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Tight budget passes

Capitol update

POSTED: March 23, 2009 12:16 p.m.
As we end the 34th legislative day of the General Assembly on Friday, the end of the 2010 session is in sight. The highlight of the week was House passage of the 2010 budget.
As I have stated previously, the budget is one of,  if not the most, important functions of the legislature. The legislature ultimately decides what to fund and where the funds can best be appropriated for the benefit of all in Georgia.  As required by Georgia’s Constitution, the state must operate under a balanced budget.
The FY 2010 budget, HB 119, was passed by the House by a vote of 123 to 49 on Thursday and includes a total budget of $18.6 billion in state funds.  All revenue bills and the budget for the state must originate in the House.
The Senate will now adopt or substitute HB 119. The House can either accept or reject it. If the House rejects the substitute, the members will meet to work out their differences in conference committee.
We had to make some drastic cuts and the 2010 budget is significantly less than the original 2009 budget (12.3 percent or $2.6 billion less).  We realize that many Georgians are suffering financially, and that is why we chose to tighten our belts instead of raising taxes. If this economy continues to decline, there will be many more cuts that will have to be made.
The House decided to use some of the federal funds available from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in the 2010 budget, utilizing approximately $1.4 billion. By using federal money the House was able to avoid some budget cuts and it also helped to fulfill budget shortfalls.
In regard to healthcare, some of the items we were able to restore include: approximately $234 million to hospitals and $203 million to providers, funding for  nursing home capital improvements and a 1 percent quality incentive, expanding our community health centers, funding undergraduate/graduate medical education programs, and providing funds for trauma.
One issue many of you have contacted me about is the possibility of having to get rid of our school nurses. I understand the importance of our school nurses, as do my other colleagues. With the help from the ARRA, we are able to fund school nurses. An example I frequently heard was, “children can’t learn when they are sick and teachers can’t teach when they are running a health clinic.” Nurses are essential to the health and welfare of our students and schools.
Although the budget was the main topic this week, an important piece of legislation was also passed. In an effort to increase food safety, the House unanimously passed SB 80 on Wednesday. Under this bill, food processors would be required to report lab results within 24 hours to the Department of Agriculture.
Also, it would require the records be kept for at least two years and made available to the department when requested. The commissioner will set the standards and requirements for frequent testing of samples of food for contaminants. This bill has passed both the House and Senate and will now be sent to the governor.
We are trying to address the needs of the people. As many of you are aware, we had a salmonella outbreak recently in Georgia due to a peanut processing plant.  As legislators, we are trying to address this issue to make sure that it does not happen again.  If the governor signs this bill, Georgia will be one of the first states to have this type of requirement.
Please do not hesitate to let me know your position or thoughts on issues that concern you. If you would like to reach me, please call me at (404) 656-5099 or write me at: State Rep. Ron Stephens, 228 CAP, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mail me at ron.stephens@house.ga.gov
 

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