Tuesday, March 27, was “crossover day” for the 2007 session of the Georgia General Assembly. As the 30th legislative day of the session, it was the deadline for measures to be sent from either the House of Representatives or the Senate for consideration by the other chamber this year.
Among the measures approved by the House was legislation that would disqualify thousands of Georgia children from health care coverage under the PeachCare for Kids program. I voted against House Bill 340 because lowering the eligibility level to 200 percent of the federal poverty level from the current 235 percent is not necessary to sustain PeachCare’s financial viability.
HB 340 would actually allow the Department of Community Health to reduce the rate to 185 percent if it so desires. HB 340 would also require families to pay a premium for dental and vision care when the existing program provides it free.
Congress is delivering the action its leaders have promised to meet the federal funding shortfall for PeachCare. This should not be an occasion to kick Georgia’s working families out of the program.
The House passed HR 273, which I cosponsored, by a unanimous vote of 165-0. The resolution calls for the Congress to continue pressing for strong measures to end the violence in Sudan.
It also urges the Securities and Exchange Commission to provide guidance to public pension fund managers in order to avoid investments which may be supporting nations involved in the support of terrorism or human rights violations.
The supplemental budget won approval in the House, increasing fiscal year 2007 spending by $700 million. HB 94 includes a $194 million earmark for the 2.65 percent increase in public school enrollment; $11 million in tornado disaster relief for Americus; $9.6 million in additional funding for the Public Defenders System; $1 million for the Tour de Georgia bicycle race; $7 million for anti-viral pandemic flu vaccination; $4.7 million for the Local Assistance Road Program to repave Georgia roads and $100,000 for an outside audit of the state electronic voting system.
Also, the House allocated $300,000 to establish a mobile unit for testing of sickle cell anemia in Southeast Georgia, including Liberty County. The Senate will now consider the supplemental budget while budget writers continue to work on the state spending plan for fiscal year 2008, which begins July 1.
Legislation that would, for the fourth time in five years, delay plans to reduce class sizes in Georgia schools, was also approved by the House majority. Since taking office in 2003, Gov. Sonny Perdue has delayed implementation of this important education initiative, claiming lack of revenue, every year except 2006, when he was seeking re-election. Reducing the teacher/pupil ratio has proven value in our schools, which is why I voted against HB 332.
On a positive note, the House adopted HB 291, which would create the Georgia Arts Alliance, the development of a cultural policy for the state of Georgia, and the development of a Future Art and Music Teachers Pilot Program.
Among the legislative proposals that did not make it out of the House on crossover day included HB 163, which would repeal the state’s ban on “payday lending.”
For the second time in a week, it was narrowly voted down. Not even coming up for a vote in the House were HB 195, which would have exempted all retirement income from state income tax and HB 337, which would have dramatically changed Georgia’s certificate of need law for construction of health care facilities. These bills and others will be studied later in the year and be eligible for consideration in the 2008 legislative session.
HB 81, which I cosponsored, was adopted by the Senate a vote of 48-3. The bill would create a lifetime sportsman’s license. Specifically, this legislation offers requirements for procuring any license, stamp or permit for noncommercial hunting and fishing privileges.
These requirements shall be satisfied by a resident or nonresident who procures a lifetime sportsman’s license. Through a Senate amendment, this bill will also provide hunters a veteran’s lifetime sportsman license. Any person who has served more than 90 days in the military, received an honorable discharge, and can satisfy residency requirements will be eligible. If the House agrees to that amendment, HB 81 will go to the governor for his signature.
Also this week, the House approved Senate legislation that would authorize optometrists to prescribe a limited number of eye medications. House members amended SB 17 to include a longer list of medications and a compromise version will have to be worked out between the two chambers. Georgia is the only state in the nation that does not grant optometrists these prescriptive rights.
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, (912) 977-5600 or by e-mail at email@example.com