By Reps. Darlene Taylor and Sam Watson
Last week was very busy. Rep. Darlene Taylor had an addition to her staff.
Aubrie Provence of Bainbridge began her internship in the office. She will be working part-time while attending college in Atlanta.
On Feb. 4, the House reconvened after spending a week reviewing and analyzing the budget. We began addressing some of the other major issues affecting Georgia. Passing a balanced state budget is our number one priority and the state constitution requires us to complete that task. However, other vital issues remain at the forefront during this year’s legislative session. Every day, members of the House bring forward new legislation addressing important issues. The bills are drafted, introduced and assigned to the various committees in the House for review. Among these are legislation addressing issues like wiretapping, synthetic marijuana and funding for our state’s Medicaid program.With that in mind, we would like to make you aware of the first few pieces of legislation that made their way through the committee process to receive favorable passage on the House floor during this legislative session.
The first piece of legislation voted on this week was presented by Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna). His legislation, House Bill 55, would allow superior court judges to issue a warrant with statewide application. To issue such a statewide warrant, the superior court judge must have jurisdiction over a particular crime under investigation. This bill is in response to a recent Supreme Court ruling that placed a many wiretaps in jeopardy of being found unconstitutional. The problem is particularly compelling because modern technology makes it easier than ever for criminals to extend beyond one small area or jurisdiction. Judges need the ability to grant statewide wiretaps, so that law enforcement can have effective investigations against large scale organized crime. The House approved this legislation with near unanimous support, so it will now go to the Senate for consideration.
We also voted on an important bill to protect our citizens from the growing problem of synthetic marijuana and narcotic known as “bath salts.” The General Assembly passed similar legislation last year, but the makers of these drugs constantly change their chemical formulas to avoid the newly passed law. This year House Bill 57 was introduced by Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City). These designer drugs can cause extreme paranoia, suicidal tendencies, hallucinations, or even death in some cases. HB 57 helps remove these dangerous substances from store shelves by expanding the list of substances that are considered illegal by the state of Georgia. The House also approved HB 57 with near unanimous support, so it too will now go to the Senate for consideration.
The final bill the House passed this week, Senate Bill 24 was passed with strong bipartisan support. It shows that working together we can get things done to help all Georgian. This bill will provide much needed funding for Georgia’s Medicaid program. Medicaid provides health care for those most needy, including the indigent, pregnant women and children, as well as the elderly. This legislation continues a funding mechanism first created in 2010 to cover a Medicaid shortfall that was in the hundreds of millions. The General Assembly enacted the 2010 mechanism after hospitals asked to enter into a payment agreement with the state in order to provide a funding stream that could be used to draw down additional federal Medicaid funds and returned to hospitals with an increased Medicaid reimbursement rate. This self-imposed provider payment allowed the state to eliminate an over 10 percent Medicaid rate cut that would have been devastating for Georgia hospitals and physicians. In fact, this financial program is so successful that 49 states and the District of Columbia now have similar provider payment agreements.
The current 2010 Hospital Provider Payment Arrangement stated that it would automatically end on July 1. Now that this sunset date is drawing near, state leaders have once again worked with our state’s hospitals to assess the Medicaid funding arrangement used for the past three years and to decide how the state should move forward. These discussions resulted in SB 24. This legislation authorizes the Department of Community Health (DCH) to establish, assess, and discontinue provider payments on hospitals. To ensure that the payments remain beneficial to the state’s hospitals and provide oversight, SB 24 allows the General Assembly to monitor and if necessary override DCH provider payment assessments. Of course, the General Assembly will retain the ability to adjust the amount of money flowing to hospitals through the funding of the state budget. Similar to the 2010 measure, SB 24 will automatically sunset after four years.
The balance struck in SB 24, will keeps our state from facing substantial Medicaid cuts that could have resulted in the closing of as many as 10 hospitals throughout the state. These cuts would have affected our rural communities the most. People already have to travel long distances to reach the nearest hospital. The loss of these hospitals would hurt our job creation and economic development prospects throughout the state. Since both the House and Senate have approved SB 24, it will go to the Governor for consideration.
We had a number of visitors to the Capital in the last couple of weeks. Special working guests were Ian Bryant and Kealie Bennett both of who spend a day paging for the House. Both did a wonderful job and were of great assistance to the members of the House. Other recent visits included one from Sheriff Carton Powell. We were able to meet and discuss law enforcement issues and upcoming legislation. The Georgia Right to Life held a rally on the steps of the Capital also. This week, we also passed an adjournment resolution that sets a preliminary legislative schedule for the first 29 days of this year’s 40 day session. For this schedule, visit the General Assembly website at www.legis.ga.gov and click on the House Session Schedule link.
To help promote Agri-tourism as an economic development tool, Rep. Sam Watson has co-sponsored legislation (HR 48) that would a designate scenic highway route through South Georgia as “Georgia Grown Trail: 37.” As the resolution states, “South Georgia is one of the few areas remaining in the United States where there are miles of rural landscape, historic small towns and abundant agricultural operations.” Dedication of Georgia 37 from Homerville to the Alabama state line and Georgia 76 from Nashville to the Florida state line as Georgia Grown Trail: 37 would promote economic prosperity through agri-tourism.
Watson also co-sponsored with Taylor and Rep. Amy Carter HR 161, which would dedicate Georgia 122 from its intersection with Georgia 33 South to the city limits of Patten as the Trooper Roy Cecil Massey Memorial Highway. A native of Thomasville, Trooper Massey was a dedicated law enforcement officer whose life was cut short from injuries he sustained in an automobile crash in 1961. Both designation resolutions are now under consideration in the House Transportation Committee.
As your representative, it is important for us to consider your views throughout the legislative process.
Reps Watson and Taylor are both in the Coverdale Legislative Office Building, in Suite 501. Please feel free to call our capitol office at 404-656-0177 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to tell us what you think about the issues facing our state. Thank you for allowing us to serve as your representatives.