Georgia legislators to begin pre-filing bills 2015 session on Monday

Monday marks the unofficial start of Georgia’s 2015 legislative session as pre-filing of bills begins.

Among the first batch of bills expected to be filed with the House Clerk’s Office are two sure to get lots of attention, but for very different reasons.

Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, is expected to introduce a bill legalizing the use of a marijuana derivative for certain medical conditions. A similar Peake bill, dubbed “Haleigh’s Hope Act,” failed in the final days of this year’s session, a casualty of House vs. Senate drama over dueling bills.

Peake told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that his bill is coming, he’s just not sure when.

“If we do pre-file it, obviously it will be just a shell and will not have the details of the bill because we’re still working diligently on it,” Peake said. “We want to complete Haleigh’s Hope Act early in 2015. We want to finish the job we failed to do last year.”

Peake has championed the plan to allow the use an oil derived from marijuana to treat certain seizure disorders.

Peake may do well to wait. History has not treated the first bill introduced each session well. The last time House Bill 1 became law in a regular session of the Legislature was 2005, when then-Rep. Richard Royal’s bill dealing with conservation land covenants was signed into law by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The other bill likely to gain early attention this year, should it be filed, would make it a crime to entice a college athlete to violate NCAA rules. Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, is a likely sponsor of the measure aimed at preventing — or punishing — memorabilia dealers from paying amateur athletes for autographs, the sort of behavior that cost University of Georgia tailback Todd Gurley a four-game suspension.

On the Senate side, Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, plans to reintroduce his “religious freedom bill,” which would mirror state law to federal protections against anti-religious discrimination.

McKoon made a late attempt in this year’s session to push the bill but quickly found it surrounded by protests from gay rights groups as well as many of the state’s top corporations who feared it would tarnish the state’s reputation and, therefore, business.

Meanwhile, Monday also promises drama behind closed doors as Senate Republicans gather in private to elect their leaders for the coming year. Several senators are said to be challenging President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, for that position, and there is expected to be a contested race for Senate majority leader as well.

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