Friday, February 8, 2013
Monday February 4, 2013 was Legislative Day 10 of the 2013 Regular Session of The Georgia General Assembly. Now that Committee Assignments have been made, each of the 38 House Committees are meeting and reviewing Legislation. It is the responsibility of the Author of the Bill to request a hearing from the Committee Chair that the Bill has been assigned to by the Speaker. At the hearing, if the hearing request is granted by the Committee Chair, the Representative must present his Bill for approval. At the Hearings, which are streamed on the internet and open to the public, he presents his case. The Representative can call on support from the audience in the form of expert testimony. The Committee Members are then allowed to ask questions. Each member takes their responsibility very seriously. The questions can be grueling and the fate of your Bill lies in the hands of the Committee Members. The Committee can table the Bill; vote down the Bill; amended by Committee substitute the Bill; or pass it out as “Do Pass”. If it receives a “Do Pass” or ”Do Pass by Committee Substitute”, the Author then requests a hearing in the Rules Committee chaired by Representative John Meadows, District 5, and the process starts again.
The Bill must pass out of the Rules Committee before it can be placed on the Debate Calendar and voted on in the House of Representatives. Here is where you need 91 friends. There are 180 members of the Georgia House of Representatives and to pass a Bill, it must receive 91 votes – a simple majority, before it can move to the Senate where the process will start again. If it reaches the Senate, the Author must then find a Senator to carry your Legislation in the Senate and present it on the Senate floor for a vote after successfully going through the Senate Committee Process. If the Bill is then passed in the Senate with no changes, the Bill then goes to the Governor to be reviewed. The Governor can then veto the Bill or sign it into Law. This process becomes more complicated if changes are made or opposition develops.
Monday was 4-H Day at the Capitol. I had as my guest Chesley Davis, the 4-H Agent with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension for Muscogee and Chattahoochee Counties. She brought along 3 outstanding students:
• Adam Lewis – Sophomore at Jordan Vocational High School
“I’ve been in 4-H for about 7 years. I attend just about everything in 4-H. I’m a band geek and I play soccer.
• Omar Webb – sophomore at Columbus Liberal Arts Academy. Member of 4-H for the past 3 years. Member of the Marching Band and FBLA.
• Garrett Taylor – Senior at Chattahoochee County High School
“I am a first year member of the 4-H and the President of the Chattahoochee County High School 4-H. I am also a member of the JROTC program.
Dave Wills, Government Relations Manager for the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) stopped by my office to brief me on the success of their “Capitol Connection Conference”. This year’s conference was titled “Connecting the Courthouse to the Statehouse”. This program is part of the Continuing Education the ACCG provides to our County Commissioners. In attendance from our area were:
• Randy Howard, Chair, Sumter County Board of Commissioners
• George Torbet, Sumter County Commissioner
• Andrea Brooks, Sumter County Commissioner
• Clay Jones, Sumter County Commissioner
• Stephen Young, Marion County Commissioner
• J. William Twomey, Sumter County Administrator
Tuesday February 5, 2013, we recognized the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) in
Georgia for 25 years of service. A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is a trained community volunteer who is appointed by a judge to advocate for the best interests of an abused or neglected child involved in juvenile court deprivation proceedings. The CASA volunteer gathers information about the child’s situation, attends court proceedings and makes a recommendation to the judge so that the judge has the information to make a decision about the child’s future. A CASA volunteer protects a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect, and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family. “While Georgia CASA celebrates 25 years serving the state, SOWEGA CASA is also celebrating our 10th year anniversary serving Sumter and the surrounding counties,” said Brad Ray, Executive Director of SOWEGA CASA, Inc. “And as we celebrate, we thank everyone – from our community leaders to our stellar volunteers – for allowing us to serve our communities most vulnerable children.” “Were it not for the support of Georgia’s elected leaders, the CASA network would be unable to provide the advocacy that is so important to the abused and neglected children throughout the state,” said Jen King, Programs Director for Georgia CASA, Inc.
Paging for me were Jake Hall, an 8th Grade Student at Schley County and his sister, Madison Hall, a 6th Grade Student also at Schley County. Go Wildcats! Their parents are Joe and Jessica Hall. Also in Atlanta were Barbara and Wayne Gosa.
Wednesday February 6, 2013 started early with the Georgia Agricultural Council Breakfast across from the Capitol at the Georgia Railroad Depot Exhibit Center. In attendance from Americus were Jim Gatewood and Dick Minor.
During Session, we passed HR 203 by Representative Ralston, District 7, Speaker of the House of Representatives. This Measure provides for the election of a new State Auditor by The Georgia General Assembly. It passed by a vote of 162 to 0. Russell Hinton, the previous State Auditor, retired this past summer after 13 years of service.
Greg Griffin, CPA had been appointed by Governor Nathan Deal to be the new State Auditor. I was able to meet and talk to Greg at the Information and Audits Committee meeting later that day.
Jessica Cook Watson, DMD, was at the Capitol seeking support for HB 132. This measure would transfer the Georgia Board of Dentistry from being administratively attached from the Secretary of State to the Department of Community Heath. Jessica, a Southland Academy Graduate, is the daughter of Lynn and John Cook. She received her degree in Dentistry from the Medical College of Georgia and now practices in Albany.
Megan Scott, the Family and Consumer Sciences teacher at Marion County Middle High School brought her students to Atlanta for the 2013 “Family Career and Community Leaders of America “ (FCCLA) Day at the Capitol. Helen Smith and Jennifer Anthony assisted Mrs. Scott as chaperones. The students and future leaders were: Antwonicia Walker, Codi Dozier, Miranda McMurray, Justin Dunson, Rosa Borja, Karla Borja, Lanecia Tymes, Josh Bullard, Deyanira Vicente, Alexxis Peavy, Autumn Preston, Sara Cox, Bethany Grimsley, Mascila Haas, Kyndal Grimsley, Kashara Lamar, Sharin McCullough, Ansley Fuller, Grace Bermath, Chelsea Nobles, Alana Wagner, Zoe Holland, Rosalyn Rease, Riley Chaney, Terrance Collins, Courtney Murray, Nicole Williams, Kassidy Walls, and Dedrick Clark
At 4 p.m. the Representatives and Senators from the 2nd Congressional District met in the Senate Chambers to elect our State Transportation Board member. Johnny Floyd was unanimously re-elected to serve a 2nd 5-year term. Board Chair Floyd has done a great job representing the interests of Southwest Georgia on the Transportation Board.
At the Annual Cordele-Crisp County Legislative Catfish Fry, also at the Georgia Railroad Depot, I got to visit with:
• Kathy Odum, Manager, Sam Shortline Railroad
• Ernest Russell, Senior Conductor, Sam Shortline Railroad
• Monica Simmons, President, Cordele-Crisp Chamber of Commerce
• Bob Evans, President, Colony Bank
• John Watford, EdD, Vice President for Academic Affairs, South Georgia Technical College
• Buddy Leger, UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Advisory Council
• Wallace Mathis, Crisp County Commissioner
• James Nance, Crisp County Commissioner
• Brad Lefevers, President, Heart of Georgia Railroad and his daughter
• Meredith Lafevers, Cordele Intermodal Services
Meredith graduated from Southland Academy in 2000 with my daughter Brittany. After graduating from Texas A&M in 2005, she worked for Lincare Medical Devices as a District Manager in Austin, Texas. She recently returned to work with her brother Jonathan Lefevers, President and COO of Cordele Intermodal Services. It’s great to have her back in Georgia.
Thursday, February 7, 2013, pursuant to HR 10, House Speaker, Representative David Ralston, District 7, convened the Joint Session of the House and the Senate for the purpose of hearing an address from the Honorable Carol Hunstein, Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. She began her annual State of the Judiciary Address by saying, “… leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” She then thanked Governor Nathan Deal, Speaker David Ralston, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, and the General Assembly for their leadership in passing the Criminal Justice Reform Legislation last year. “The Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform has worked diligently, and last year the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 1176, a comprehensive set of measures proposed by the council to divert non-violent and low-level offenders away from costly prison beds and into more effective drug and mental health courts and treatment programs. Our goal from the beginning has been to create a safer Georgia through lower recidivism rates while saving millions of taxpayer dollars.
One of the most significant achievements has been the beginning of a new way of handling long-term inmates who have served many years – sometimes decades—in prison. The State Board of Pardons and Paroles has begun assigning these long-term prison inmates to transitional centers some six months before their final release date to help them transition back into society.”
She continued by stating that the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform, has spent its second year studying how this state handles youths who break the law. “Right now, nearly 2,000 children are in a Georgia facility other than their own home: they are in youth prisons, youth jails, or residential programs, such as group homes. More than half of these children were sent there for committing non-violent offenses; 40 percent are considered low risk; 25 percent are there for having committed a misdemeanor or status offense, which would not be a crime if committed by an adult. It costs this state $91,000 a year to house a child in a youth prison. By comparison, it costs over $19,000 a year to house an adult. The difference is cost is based on young people’s education and other needs that must be met under state and federal laws. The research shows that our reliance on incarceration for young people does not reduce their likelihood to reoffend. Indeed, it may do just the opposite, exposing low-risk young people to violence and abuse, and putting some on the path to adult criminality. Nearly 65 percent of these young offenders will commit another offense within three years of getting out. The key to the success of our juvenile courts in handling troubled youths who have not yet committed serious crimes is the availability of programs that can intervene before it’s too late. The Governor has proposed allocating $5 million as an incentive to Counties to create less costly community based programs that will offer judges more options in dealing with juvenile offenders. I want to emphasize that no one is urging Georgia to become soft on crime. Some of our juvenile offenders have committed heinous, violent crimes, and must be treated as adults and locked away from society. But they are the minority. The fact is the majority of our juveniles deserve second chances.
She concluded by saying,” the entire judicial branch operates with less than 1 percent of the state budget. That means that for every Georgia citizen’s tax dollar, less than one penny goes to funding the entire judicial branch of government. Budget cuts have been difficult for everyone, the judiciary included. But I am proud that this branch of government has worked with the Governor and you legislators to meet the demands of the budget shortfall.”
Dr. Mike Busman visited me at the Capitol. He was in town for a meeting of the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians (GAFP). He then shared with me the GAFP 2013 Legislative Priorities:
• Oppose physician cuts to the Medicaid budget
• Support Funding for expansion of family medicine residency programs
• Seek venues to educate key policymakers and legislators on the patient centered medical home
• Stand vigilant and ready to review any proposed legislative initiative to expand a medical provider’s scope of practice
Friday February 8, 2013, Legislative Day 14, I was visited by Norman Graves, Executive Director and Donna Kelly, Finance Director of the Middle Flint Area Council on Aging, Inc. They were in town for the Georgia Association of Community Care Providers (GACCP) and the National Private Duty Association (NPDA) Winter Conference. This conference provides training and continuing education for the community and private providers of care for the most vulnerable members of society, the physically disabled, the developmentally disabled, and the aging. It is their goal to provide the best care possible to these groups of citizens who are so often neglected and abused. Keep up the good work Norm and Donna!
Rich DeLong, formerly of Americus and now the Executive Director of “The Suites at Station Exchange” at Richmond Hill, Georgia, was also at the Winter Conference.
On the Debate Calendar was HB 105, the Supplemental Appropriation Act for State Fiscal Year 2012-2013, commonly known as the “little budget”. This measure aligns State Revenue Estimates with Actual Revenue for FY 2013. Chairman of Appropriations, Representative Terry England, District 116, walked to the Well with his traditional 3 bottles of water to make his lengthy and detailed presentation. He began: “The Amended Fiscal Year 2013 budget is based on a revenue estimate of 3.9% growth over Fiscal Year 2012, which is lower than the 5.2% proposed during the session last year. To that end, the revenue estimate adjusts state funds, including lottery, down by $228.6 million. This year, perhaps even more than in previous years, we have significantly limited our changes to : the allotment of the mid-year adjustment for education to the proper K-12 programs, technical realignment of funds based on agency spending and reductions (affectionately known as Housekeeping), and of course, prioritizing and adequately funding the programs of the foremost priority to the constituents of this House. There are no new programs proposed in the AFY 13. Finally, in the House version of the AFY 2013, there are 29 significant changes that provide additional funds for programs over the amount recommended in the Governor’s version. These are the items that best exemplify the priorities of the members of the House and the majority of those are in K-12 education, in keeping with the spirit of having a mid-year adjustment to address educational needs in our schools once student numbers have been confirmed: 13 changes made in education; 8 changes made in health and human services; 4 changes made in economic development; 3 changes made in public safety; and 1 change made in general government.
Highlights of these actions include:
• Softened reductions to key education programs including agriculture and career/technical education; Communities in Schools; Governor’s Honors Program; RESAs, and particularly school nutrition, with an add-back of over a half million dollars - $548,485;
• Completely eliminated the cuts to Georgia Youth Science and Technology Centers and the Superintendent’s Leadership Programs;
• Added $10.4 million for eligible private hospitals to participate in the Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) program in the Indigent Care Trust Fund to draw down federal matching dollars which will infuse over $51 million back to hospitals for health care services.
• Restoration of $659,320 for residency development programs for Gwinnett Medical Center and Southwest Georgia Consortium and restoration of $137,775 for graduate medical education residency slots;
• $488,679 added back for Mercer and Morehouse operating grants;
• Restored $511,737 for hypertension outreach services; and
• Provided $3.4 million to meet existing obligations for current charter system grants.
I share this information with you to provide some perspective on how we approached the amended budget this year. We had exceptional input from agencies and departments in a spirit of cooperation for getting through a year with wide swings in revenue. While recent revenue numbers have been very positive, we must remember that we still have several normally lean months ahead. It is our objective to move the amended bill so that our departments and local boards of education will have more time to manage through the final portion of the year.
HB 105 passed by a vote of 145 to 18. As always, Chairman England balances the needs and wants of Georgia’s citizens with the funds and revenue available. Always mindful that our resources are limited, but that our responsibilities and population continue to grow. I appreciate Chairman England’s focus on education. He realized the necessity of developing future leaders and protecting our most valuable resource, our youth. Keep up the good work, Terry!
And finally, visiting me at the Capitol was Mike and Nancy Cochran. Mike was the guest speaker for the Greater Atlanta Army Aviation Association (Quad A’s), held at the 57th Fighter Group Restaurant at Peachtree DeKalb Airport. He spoke about the 1st Military Airbase in Georgia established in 1918 –none other than our own “Souther Field”.
Thank you for choosing me to represent you in Atlanta at the State Capitol.
Friday, February 8, 2013
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