Georgia’s sick kids as political pawns

I am one of the many parents pushing for medical cannabis here in Georgia for our children with seizure disorders. Our eight-year-old daughter, Alaina, suffers from Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy.

We fought to educate the legislators and the public that this is indeed life-saving medicine, without the side effects of the many FDA-approved drugs our children are forced to take today. We never dreamed that we would succeed in that fight so quickly, and get a bill introduced this session, only to have it come crashing down due to political games played with our sick children.

After House Bill 885 passed the House 171-4, Sen. Renee Unterman, recognizing the huge support, attached a completely separate, unrelated bill to HB 885 that mandated insurance coverage for autistic children ages 6 and under, a bill that did not have much support in the House.

Regardless of the merits of each bill — autism is an important issue, too — they are not related whatsoever; one dealt with life-saving medicine, and the other, with insurance. The only reason they were combined was because of politics. Sen. Unterman held our bill and our children hostage, and admitted it. On the Senate floor when presenting the bill for a vote, Sen. Unterman, holding the two bills in each hand, said, “The medical marijuana goes nowhere, unless this right over here goes with it, which is the autism (bill).”

The Senate proceeded to pass the combined bill 54-0, but the House refused to consider it because of the autism insurance mandate. A new bill with only medical cannabis was approved 168-2 by the House late on the last night of the legislative session. Our parents frantically pleaded with senators to pass it, and every senator we talked to indicated the bill would likely pass if we could just get a vote. Parents and legislators were making requests to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to allow a vote, but he refused to bring our bill up on the Senate floor because it didn’t have the autism bill included.

My husband and I talked with Lt. Gov. Cagle in his office a few weeks ago, and he looked us in the eyes and said he was going to help our children.

Where was that help when we needed it the most?

How can a bill with such overwhelming support (393-6 votes total) not be passed? How can two people be able to thwart the democratic process? How can they play games with our sick children, some of whom may not live to the next legislative session?

In the end, special-needs children were pitted against each other. This is despicable, immoral behavior. The explanation we’ve heard is that this is “just politics,” and they are “standing up to the House.” I’ve heard some awful stories about politics, but I never thought I’d see sick children being used as political pawns. And how can “standing up to the House” be more important than my child’s life, much less the thousands of other lives this could have benefited?

We are hopeful based on Governor Deal’s recent comments that something can be done at the executive level before the next legislative session. We will obviously continue to fight for this medicine for our children, at both the state and federal levels.

Twenty-one states now have medical marijuana laws — Alabama passed theirs last week — and Georgia could have been one more to put pressure on the federal government, if only our legislators had done the right thing.

As a Christian, I believe in forgiveness for those who trespass against us. However, I am struggling with this since we also have to fight for those that cannot fight for themselves: our children.

We will be praying we find that forgiveness, but we will also be praying for these leaders, that they will never again use innocent children for their political agendas.

Shannon Cloud lives in Smyrna.