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Diversity Health Centers vital, need funding

Legislative update

POSTED: April 24, 2007 5:02 a.m.
Unfortunately, the supplemental budget proposal adopted by the House of Representatives did not include the needed state funding to continue the Diversity Health Centers program in anticipation of federal funding that has been promised, and it is unlikely the Senate will appropriate those funds in its version of the mid-year adjustment for fiscal year 2007.
Hopefully, Congress will act soon to provide the $395,000 needed for these vital facilities, one of which is in Liberty County. I have already been in contact with U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to seek emergency funding or extend the program’s deadline into fiscal year 2008, which begins July 1.
I will also work with state Senate President Pro-tem Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) to attempt to reach an interim solution at the state level.
With no more than seven legislative days remaining in the 2007 session of the Georgia General Assembly, the House will be considering a number of key bills and resolutions adopted earlier in the session by the House.
One such bill is SR 20, currently in the House Ways and Means Committee, a proposed constitutional amendment, which would prohibit the General Assembly from increasing the annual state budget by a percentage that is more than the state’s population growth, plus inflation.
Once the spending cap is reached, any excess funds would be disbursed in the following order:
1. Full funding of K-12 public education
2. Restore the state’s reserve fund to 10 percent of the previous year’s revenue
3. Pay off state debt
4. Return excess to taxpayers
The resolution also provides that any budget from a previous year can be used as a baseline; and the limits can be suspended upon exhaustion of the reserve funds and a two-thirds vote by both the House and Senate.
Another significant piece of legislation is SB 148, which is in the House Science and Technology Committee.  It seeks to promote medical research into stem cells derived from blood and birth tissues but not from embryos.
The House will also consider SB 145, awaiting consideration in the House Non-Civil Judiciary Committee.  The bill would allow Georgia’s 49 district attorneys to pursue sentences of life without parole against murderers who have not been convicted of a previous violent felony without seeking the death penalty.
Other bills from the Senate that will be addressed in House committees are:
• SR 309 is a proposed constitutional amendment to allow the creation of infrastructure development districts (private cities).
• SR 130 is in the House Governmental Affairs Committee; and proposes a constitutional amendment whereby the General Assembly, by law, may create townships for the limited purpose of exercising the power of zoning; the regulation of land use and development within the boundaries of such townships; and provide for the funding and operation of such townships SB 169-in the House Higher Education Committee; and would offer eligible Georgia students a state funded education loan through the Georgia Student Finance Authority
• SB 89 is in the House Governmental Affairs Committee; and would give local communities an alternative, other than forming new cities, for handling zoning matters.
Several measures I sponsored or co-sponsored were adopted by the House and are now under consideration in the Senate, including:
• HB 81in the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee; and would create a lifetime sportsman’s license.
• HB 767 local legislation that would provide a homestead exemption from Liberty County ad valorem taxes for county purposes
• HB 768 local legislation that would provide a homestead exemption from Liberty County School District ad valorem taxes for educational purposes
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported this week that the HOPE scholarship program has $744 million in reserve.  It is critical that we, as lawmakers, use this money in an efficient and fiscally sound manner to ensure Georgia students have access to the resources necessary to obtain a quality college education.  As a supporter of higher education, I intend to do so.
 
Contact Information
Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway) represents the 165th District (Liberty County) in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact him at 511 Coverdell Office Building, Atlanta, GA  30334; by phone at (404) 656-6372, (404) 326-2964 and (912) 977-5600 or by e-mail at al.williams@house.ga.gov
 

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