hour of the legislative session, the House passed a bill that would cut the time for elective abortions from 26 to 20 weeks.

Negotiators reached a compromise on the abortion bill that includes an exemption for “medically futile” pregnancies, giving doctors the option to perform an abortion when a fetus has congenital or chromosomal defects. The AJC reported on the tensions and emotions involved in the battle over the legislation.

Right afterward, the House approved a much-debated bill requiring drug testing of welfare applicants.

But not all legislation dealing with social issues was approved.

Bills not coming up for House floor votes included one to require ‘‘personal growth’’ activities for food stamp recipients, and another to provide an exemption for religious organizations from the state mandate that insurance policies cover contraceptives.

Earlier Thursday, the Senate passed legislation to study the effectiveness of “pulse oximetry’’ to detect congenital heart defects in newborns. But the legislative session ended before the House could agree to a minor change in the bill.

Also approved was legislation that toughens regulation of unlicensed personal care homes, and authorizes the GBI to investigate cases of elder abuse. Advocates for seniors had backed the measure, House Bill 1110.

The effort to require drug testing for welfare recipients had appeared well on its way to becoming law after a Senate vote Tuesday. But the House waited till late in the evening Thursday to approve the Senate version of the legislation.

Opponents had called the drug testing legislation unconstitutional, pointing to a similar law in Florida that drew a lawsuit and has been halted by a federal judge. Proponents of the Georgia bill had said they were working to craft it so it would withstand any legal challenges.

The state budget that has passed both chambers contains $1.75 million to restore bariatric surgery as a benefit for members of the health plan covering state employees, teachers, school personnel and retirees.