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Session suspended for budget work
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The House and the state Senate voted Thursday to adjourn the current legislative session until March 8 to allow Appropriations Committee members to work full-time over the next two weeks on the budget proposal for fiscal year 2011, which begins July 1.
State revenues have declined for 14 consecutive months and are down 13 percent from this time last year and approximately 23 percent from two years ago.
Lawmakers are seriously concerned that Gov. Sonny Perdue’s forecast for 4.2 percent revenue growth next year is unrealistic and are preparing to take extreme actions in the difficult process of balancing the FY 2011 budget.
While the General Assembly is in official recess over the next two weeks, Speaker David Ralston also announced he was suspending the work of all but a few House committees to give full attention to the appropriations process.
Thursday was the 20th legislative day, marking the halfway point of the 2010 session.
Hospital tax: The governor’s proposal for a 1.6 percent tax increase on Georgia hospitals was not well received in the Health Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. Representatives from the medical and business communities spoke against the tax increase, which they feared would be passed along to patients who are already dealing with sharply rising health care costs.
Hospital officials recommended that lawmakers instead consider a $1 per pack cigarette tax to deal with the state’s Medicaid deficit. The committee chairman said no action on the proposal is imminent.

Health insurance: On Tuesday, the governor proposed legislation that would allow Georgians to buy health insurance across state lines. Current state law allows only health plans that have been specifically approved for Georgia to be sold in the state because they incorporate all of the state’s coverage mandates.
HB 1184 would allow individuals and families to buy insurance plans that have been approved for sale in other states.
The governor said opening access across state lines would lower costs for consumers and help uninsured Georgians find a plan they can afford. The legislation was referred to the House Insurance Committee for its consideration.

Superintendents’ raises: The House voted Thursday to make it more difficult for local school superintendents to receive salary increases in years when classroom teachers are forced to take unpaid furlough days. HB 977, approved unanimously, would prohibit the use of state funds by a school board to give its superintendent a raise in years when teachers are furloughed. If the school board uses local or private funds for a superintendents’ raise, a public hearing would have to be held. HB 977 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

From the homefront: On Tuesday, the Rev. Stanford L. Anderson I, pastor of Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Richmond Hill, accompanied seven young people to the State Capitol. I was pleased to host Stanford L. Anderson II, Christopher J. McLeod, Jada R. McLeod, Jasmin R. McLeod, Tarnisha M. Washington, Tiera M. Washington and Torus M. Washington II, all of whom served as pages in the House that day.

Capitol artists: Liberty County was well represented at the annual Capitol Art Exhibit on Feb. 10. Lewis Frasier Middle School students Tierra Hall and Justin Stafford, both of Hinesville, attended and exhibited their artwork along with other students from across the state. It was a pleasure to welcome them to the State Capitol.

Presidential visit: President Barack Obama will travel to Coastal Georgia on Tuesday, March 2, when his White House to Main Street Tour makes a stop in Savannah. During the event, the president is expected to hear from area residents about how they are dealing with the challenging economy and for him to report on his economic recovery program. Details about the visit and public access will be forthcoming.

Williams represents the 165th District (Liberty County) in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact him during the legislative session at 511 Coverdell Office Building, Atlanta, Ga., 30334; by phone at 404-656-6372; or by e-mail at
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