Last Friday, the Georgia House of Representatives voted to approve a $320 million addition to the state budget for the remainder of fiscal year 2014, which ends June 30. The midyear adjustment would increase this year’s total budget amount from $19.9 billion to $20.2 billion.
A majority of the new appropriations, $183 million, would go to local school systems to account for increased student enrollment in the K-12 schools. Other increases would be directed to the Department of Economic Development to help disburse OneGeorgia development grants and to the Department of Community Health for Medicaid reimbursements.
The supplemental budget legislation (HB 743) goes to the Senate for its consideration.
My colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee and I will now turn our attention to the proposed $20.8 billion state budget for fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1. As vice chairman of the Ports & Local Government Subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee, I will pay special attention to proposed funding for the Port of Savannah expansion project, an important economic development initiative for Georgia.
Supporting Rural Hospitals: Representatives of Georgia’s healthcare community have pointed out that a number of rural hospitals that are in danger of closing in the near future for financial reasons could be helped to remain in operation if the state would accept federal funding under the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid coverage to more than 600,000 uninsured Georgians.
Unbelievably, a prominent member of the House Republican majority – Rep. Sharon Cooper of Marietta – said in a radio interview early in the week that “there are some of those rural hospitals that need to close.”
That prompted a swift rebuttal from House Democrats and healthcare advocacy groups, especially those from rural areas, that rural residents also deserve access to healthcare in a local, convenient location. These local hospitals often are the difference between life and death in a medical emergency for people who do not live in close proximity to a large, regional facility.
Also, hospitals are a financial safety net for many rural communities. If the hospital closes, some of the best jobs in that community would be lost, wreaking economic devastation in parts of the state that are already struggling.
Rep. Cooper retreated from her comments by the middle of the week, but the position of those who oppose Medicaid expansion had already been revealed: they don’t care if access to healthcare is shut off to people in rural Georgia. I will continue to urge Gov. Deal to accept the federal funding and allow more Georgians to be covered and more jobs to be created in the healthcare field across our state.
Supporting School Workers: I strongly oppose legislation that would prevent some school bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other non-teaching employees from seeking unemployment compensation outside the school year. HB 714 would adversely affect some 64,000 of our state’s lowest-paid workers and drive Georgia families deeper into poverty. The proposal narrowly passed an initial subcommittee vote and is now pending before the full House Industry & Labor Committee. I will be working to defeat this legislation on behalf of the local school workers who do so much for so little.
Jekyll Island Development: Legislation that would set a limit on the future commercial development of Jekyll Island has been favorably reported by the House Natural Resources & Environment Committee. HB 715 would permanently cap the land area that could be developed on Jekyll Island at 20 acres and would provide protections for the rest of the island. HB 715 and similar legislation moving through the Senate has the support of environmental groups and the Jekyll Island Authority, which oversees the development of tourist and retail facilities on the island. A vote on the bill by the full House could come as early as next week.
Guns on Campus: A proposed compromise to pass legislation that would allow the presidents of individual colleges and universities to decide whether weapons could be legally carried on campus has been declared unconstitutional by the Office of Legislative Counsel. The opinion cited a potential “improper delegation of legislative authority,” which would violate the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government.
House supporters of lifting the “campus carry” ban said they will now move forward with legislation that would allow firearms on college campuses, despite the Board of Regents’ continued opposition to such a proposal. Similar legislation was approved by a majority of House members in 2013 but failed to win final approval when the Senate sided with the Regents on the guns-on-campus issue.
It is an honor to represent you at the State Capitol. Please contact me with your views on the issues, or whenever I can be of service.
Williams, D-Midway, represents District 168 in the Georgia House. Contact him at 511 Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; by phone at 404-656-6372; or by email at email@example.com.