ATLANTA -- Some of Georgia's most vulnerable children were turned away by the politicians they'd asked to help them.
Medical marijuana for sick kids, insurance coverage for children with autism, a major reform of the child protection agency DFCS – all lost to raw bare-fisted politicking as the General Assembly adjourned for the year.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA, AUTISM BILLS STALL
As the clock ticked to midnight, advocates or medical marijuana for certain patients were no match for politicians with other agendas.
Parents who lobbied to legalize medical marijuana for their children who suffer severe and constant seizures realized on Thursday night that their cause was lost – for now.
Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) called on the Senate to approve a bill that would allow doctors to prescribe cannabis oil to treat certain medical conditions.
"I beg you to have compassion and courage and vote for this bill," Peake said.
But Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) and the Senate refused. They insisted that the House first vote on a plan to mandate insurance coverage for children with autism.
"The Senate agreed that we would never split those bills, that we care about all children in the state of Georgia," Unterman said.
House Speaker David Ralston refused to allow a vote on the autism bill – a stalemate.
Parents, including Sarah Caruso, watched from the Senate gallery as their children seized again and the clocked ticked towards midnight and the Senate took up other bills.
Peake apologized, telling parents, "It's disappointing that you saw the ugly part of politics."
The gavel fell at midnight, leaving the Carusos alone in the hallway, aching to help their child.
"I feel like games were played with our lives, and that's not okay," said Caruso.
Parents of children with autism are praising Sen. Renee Unterman for fighting for the insurance coverage the way she did, even though they didn't get a happy ending on Thursday.
Autism experts will tell you that early intervention can make or break the future for a child with autism, but the treatments can be costly.
Last year, 11Alive covered the progress of the bill daily while it was in the legislature and we polled Georgians and asked what they thought. An overwhelming majority of you said autism treatments should be covered by insurance and more than 8,000 of you signed a petition asking lawmakers to pass the bill.
This year, the bill had much more support from lawmakers, but toward the end of the session, it was attached to the medical marijuana bill.
Many thought putting the two together unfairly pit parents of kids with different needs against each other.
Supporters of the bill say the biggest foe was the insurance industry, whose lobbyists argued it would make rates skyrocket. Advocates point to the three dozen states with autism coverage and say it would have raised rates by less than 50 cents per person per month.
DFCS BILL PASSES
There were no loving parents at the Capitol to lobby for the abused and neglected children, no one holding them tight, reassuring them everything would be alright. Instead, it was the voice of 11Alive's viewers who fought for the children they didn't know, would likely never meet.
Nearly 10,000 of you signed our petition, demanding greater transparency and accountability for the children that died under DFCS watch. We took your message to Gov. Nathan Deal and the Gwinnett DFCS office that was supposed to protect Emani Moss.
Lawmaker say it made a difference.
Late Thursday night, a bill to change how child deaths are investigated and prevent DFCS from hiding the details of their lives, passed with 216 "yes" votes between the chambers.
Brittany Jean, a survivor of abuse, went to the Capitol to lobby for change.
"It's a community problem and it requires a community solution, meaning reporting child abuse, meaning staying on case workers and making sure that they're doing what they need to be doing," said Jean.
To do that, we set out to investigate the 213 children that died with a DFCS case history. We still don't have 94 of those reports and have no real explanation why. We'll keep fighting for the past, but new laws should make children safer, in the future.
During the session, Gov. Deal also created a Child Welfare Reform council, so clearly none of these issues are over yet.