Courtesy CBS46

The Georgia Legislature begins its 2016 session this morning, and along with passing a state budget there are a number of hot button issues sure to stir passions and headlines over the next 40 days.

With at least two proposals on the table for potential casinos in Atlanta, there’s renewed interest in allowing  gambling in the state. Proponents say it could be a huge revenue generator for education, but conservatives are wary.

Last year, the legislature approved the use of cannabis oil – or medical marijuana – to be prescribed by doctors for certain medical conditions. The problem? It’s still illegal to grow marijuana in the state. A new bill would allow the production of medical marijuana in Georgia.

Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to announce plans to overhaul Georgia’s education system ahead of a November public vote that would allow the state to take over failing schools. Atlanta Public Schools has 26 schools alone that would fall into that category based on underperformance in standardized testing. A committee spent all of 2015 creating a series of recommendations for Deal, including more charter schools, more money spent per student, flexibility on testing standards, and how state money is divvied up between local school districts.

Even with marriage equality now the law of the land, expect to see another attempt to pass a “religious freedom” bill from Republican senator Josh McKoon. Local businesses and activists say the bill could be used to discriminate against LGBT people.  Heavy-hitters like Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Google and Delta Air Lines have already announced their opposition to the bill, while a study by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce suggested the city could lose a billion dollars in tourism, conventions and big sporting events if the bill were passed. Similarly, there’s the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, which would allow pastors and churches to opt out of performing same-sex marriages without fear of prosecution.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.