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Autism bill passes Ga. Senate; House backs trafficking fines
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ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia lawmakers passed dozens of bills Tuesday, the penultimate working day of the 2015 legislative session.

By law, the session runs 40 days. Lawmakers must adjourn by midnight Thursday.

The Senate had a packed calendar, and so did the House, which added a handful of bills to its agenda for the day.

Here's a look at some of Tuesday's action:


The Georgia Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill Tuesday requiring insurers to offer $30,000 of coverage for treating autism in children.

The compromise measure was approved 54-0 Tuesday after Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle told lawmakers to a standing ovation that he was proud they had taken a stand to help children with autism. The bill has been more than two years in the making.

"This will provide for a bright future for all the kids of the state," Cagle said.

State Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, said the bill "celebrates hope" and represents a "milestone" in fighting what he described as an epidemic of the condition.

Bethel and state Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, announced late last week they had worked out a deal. The measure, expected to be signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal, incorporates the language of Bethel's SB1 and Smith's HB 429, which deals with-end-of-life coverage for terminal patients.

Cagle asked Ava Bullard, a relative of Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, to call for the vote and then bang down the gavel. Ava, 10, is autistic.

The bill goes back to the House for final approval.


The House approved a constitutional amendment charging strip clubs to provide services for victims of child sexual abuse, 151-18.

The charge would be $5,000 or 1 percent of revenue on adult entertainment businesses, whichever is greater. It also would increase financial penalties on people convicted of certain sexual crimes. The funds will go toward a new commission responsible for coordinating services for victims of child trafficking.

"It's a tax; it's a fee; it's a requirement that they participate in remediating the cancer and the problem they provide in your community and mine and in our state," said Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold.

Opponents said the proposal unfairly targets one industry and not all clubs contribute to crime. Rep. John Pezold, R-Fortson, said lawmakers are setting a precedent akin to charging soda companies to fight childhood obesity or doctors to fight prescription drug addiction.

"We all know that human trafficking is a massive problem," he said. "My problem lies with the tax on one specific industry."

Lawmakers later approved a bill that gives victims more time to file civil lawsuits against people for damage after child sexual abuse. It also would prevent people younger than 18 from being found guilty of a sexual crime if they were coerced or deceived.

Both measures return to the Senate for consideration.


Uber and other ride-sharing companies might have passed their last legislative roadblock when the state Senate passed a bill mandating insurance minimums for drivers and the firms they drive for.

House Bill 190, sponsored by Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, passed 42-4 Tuesday.

Uber and similar technology-based ride-sharing firms, which use apps to connect drivers with passengers, must provide $1 million in primary insurance that goes into effect when an agreement is made between driver and passenger, said Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, who spoke for the bill in the upper chamber.

Drivers must also have their own insurance coverage, Bethel said.

Uber has said it has thousands of drivers — who it calls partners, not employees — in Georgia. Another ride-sharing bill had already passed both houses of the Legislature.


The Georgia Senate passed a bill that grants 5 percent pay raises to appellate level judges, district attorneys, public defenders and superior court judges.

Under provisions of HB 279, approved 43-9, superior court judges also get an extra 5 percent raise at the start of the fiscal year July 1 if they also run accountability courts, which are special courts to handle drug cases, mental health cases and veterans issues.

The raises dwarf salary boosts offered to teachers and other state employees.

According to Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, a lawyer assigned to handle the bill, the pay raises were negotiated in consultation with judges and Gov. Nathan Deal.

Judges have been lobbying the General Assembly for pay raises since 1999.