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Latest from Sandra Parrish

    It could be called Day 40… part one. The State House and Senate worked late into the night Tuesday on the second to the last day of the 2017 legislative session.  The House started off the day with passage of a bill to expand Georgia’s medical marijuana law. It adds six conditions to Georgia’s existing law including Alzheimer’s, AIDS, peripheral neuropathy, autism, Tourette syndrome, and the painful skin disorder Epidermolysis Bullosa.   “For four straight years, this body has stood up for the rights of hurting Georgia citizens to legally possess medical cannabis oil in our state,” says sponsor Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon).  Families who have been pushing for expansion of the state’s existing law watched the vote. Among them was Dale Jackson who has been giving cannabis oil to his 9-year-old autistic son illegally over the last year. In that time, he has seen a dramatic improvement.  “For the first time, my son communicated with us this week. Just a few days ago, he said “Mama” for the first time,” Jackson tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.  The bill passed 167-4 and now goes back to the Senate which is expected to agree to changes made by the House. It will then head to the governor’s desk.  The Senate gave final passage to a bill that would take state funds from private colleges that break state and federal laws by offering sanctuary to illegal immigrants.  The bill passed along party lines with Democrats including Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) speaking out against it.  “Let’s convey the message that we don’t look kindly on those who have come here from other nations for education, to make a home here, to raise a family here, to have a future here,” she says.  Republicans argued it does not target students who are in the country legally. The bill now goes to the governor’s desk.  The Senate also passed a bill that allows anyone with a carry permit to bring their guns on college campuses except in dorms, sorority and fraternity houses, sporting events or in daycares if there are three or less on campus. It also prohibits them in certain areas where high school students attend.  Sen. Bill heath, who presented the bill, says 150 campuses in 24 states have adopted concealed carry policies without any problems.  “Not one of these campuses has seen a single resulting act of violence including threats or a single resulting suicide attempt,” he says.  But Sen. Elena Parent argued it still doesn’t address all of the concerns Gov. Nathan Deal had with last year’s bill which he vetoed.  “It’s seems to me… that debating campus carry makes even less sense this year than it did last year,” she says.  The bill passed 32-22 and now goes back to the House to agree to changes made by the Senate.  The Senate also approved a bill offering tax credits for the music industry while increasing the fees Georgians pay for hunting and fishing license.  And in a late vote Tuesday, the House once again approved a measure known as the “campus rape” bill. It requires local law enforcement to investigate cases of sexual assault on campus rather than college administrators.   The bill, which passed the House before the Crossover Day deadline, stalled in a Senate committee last week. The language was added to an unrelated Senate measure and passed the House 102-56. It now goes back to the Senate in an effort to force a vote.
  • As a bill to regulate daily fantasy sports in Georgia awaits a vote in the Senate, former Atlanta Brave Tom Glavine makes a pitch for its passage.  The Hall of Famer admits he enjoys playing himself and has a better understanding of the link between sports fans and the game.  “You know how many times I would have somebody say to me, ‘Hey, I really enjoy watching you play and I have you on my fantasy team. I need to you pick it up. I need you to do a little bit better’,” he told reporters at the State Capitol Tuesday.  Glavine does not believe it’s gambling as opponents like Virginia Galloway with Faith and Freedom Coalition call it.  “It’s addictive online gambling,” she says. “It’s predatory in nature. The state should not be in the business on promoting predatory gambling.”  The bill would require fantasy sports operators to pay a fee to register with the state and then pay a 6 percent tax annually.  The bill’s sponsor Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) says 1.5 million Georgians already play daily fantasy sports and the measure could generate $1 million to the state in a year if passed.  The bill passed out of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee Monday and is awaiting a vote before the Senate Rules Committee which would decide whether to bring to the full Senate for a vote.  There are just four legislative days left this session.
  • A bill to allow direct craft beer sales to consumers in Georgia is closer to final passage after overwhelming support in the state House. The bill, which would allow consumers to purchase a pint of beer at a local brewery without a tour and then take home up to a case, passed 147-14. Chris Herron with Creature Comforts in Athens expects the number of breweries in the state to double because of it. “This just opens up all kinds of opportunities for people to start much smaller, which means they kind find homes in a lot of different retail outlets that they wouldn’t have been able to find homes at before in much more sort of downtown, city locations all across the state,” he tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish. He says there are currently 84 “breweries in dreaming” ready to start up in Georgia which could do so with a much smaller investment. The House added liquor distilleries to the bill so it must go back to the Senate to agree to the changes. But the Georgia Craft Brewers Guild expects the Senate will have no problem signing off. It could go to Governor Nathan Deal for his signature later this week.
  • A bill to help Georgia firefighters diagnosed with cancer receives unanimous passage in the state Senate. The measure would give those diagnosed with one of nearly two dozen cancers including leukemia, lung, and breast up to $25,000 to help with treatment and other expenses.  Those who couldn’t work during treatment would be eligible to receive 60 percent of their pay for up to three years. City and county governments, which have signed off on the legislation, would cover the costs of the insurance policy. Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), a firefighter himself, presented the bill on the Senate floor. “It will hopefully only have to be used for a small amount of people.  But to them and their families, it will mean everything in the world and that’s what it’s all about is having their back,” he tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish. Albers says 38 states have similar laws. Gilmer County firefighter Brian Scudder, who was the inspiration for the bill, was diagnosed 12 years ago with stage 4 non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.  He says studies show firefighters are more likely to get cancer than the public or any other occupation due to the amount synthetics and petroleum’s that burn in a fire. “That’s why our cancer rate has gone from a normal cancer rate to 65 percent or higher... at a much younger age,” says Scudder, who has been at the Capitol for each step the bill has taken this session. The bill was changed in the Senate to cap the payout amount to $50,000 per lifetime. It now must go back to the House to approve those changes. Dennis Thayer, with the Georgia Fallen Firefighters Association, calls Governor Nathan Deal’s veto of a similar bill last year a blessing. “We have a better bill today that will provide a real benefit for firefighters that contract cancer,” he says.          
  • The State Senate passes a bill to require the Georgia Lottery put more money towards the HOPE scholarship. When the lottery was created, 35 percent of proceeds were intended to go towards the scholarship and Georgia Pre-K. But Senate Majority Leader Bill Coswert says that amount has hovered around 25 percent the past five years. His bill would require that percentage be increased by 1 percent a year for three years up to 28.5 percent. “This bill just gives clarity to it… tries to nudge them back up to our original intent of 35 percent profitability,” he says. As a result, prize payouts would decrease, but Cowsert does not believe it will have an impact on sales. If at any time they begin to drop, the increase would end. “I think their own data shows that there’s very little risk that a small increase will result in a decrease in sales,” he says. The bill passed 53-0 and now goes to the House.
  • A state lawmaker who wants to expand Georgia’s medical marijuana law believes it could be answer to Georgia’s opioid drug crisis. Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) told a House committee by adding eight more conditions that can legally use cannabis oil, doctors would have an option other than prescribing drugs such as oxycodone, which can be highly addictive, for pain. The recommendation was among those made by a special medical cannabis working committee in the state House. “There is a proven response with clear data to the opioid epidemic and that’s responsible medical cannabis legislation,” he says. The eight conditions include intractable pain, PTSD, Alzheimer’s, Tourette syndrome, autism, PTSD, AIDS, and those in hospice care. Dr. Parin Chheda, a palliative care physician, says he would love to prescribe cannabis oil for his patients who are in hospice care rather than drugs like morphine. While working in California, a patient whom he sent home to die, returned to visit him only two months later in much better health having used medical marijuana. “I deal with patients and families at the end of their lives.  It’s hard.  It doesn’t make much sense to me to limit a potential therapeutic benefit to them,” he told committee members. But Sue Rusche, president and CEO of National Families in Action, says medical marijuana is not only against federal law, but the evidence of its benefits isn’t proven. “They are being guinea pigs and they are taking risks they don’t even understand they’re taking--and that the doctors not (sic) necessarily understand,” she says. The committee could make changes to the bill before voting on it next week.  The state Senate passed its own bill last week that only adds the condition of autism but reduces the amount of THC currently allowed under state law from 5 percent to 3 percent.
  • The Georgia House passes its record $25 billion budget for 2018 that includes pay raises for state law enforcement, teachers, and caseworkers with the Division of Family and Children Services. More than 3,000 law enforcement including state troopers will receive a 20 percent pay increase-- something Col. Mark McDonough, head of the Georgia State Patrol, says has already made a big difference since Gov. Nathan Deal made the recommendation last year. “Our applications have been doubled and we see a much higher quality individual right off the bat,” he told WSB’s Sandra Parrish earlier this week. The budget also includes $28.5 million for a 19 percent pay raise for DFCS caseworkers in an effort to attract more to the agency as well as retain the ones it already has. It also includes $50.7 million to increase the daily amounts that go to foster families. “For a long time we have needed to let the foster parents know how much we appreciate them, and I think we’ve done that verbally. But it’s a completely different circumstance when you’re able to actually put money with that,” he says. Teachers and state employees would also receive a 2 percent pay raise in the budget. Appropriations Chairman Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn) says the spending plan also includes $600,000 to add four scientists and two technicians to the GBI’s crime lab to investigate a backlog of rape kits.  The process, which began last year, has already had 50 hits on criminals currently in the system. “Once something like this starts, there are many more than we ever realized were out there,” he told House members. Nelly Miles, the GBI’s public affairs director, says the lab is able to process as many as 300 rape kits a month and the additional staff would mean 80 more. “We’re making progress.  The additional funding has been extremely helpful,” she says. The House passed the budget 167-1.  It now goes to the Senate which is expected to make its own recommendations.  The two sides will have to reconcile their differences before the 40-day session comes to an end next month.
  • The Georgia Senate passes a bill to expand Georgia’s medical marijuana law but is setting up a showdown with the House that may not be decided until the 40th and final day of the legislative session. The measure by Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah), who is a doctor, adds autism to the list of conditions that can legally use cannabis oil but lowers current THC levels from 5 to 3 percent. He admits there have been no problems with current THC levels reported by the 1,300 patients who are registered with the state or from the 300 physicians who are able to prescribe it. Despite adding autism, children diagnosed with the condition who are under 18 would not be allowed to use it unless their condition was deemed severe.  Efforts to change the bill on the floor of the Senate, including lowering the THC levels to 1 percent and another to keep it at the current 5 percent, failed. Several parents, who have been fighting to expand the law to include more conditions, watched the debate including Sebastien Cotte, whose six-year-old son uses cannabis oil with 5 percent THC for his seizures. “We moved to Colorado once, I hope we don’t have to do it twice.  But I don’t know,” he tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish. Shannon Cloud, who uses it to treat her daughter's seizure disorder, is equally dismayed. “It just doesn’t make sense to take away from patients.  If they have something that’s working, why would we go back?” Watson told reporters after the bill passed 41-12 that it puts the Senate in a good position to negotiate with the House which has its own bill. “I would hope that we can be patient.  I think we’ll get to where we all want to be and that’s for what’s best for the state of Georgia, what’s best of the patients, and best for healthcare,” he says. The House bill expands the list of conditions by six including autism, PTSD, AIDS, Tourette syndrome, intractable pain, Alzheimer’s, and those in hospice care. It’s expected to go before a House committee next week.      
  • A bill to help keep Georgia’s hospitals afloat receives final passage in the state House and is now headed to the governor’s desk. The measure renews for another three years the fee hospitals pay into the Indigent Care Trust Fund. The 1.4 percent provider fee generates $300 million dollars each year that, in turn, draws down $600 million in matching Medicaid funding. Without it, Gov. Nathan Deal says it would have left a $900 million hole in the budget. David Tatum, chief public policy officer for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, says CHOA is the largest beneficiary of the fee. “Without it we had estimated we could lose tens of millions of dollars,” he tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish. Tatum says while not renewing the fee would have forced CHOA to make some tough decisions, it likely would have forced some rural hospitals to close. Deal’s office says he plans to sign the bill into law next Tuesday.
  • A bill that could bring casinos to Georgia gets its first hearing before a packed Senate committee. The measure by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) would allow for two “destination resorts” that would include 40 percent of gaming and 60 percent entertainment. One would be located in metro Atlanta with the other in a secondary city with a population of at least 180,000. “We’re looking at a minimum of a $2.45 billion investment that will create somewhere in the vicinity of 7,500 permanent jobs.  That’s not even counting the construction jobs,” says Beach. Fifty percent of the proceeds would go to fund the HOPE Scholarship, 30 percent for a new needs-based scholarship, and the remaining 20 percent for rural hospitals in the state. With just a little more than an hour allowed for testimony, few were able to speak during the hearing. But Mike Griffin with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board told Senators its placing money over morality. “The fact that we’re using all of these ornaments now being placed on the Christmas tree, it’s almost like 30 pieces of silver to everybody to buy them off so they’ll get into this,” he says. Griffin is also concerned there will be a rise in child sex trafficking if more gambling is allowed in Georgia. The horse racing industry also complained during the hearing that pari-mutuel betting was left out this year. “While the horse racing coalition recognizes that our industry alone does not meet the threshold of a mega-casino in downtown Atlanta, we do know, based on our research from other states, the economic impact on rural and agricultural areas of Georgia will be proportionately more significant than a mega-casino in Atlanta,” says Dean Reeves, president of the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition. The committee plans to hold at least one more hearing on the bill.  A similar measure is also in the House.      
  • Sandra Parrish

    News Anchor Reporter

    Sandra Parrish has been a reporter for WSB Radio since 1995 and covers political, legislative, transportation, and educational news. She graduated from the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism in 1989 and worked as an anchor/news director for WPLO in Lawrenceville, an anchor/assistant news director for WNGC in Athens and an anchor/reporter for WDUN in Gainesville before joining the WSB news team. Over the years, she has received over a dozen Regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for "Best Use of Sound", "Best Series", and "Best Sports Reporting". She's also received numerous awards from the Associated Press, Georgia Association of Broadcasters, Society of Professional Journalists, and National Association of Black Journalists. Sandra is a former member of the board of the Georgia Associated Press Broadcast Association. She is married with two daughters.

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News

  • Pickens County deputies are searching for an armed fugitive.  Authorities are looking for Nicholas Bishop in the area of Priest Circle in Talking Rock.  Bishop is believed to be armed with a handgun and on foot after he abandoned a stolen vehicle around 2 p.m.  If you see him, call 911 immediately. Officials say do not attempt to approach him. - Please return for updates.
  • One more time, Doris Payne, the 86-year-old infamous international jewel thief, has pleaded guilty to the usual crime. She admitted Wednesday to stealing a necklace from Von Maur at Perimeter Mall last year, the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office said. Payne, who recently said she’s been dealing with a possibly cancerous tumor, was sentenced to 120 days of house arrest and three years of probation.  She was also banned from all Von Maur locations and every mall in DeKalb County. Payne, who’d been free on bond, was arrested last month for missing a court date. Shortly after the would-be appearance, she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she wasn’t medically able to attend. “I ain’t runnin’,” she said in a phone interview. “I’ve never in my life been late for court. Last month, Payne was deemed too ill to stand trial by the judge presiding over a Fulton County case stemming from a missing set of earrings at Phipps Plaza. Payne has been open about her habits of theft, which she detailed in a documentary called, “The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne.” RELATED: Huge DeKalb center with (at least) 8 popular chains is opening soon RELATED: Cop helps elderly woman who got kicked out of dentist office in DeKalb RELATED: A DeKalb family’s tale of two dead bodies and a crying baby girl Like DeKalb County News Now on Facebook | Follow on Twitter and Instagram
  • A drunken driver destroyed a row of headstones at a historic Carrollton cemetery, causing tens of thousands of dollars' worth of damage, police said. According to police, the driver was coming down Martin Luther King Street on March 19, ran a stop sign, jumped a curb and crashed into the city-owned cemetery. The broken headstones range in date from the late 1800s to 1950. 'And what we discussed is, if one is damaged beyond repair, we'll put something back that's respectful. It's hard to replace it with the exact same item. The families aren't around anymore, so the city will take on the responsibility,' city manager Tim Grizzard said. TRENDING STORIES: Thousands of Georgians could lose food stamps next week 16-year-old in custody after hoax call about school gunman Food prices at SunTrust Park vs. Mercedes-Benz Stadium: What's the difference? The 35-year-old driver, Ray Antonio Baker, was arrested and charged with DUI. City officials said they will ask his insurance carrier to pay for the damage. 'Our plan is to go after the individual's insurance to pay for repairs. If that doesn't pay for everything, the city will certainly pick up the tab,' Grizzard said. Officials said this isn't the first time a driver has damaged headstones, but it's not a big enough problem to put up a wall. 'It's not something that has happened often enough that we need to put up a barrier. If it was a recurrent spot, we would do something,' Grizzard said. City officials said it could take weeks to repair the damage.
  • A federal judge in Hawaii who temporarily blocked President Donald Trump's revised travel hours before it was set to take effect issued a longer-lasting order Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson held a hearing Wednesday on Hawaii's request to extend his temporary hold. Several hours later, he issued a 24-page order blocking the government from suspending new visas for travelers from six Muslim-majority countries and halting the U.S. refugee program. Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin argued that even though the revised ban has more neutral language, the implied intent is still there. He likened it to a neon sign flashing 'Muslim Ban,' which the government hasn't bothered to turn off. Chad Readler, a Department of Justice attorney defending Trump's executive order, told the judge via telephone that Hawaii hasn't shown how it is harmed by various provisions, including one that would suspend the nation's refugee program. Watson disagreed. Here's a look at Watson's ruling and what comes next: ___ THE PREVIOUS RULING This month, Watson prevented the federal government from suspending new visas for people from six countries and freezing the nation's refugee program. The ruling came just hours before the ban was to take effect. Watson, nominated to the bench by former President Barack Obama in 2012, agreed with Hawaii that the ban would hurt the state's tourism-dependent economy and that it discriminates based on nationality and religion. Trump called the ruling an example of 'unprecedented judicial overreach.' The next day, a judge in Maryland also blocked the six-nation travel ban but said it wasn't clear that the suspension of the refugee program was similarly motivated by religious bias. The federal government appealed the Maryland ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and sought to narrow the Hawaii ruling. ___ THE LATEST RULING Like his temporary order, Watson notes that Hawaii has shown the state's universities and tourism industry will suffer from the ban. A plaintiff in Hawaii's lawsuit, the imam of a Honolulu mosque, will be harmed if the ban is enforced, Watson said: 'These injuries have already occurred and will continue to occur if the Executive Order is implemented and enforced; the injuries are neither contingent nor speculative.' Government attorneys have tried to convince the judge not to consider comments Trump has made about the travel ban. 'The court will not crawl into a corner, pull the shutters closed, and pretend it has not seen what it has,' Watson wrote. Watson also refused to narrow his ruling to only apply to the six-nation ban, as the government requested. The ruling won't be suspended if the government appeals, Watson said. 'Enforcement of these provisions in all places, including the United States, at all United States borders and ports of entry, and in the issuance of visas is prohibited, pending further orders from this court,' he wrote. ___ WHAT'S NEXT FOR HAWAII'S LAWSUIT? Watson's ruling allows Hawaii's lawsuit challenging the ban to work its way through the courts. 'While we understand that the President may appeal, we believe the court's well-reasoned decision will be affirmed,' the Hawaii attorney general's office said in a statement. Ismail Elshikh, the imam of a Honolulu mosque who joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff, argues that he's harmed by Trump's order because it prevents his Syrian mother-in-law from visiting family in the U.S. It's not clear how Watson's ruling will affect the mother-in-law's ability to obtain a visa. The Department of Justice didn't immediately comment after Watson issued his decision. ___ DEFENDING TRUMP'S EXECUTIVE ORDER The Department of Justice opposed Hawaii's request to extend Watson's temporary order. But the department said that if the judge agrees, he should narrow the ruling to cover only the part of Trump's executive order that suspends new visas for people from Somalia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen. Other provisions of the order have little or no effect on Hawaii, including a suspension of the nation's refugee program, Department of Justice attorney Chad Readler said Wednesday. In an attempt to downplay the effect suspending the nation's refugee program would have on Hawaii, Readler said only a small amount of refugees have been resettled in Hawaii. But Watson questioned that reasoning by noting that the government said there have been 20 refugees resettled in Hawaii since 2010. Other parts of Trump's order allow the government to assess security risks, which don't concern the plaintiffs in Hawaii's lawsuit, Readler said. The revised order removes references to religion, he said. ___ CAN AN APPEALS COURT AFFECT THE HAWAII RULING? The president is asking the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put the ruling by the judge in Maryland on hold while it considers the case. The Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court will hear arguments May 8. If the court sides with the federal government, it would not have a direct effect on the Hawaii ruling, legal experts said. The Trump administration's best bet for saving the travel ban is to have the case go before the U.S. Supreme Court, said Richard Primus, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Michigan law school. 'What a ruling in 4th Circuit in favor of the administration would do is create a split in authority between federal courts in different parts of the country,' he said. 'Cases with splits in authority are cases the U.S. Supreme Court exists to resolve.