To our readers: State Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) will be reporting each week during the legislative session. The session began Jan. 12 and is expected to last until the latter days of March.
Day 11 (Feb. 2): After a very short weekend at home, we’re back at it today starting with a Chatham County Delegation meeting with Department of Human Resources representatives including Commissioner B.J. Walker to discuss the proposed closing of the Georgia Regional Hospital in Savannah. Although not satisfied, we are relieved to hear from Commissioner Walker that although the long term beds will eventually be moved, we will still have crisis stabilization beds in Savannah and Brunswick to serve southeast Georgia.
We passed two pieces of legislation today, HB 141 which brings Georgia state chartered banks into compliance with changes in federal banking law, and HB 60 that prohibits a person not licensed in professional counseling, social work, or marriage and family therapy from displaying a fraudulent license. Also making news at the Capitol today was Sen. Eric Johnson’s introduction of school voucher legislation in the Senate. If passed, this legislation would make Georgia the first state to offer vouchers to all public school students enabling them to attend private schools instead.
Day 12 (Feb. 3): Today we passed HB 49 which allows the Georgia Board of Physician Workforce to go outside of the allocated state funds and seek additional financial support such as grants, donations, gifts and contributions, in order to better meet Georgia’s physician workforce needs. Currently Georgia is suffering from a physician shortage that is predicted to get worse in the coming years and therefore efforts are being made to retain and attract as many residents as possible.
The House is abuzz today about Rep. Vance Smith’s unveiling yesterday of a statewide road plan. Rep. Smith, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, is proposing a statewide 1 percent sales tax that will generate $25 billion over the next decade for specified road projects. The bill will require a constitutional amendment, requiring a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate plus approval by the state’s voters in 2010 and, if approved, would expire after 10 years.
Day 13 (Feb. 4): In a joint session of the House and Senate today, we hear the annual State of the Judiciary address given by retiring Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears. Justice Sears, a Savannah native, is retiring this summer after 26 years of service on the bench and is a finalist for the position of dean at the University of Maryland law school as well as rumored to be a candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court should a position open.
Although no bills were on the calendar in the House today, transportation seems to be getting much well deserved attention this week as the Senate approved a regional road tax that would allow counties to join together and charge a one-cent sales tax to pay for transportation projects. This plan is similar to the one that failed to pass last year and differs from the plan currently being proposed in the House that calls for a statewide 1 percent sales tax.
Day 14 (Feb. 5): Among the four bills that are passed in the House today is HB 157 that revises the standards for reducing HOPE scholarship and grant funding for book purchases and related fees. Currently, the “trigger” for when the state must cut back on using Lottery funds to reimburse college students for textbook purchases is any decrease in revenues, even if it is $1. HB 157 calls for a more reasonable decrease of 8 percent before the “trigger” occurs.
Also today the governor introduced his highly controversial proposal for a 1.6 percent “provider fee” to be imposed on the state’s hospitals. This new tax would be used to leverage additional federal funds for the Medicaid health insurance program but has drawn heated opposition from the Hospital community.
Day 15 (Feb. 6): As we wind down the week we have both good news and bad news today. The good news is that Commissioner Walker, who the Chatham County delegation met with earlier this week, has sent out a memo stating that the proposed privatization of the states long term mental health beds has been postponed meaning that the Georgia Regional Hospital in Savannah will not be closed in the near future.
The bad news we receive today is that January revenues for ’09 are 14.3 percent lower than those in January of ’08, putting us 4.8 percent lower for the current fiscal year. With much work to be done on the budget, we decide to divide the session into two parts, finishing up the session business within 35 of the constitutionally allowed 40 days and saving the final five days till June to do whatever budget tweaking might be needed.
Rep. Carter can be reached at (404) 656-0213.