The sponsor of a medical marijuana bill said Monday after a three-hour legislative hearing that the proposal must get significant revisions before it can move forward in the Georgia General Assembly.
State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) said he was unsure of the specific changes needed to House Bill 885 that would give Georgia children, who have no other treatment options, the opportunity to receive therapeutic cannabidiol to treat their seizures.
Peake’s efforts, though, drew support from the vast majority of people who packed the hearing room, including parents who tearfully testified their children suffer multiple seizures a day.
Physicians who testified at the House Health and Human Services Committee hearing agreed that the therapeutic oil, which does not have the psychoactive qualities of typical marijuana, has proved effective in providing relief from seizures, but needs more thorough study.
The legislation is scheduled for another hearing Thursday.
The medical marijuana testimony was part of a busy health care day at the Capitol, as lawmakers continued to work hard to move key legislation in a compressed time period. This year’s legislative session is a short one because party primaries will be held unusually early.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Monday approved a revamp of the state’s child welfare services; a bill to increase monitoring of the state’s community service boards; and a proposal that would allow public health officials to inform medical providers of a patient’s HIV status if the patient is not in treatment.
The panel approved a fourth bill that would require that one of the nine board members of the Department of Community Health also be an active member of the State Health Benefit Plan.
The state employee and teacher health plan, which Community Health oversees, has been the subject of controversy since major changes were launched Jan. 1. Members of the plan have bombarded officials with complaints. The legislation would give these consumers “a voice on the board,’’ said state Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus), its sponsor.
Much of the state’s child welfare system would be replaced by private companies and organizations under Senate Bill 350, sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford).
That system is broken, Unterman said. She cited the recent deaths of two children, including a 10-year-old Gwinnett County girl whose charred body was discovered in a trash can. Her death “was the straw that broke the camel’s back,’’ Unterman said.
The legislation would create a public-private partnership under which services for adoption, foster care, family reunification and case management would be contracted out, with the state divided up into 15 regions. The state government’s Division of Family and Children Services would retain control over child protective services and investigations of neglect and abuse.
Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) questioned the need to pass a bill quickly, and said the current Georgia’s child welfare system stacks up favorably against Florida’s, which has been privatized. Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) questioned the cost of the revamp to the state.
Sen. Fran Millar (R-Atlanta), though, said the state “hopefully will get better outcomes’’ with the change.
The bill passed despite Democratic opposition.
Much less contentious was discussion of community service board legislation, which passed unanimously. Twenty-six community boards, known as CSBs, offer services to Georgians with behavioral health problems and developmental disabilities, and under the bill these boards would face new oversight. The bill follows recent trouble connected with a CSB in Coastal Georgia. (Here’s GHN’s article from last week on the legislation.)
The Senate health committee also approved unanimously a proposal to allow Public Health officials to let health care providers know if their patient has a positive HIV test and is not currently getting medical treatment.
The goal “is to try to get patients under care,’’ said Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge), a physician who is Senate Bill 342’s sponsor. Medications now available can allow people with HIV to have normal lifespans and can greatly lessen their chance of spreading the disease, Burke noted.
The health care provider can encourage the patient to go to his or her primary care doctor and seek treatment.
Louisiana just enacted similar legislation, and 80 percent of the patients returned to treatment, Public Health officials said last week.
Only about one-third percent of Georgians with HIV are now getting the drug therapy that suppresses the virus, said Dr. Patrick O’Neal, director of health protection for the Department of Public Health, which has pushed the legislation.
Staff writer Charles Craig contributed to this article.