Despite the fact that other Republican governors in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio and, most recently, Florida have agreed to expand the Medicaid program in their states under the federal Affordable Care Act, Gov. Nathan Deal is still holding firm on his refusal to do so in Georgia.
This decision, according to a recent study by Georgia State University, will cost Georgia $40 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years, the ability to add 694,000 uninsured Georgians to healthcare coverage under Medicaid and 70,000 new jobs that would be created to boost the economy. In the nine-county State Service Delivery 12, which includes Liberty County, the study estimates an impact of 4,304 jobs.
Gov. Deal’s continued refusal to expand Medicaid in Georgia is a bad decision for healthcare and the economy in our state, and it is hoped he will be convinced to reverse that decision, like his counterparts in other states, very soon.
Emergency Tax Relief: I have introduced legislation that would provide a state tax exemption on the wages of workers who are assigned to respond to a disaster emergencies, natural and manmade, that occur more than 50 miles away from their regular place of employment. Under HB 360, any event declared as a state of emergency by the President, a state’s Governor, Congress or a state Legislature would be covered, and the tax relief would be in effect for up to 360 days. The bill, which has strong bipartisan support, was referred to the House Ways & Means Committee for its consideration.
MARTA Operations: A majority of House members approved two proposals Feb. 21 dealing with the ongoing financial troubles of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). HB 264 would tighten state control of MARTA’s internal operation and employee benefits, and HB 265 would suspend for three years the requirement that MARTA spend at least 50 percent of its local sales tax revenues on capital outlays rather than operating expenses.
In committee and on the House floor, I rose in opposition to HB 264, which would force MARTA to privatize most of its internal administrative functions within five years and shut off MARTA’s defined pension fund to future employees. The bill could endanger MARTA’s future federal funding if it curtails employees’ collective bargaining rights.
Additionally, while the state provides no funding for MARTA, while this proposal would tighten the state’s control over how the Atlanta transit system is managed. Both bills now go the Senate for its consideration.
Other House Action: Also last week, the House voted to approve and send to the Senate:
HB 68, which would require continuing education for licensed orthotists and prosthetists, whose practices involve orthopedic braces, appliances and prosthetic devices.
HB 126, which would prohibit anyone from obstructing or hindering a park ranger in the lawful discharge of the ranger’s duties.
HB 160, which would prohibit the imposition of a recording fee on the transfer of vacant or foreclosed property. The fee has been banned in more than 40 other states.
HB 178, which would require pain management clinics, also known as “pill mills,” to be licensed under the oversight of the Georgia Composite Medical Board. Under the proposal, only licensed physicians would be authorized to own pain management clinics established after June 30 of this year.
HB 208, which would require nursing homes to offer flu shots to their employees, who would be allowed to opt out of taking the vaccination.
HB 209, which would authorize pharmacists to accept prescriptions on paper that has been approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
HB 234, which would require service contract providers to give consumers 30 to 60 days of advance notification prior to any automatic renewals of the contract.
HB 235, which would authorize optometrists to administer hydrocodone and oral steroids and remove the current exemption from continuing education requirements for optometrists who are 65 and older.
HB 254, which would allow law enforcement officers to accept electronic proof of automobile insurance coverage by motorists.
Ethics Package: The House Rules Committee has approved ethics legislation that would impose a complete ban on lobbyists’ gifts to individual legislators and expand the definition of lobbyists, and the proposals are scheduled for a vote on the House of Representatives floor on Monday, Feb. 25. If HB 142 and HB 143 become law, the lobbyist expenditure ban for gifts, meals and other independent would take effect with exceptions for events to which all legislators or caucus members are invited. “Legislative Days” on football Saturdays at college campuses would still be allowed.
Individuals who represent organizations and visit the Capitol more than five days per legislative session to discuss legislation would be required to register as lobbyists under the proposed package. The lobbyist registration fee would be reduced from $300 to $25. The ethics proposal would also restore the rulemaking authority that was stripped from the State Ethics Commission in 2009.
Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway) represents District 168 in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact him at 511 Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; by phone at 404-656-6372; or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.