News Articles

End of 2010 Session

May 13, 2010 | News

Finally, the 2010 Georgia General Assembly is over.  What began on the second Monday of January ended its 40 day journey on April 29.  This end date is the latest the Legislatures has closed business in many decades.

The biggest achievement this year is the finalization of a balanced budget for FY 2011 which begins in just a few weeks on July 1.  The $17.8 billion appropriated reflects over a 17% reduction of recent budget levels and the painful struggle connected with cutting programs and increasing fees and taxes was a major reason this session lasted as long as it did.

This current group of representatives and senators will not be the same group to meet for another session in 2011.  This is an election year and there is an unusally large number of new people to be in Atlanta next January, as quite a few members of both chambers either are retiring from public office, seeking another position in government, or opting to run for a seat in the other chamber.  In any event, next year will be a year of transition for legislators and a new governor and other constitutional officers.

Hospital “Tax” Passes; Legislature Takes 10 Day Break

April 2, 2010 | News

Appropriately on April Fool’s Day (yesterday), the Georgia Senate spent hours conducting business, then suspended business on several occasions, and finally convened when there were enough votes to pass the controversial hospital bed tax bill — HB 307 — with just two votes to spare.  If this bill had not passed, the Legislature would have spent the upcoming days of adjournment in chaos, as there would not have been a viable way for budget writers to finds ways to balance the FY 2011 budget.  Instead and to the relief of Senate leaders, this is what happened (according to the AJC):

By the end of the day, after hours of debate, delays, backroom politics and hurt feelings, the Senate approved HB 307, which would impose a hospital tax to help fill a $600 million gap in Medicaid funding.  The 1.45 percent tax on patient revenue could raise about $170 million.  The bill, with three amendments attached, passed 31-15.

The key to the bill was a last-minute amendment that gives a tax cut to insurers on health insurance premiums when the state’s revenue shortfall reserve is funded at the level of $500 million.  But Gov. Sonny Perdue, while praising the bipartisan bill the House passed last week, lashed out at the Senate for trying to “curry favor with a Washington, D.C., special interest group” by adding the amendment “that triggers yet another provision contingent on the first signs of economic growth.”

The Legislature will return on Monday, April 12 for day 34 in a final push to complete the 2010 session.  During the upcoming days, House and Senate budget writers will meet to carve out the remaining aspects of next year’s budget.  If they can get a good handle on matters, there is a chance this session will end before the end of the month.

New Schedule for Legislature

March 22, 2010 | News

Both the state Senate and House passed resolutions today (Monday) to push back this week’s legislative schedule a few days. That means Crossover Day — a marathon of legislative action when bills either move on or die —  was was originally set for this Thursday but will now be Friday.  The House and Senate will meet Wednesday and Friday of this week for Days 29 and 30, respectively.

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) said this week’s break will allow the House to work with the hospitals “to find common ground” on the budget.

Monday was the last day for any Senate bill to get out of committee.

Both chambers will come back next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, then take a week off for Easter. It would also free them to attend the Masters the same week at Augusta National Golf Club if they chose that course.

Legislative action will resume April 12, which would be Day 34 of the 40-day session.

Legislature Approaching Witching Day 30

March 22, 2010 | News

The witching day –not just the proverbial witching hour — is approaching the Georgia Legislature.

This coming Thursday, March 25 is scheduled to be the magical 30th day of the 40-day session, and it can spell success or doom for major legislation. Bills have to pass one chamber by midnight on “cross-over day” or they generally are dead for the year.

This year, there’s a lot hanging in the balance. Most of lawmakers’ time so far has been consumed by the loud sucking sound coming from the state’s $17.8 billion budget for 2011, which could have a billion-dollar hole that only seems to get bigger with every month’s revenue report.

Two things to look for in the week ahead:

A controversial bill to improve the way the state funds highway projects (HB1218) comes before the House. It’s a mess right now, full of amendments and a provision known as a regional opt-out that the governor doesn’t like. A House-Senate conference committee will eventually have to work out the details before Gov. Sonny Perdue will sign it.

Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) made a surprise appearance before the House Transportation Committee last week to urge lawmakers to put local interests aside and get the legislation to the House floor.

“We need a transportation policy that looks at the needs of the whole state,” Ralston said. The committee eventually moved the bill forward.

HB 1055 will also generate a lot of discussion. The bill proposes to raise an additional $93 million by increasing fees and adding fees on a long list of state services including specialty license plates and civil court filings.

A divisive proposal that would permit the re-creation of Milton County out of north Fulton County will also probably hit the floor.

And it will have a very tough time once it gets there.

The bill, backed by Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Milton), will need a two-thirds vote because it calls for the state Constitution to be amended. Democrats, who are a House minority, say they have the votes to stop it.

You could feel the legislative pace accelerating last week as the House and Senate began moving bills.

On Thursday, the Georgia Senate passed a bill that would make texting while driving illegal and impose a $150 fine.

The bill would bar teens from getting their Class C License on a second offense.

“I think the teenagers are starting to get it more than the adults,” said Sen. Jack Murphy (R-Cumming), who sponsored the bill. “Under this bill, it will now be against the law to text in Georgia while you are driving. The point of this bill is not punitive, it sends a message.”

Murphy’s bill is one of several that have been floating around the Legislature this session. With this traction — the bill passed unanimously amid loud applause — it now goes to the House.

The House last week overwhelmingly approved the Water Stewardship Act of 2010 to curtail outdoor watering and require builders and apartment building owners to more efficiently manage water.

While the legislation mandates a so-called “culture of conservation”– by allowing outdoor watering only between the hours of 4 p.m. and 10 a.m., and requiring builders to use more efficient plumbing — its not-so-hidden purpose is to influence Alabama, Florida and a federal judge.

The new water rules, which include exceptions for farmers and nurseries, would mostly go into effect in July 2012.

The Georgia House also passed legislation allowing juvenile offenders to receive credit for time served.

Only adult prisoners are currently given credit for the time they serve waiting for their case to go through court, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver(D-Decatur).

HB 1144 should help the juvenile justice system save on bed space at a time when all state agencies are looking to cut costs, Oliver said.

The bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration.

Law enforcement would be barred by state law from releasing grisly crime-scene photos under legislation unanimously passed by the House.

A Hustler magazine writer recently requested photos of Meredith Emerson, the Buford hiker who was stripped naked and decapitated in the North Georgia woods.

The request, made under the Georgia Open Records Act, was called “sickening, disgusting and vile” by House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge).

DCH Leader Resigns

March 11, 2010 | News

The person in charge of the Department of Community Health, the large state agency which, among many other things, is in charge of the state Medicaid program, announced her resignation today.  It is effective at the end of this month and no explanation was given for this decision.

More information is available at the AJC which broke this story.