January 18, 2013

Capitol Partners

Public Affairs & Government Relations

The past two weeks have been busy with a special election and the beginning of the 2013 legislative session.

There was a special election on Tuesday, January 8, resulting in two new Senators: Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) and Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton).  Brandon Beach is a DOT board member who will replace former Senator Chip Rogers in District 21.  Mike Dugan is a building contractor who will represent District 30 in a seat that was vacated when Senator Bill Hamrick accepted a judicial appointment to the Superior Court.

On February 5, there will be run-off elections for Senate District 11 in southwest Ga. and House District 21 in Cherokee County, and a special election for House District 71 in Coweta County. In Senate District 11 the run-off is between Republicans Dean Burke, who led with 42.5% of the vote, and former Rep. Mike Keown, who got 37% of the vote.  In House District 21, there will be a run-off between Republicans Scot Turner and Brian Laurens.  A special election was called for House District 71, because newly elected Rep. Robert Stokely resigned to accept a position as Assistant Magistrate Judge. There are five Republicans and one Democrat vying for this open seat.

The General Assembly began its 2013 legislative session at 10:00 a.m. this past Monday, January 14. The legislature met for four days this week then adjourned for Friday and all of next week.  The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will hold budget hearings next week and work on the FY ’14 and amended FY ’13 budgets.

On Monday, events in the House and Senate were mostly ceremonial with all of the members taking their oath of office and each house voting on its leaders.  Speaker Ralston, Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, and Clerk of the House Robbie Rivers were all re-elected into their positions.  In the Senate, Senator David Shafer was elected President Pro Tem without opposition.

The House and Senate each passed rules for their respective bodies.  The Senate passed rules that include a $100 cap on lobbyist expenses per senator per occasion; however, travel expenses are exempt from the cap. Also, the new Senate rules restored many of Lt. Governor Casey Cagle’s powers, including giving him more authority to appoint committees.

The Senate committee assignments and House committee assignments can be found by following the links and selecting a committee to view the officers and members of each one.

On Thursday, the Senate passed SB 24 that would authorize the Board of Community Health to renew the Medicaid provider fee, also known as the “hospital bed tax,” which would impose a 1.45% tax on hospitals’ net revenues.  The money obtained from this tax is matched by federal funds (approximately $400M to $500M) and these funds are allocated to hospitals based on their percentage of Medicaid patients.  The hospital industry is supportive of the fee extension.

Legislation that has been introduced this week or that was pre-filed, includes non-partisan elections for a variety of local offices, various gun bills from proponents and opponents of tougher gun control laws, increased penalties for DUI offenders and required use of an ignition interlock devise for first-time offenders, and ethics bills.  Another issue expected to be considered but that has not yet been introduced is an increase in bonding capacity to $300M for the World Congress Center Authority for the proposed new Falcons’ stadium.

The highlight of this first week of the General Assembly was Governor Deal’s State of the State address on Thursday, January 17.  In his speech the Governor referred to four foundation blocks for a prosperous Georgia: public safety, education, healthcare, and economic development.  He also laid out his plans for his $19.8B budget.

The Governor touted the success of criminal justice reform that was enacted last year.  He stated that the increase in accountability courts will decrease the need to add 5000 prison beds over five years, thus saving the state $264M, and he has continued funding of $11.6M for accountability courts in his budget. His administration is bringing legislation this session focusing on juvenile justice reform. He is urging support of community-based non-confinement alternatives for low risk juveniles instead of regional or state youth centers, and he is including $5M in the FY ’14 budget for more alternative sentencing programs for nonviolent criminal offenders.  Another public safety issue highlighted by the Governor is an increase in boating safety, and he talked about two bills that he is proposing.  One bill will decrease the blood alcohol level from .10 to .08 for being charged with Boating under the Influence.  The other bill will place age limits and educational requirements on young operators of watercraft and will require that all children under 14 years of age wear a life jacket when riding in an open, moving boat.

The Governor’s second foundation block focused on education and he informed us of two items in his FY ’14 budget for the state’s youngest students: restoring the pre-K program to 180 days and including $1.6M to continue the reading mentor program.  He has included an additional $156M for enrollment growth in K-12 schools in this year’s amended budget, and $147M for enrollment growth and teacher salary increases in the FY ’14 budget.  Another of his budget items will increase the HOPE Scholarship bringing the total funds for HOPE in FY ’14 to nearly $600M, and he proposes focusing more funds from the HOPE Grant Program toward education for occupations where there are shortages.

Governor Deal’s third foundation block centered on healthcare.  He again stated that he elected not to expand Medicaid eligibility because doing so would add 620,000 new enrollees.  He anticipates that as a result of the downturned economy, even without a Medicaid expansion, there will be an additional 100,000 Medicaid enrollees at a cost of $1.7B to the state over the next ten years.  He urged legislators to support legislation that would allow the Board of Community Health to renew the Medicaid provider fee because there will be a shortfall of almost $700M in revenue to support the Medicaid program if the fee is not extended.  The Governor also touted the expansion of residency programs for doctors in Georgia.  Last year $1.2M was appropriated for this purpose and 400 new residency slots were created.  The Governor has added $2M in additional funds in his FY ’14 budget to further increase this number.

The fourth foundation block the Governor highlighted was economic development.  He said the current unemployment rate is the lowest in nearly four years and that 10,000 jobs had been added since his State of the State address last year.  He also stated that the per capita spending of government money is 17% less than it was a decade ago and that the size of state government has decreased because there are 9000 fewer state employees than there were five years ago.  He talked about the decreased burden on Georgia taxpayers because of last year’s tax reform that did away with the “marriage tax penalty.” He boasted that Georgia was awarded a triple “A” rating by three major bond-rating agencies, and he credited the Atlanta airport and Port of Savannah with making our state desirable for businesses to locate here.  His budget includes an additional $50M in bonds for deepening the Savannah harbor.

The Governor finished his speech by talking about ethics. He emphasized that any expansion of the ethics code should apply equally to all elected officials at the state and local levels. One of his quotes is paraphrased: “Ethics is a cornerstone of success… if the citizens of Georgia don’t trust us; it will all be in vain…”

The General Assembly will reconvene on Monday, January 28, for day five of the 40-day session.


Comments are closed.