Sen. Brandon Beach: Leads the Passage of Influential Legislation

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Sen. Brandon Beach Leads the Passage of Influential Legislation

 Senator Brandon Beach (R- Alpharetta) led the passage of two influential bills through the House of Representatives and State Senate on Day 39 of the legislative session.  Senate Bill 381, sponsored by Sen. Beach, passed the House of Representatives and House Bill 973, carried by Sen. Beach, passed the Senate.

“I am thankful for the support of my colleagues with the passage of these bills,” said Sen. Beach.  “Both bills are examples of government efficiency through providing reliable, timely information to citizens during crisis and protecting taxpayer dollars by increasing the penalties on fraudulent claims.” Continue reading

Georgia lawmakers ready for Thursday night fights | State Legislature |

ATLANTA — This year’s state legislative session ends Thursday night, with several contentious bills in the balance: medical marijuana, foster care privatization, drug tests for welfare recipients and a possible shortening of early voting periods.

Anything that doesn’t get agreement goes in the trash can.

Supporters of a bill that would decriminalize possession of a single type of liquid medicine derived from cannabis waited all day Tuesday for a Senate vote that never came. With the Legislature in recess Wednesday, Thursday is the last chance for approval this year.

“There is a very real chance that our bill gets caught in a game of tug-of-war,” said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, the author of House Bill 885. It aims to give Georgians access to a non-hallucinogenic medicine made from cannabis that’s used to treat pediatric seizures.

A Senate committee passed a version that would allow people to possess that liquid in Georgia if they go to a state like Colorado where it’s legal, get a prescription and have it filled there. But that version was amended to include a controversial bill to require insurance companies to cover pediatric autism treatment.

The full Senate scheduled House Bill 885 with the autism language on a list of 90 bills it planned to consider Tuesday and Thursday.

There’s little opposition to the principle of Georgia families accessing the medicine. The only policy debate is how to best make sure the bill is not an empty promise.

The House approved a version that called on the state’s five medical research universities to consider growing a single strain of marijuana and synthesizing the medicine. Both the plant and the compound are rich in cannabidiol, or CBD, which does not cause people to get high. It’s already approved for use in the United Kingdom.

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t get another step forward today,” Peake said Tuesday night, “but I’m optimistic that we will still get a vote Thursday morning.”

Foster care privatization

Foster care privatization took two votes to pass the House, but the House finally approved a version that’s much more cautious than the Senate’s pitch to mandate bidding out services including family preservation and independent living. Senate supporters have argued that private organizations would provide better services than government.

But the House wants “a pilot program to look into if services should be privatized, and if so … which should be,” said state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, the House sponsor of Senate Bill 350. The program would be set up for two years in parts of the state yet to be chosen.

via Georgia lawmakers ready for Thursday night fights | State Legislature |

After the toll: Ga. 400 traffic has slowed |

Ga. 400 commuters are sitting in traffic a little longer now that tolling has ended, state Department of Transportation data shows.

But either the change is so small as to be imperceptible, or drivers are too giddy about getting a free ride to care.

Since tolls ended in November, average daily traffic on Ga. 400 has increased by 2 to 7 percent, depending on what segment you’re on, the data shows. Rush-hour speeds are down 2 to 5.7 mph in many places, again depending on location.

Drivers said they haven’t noticed.

via After the toll: Ga. 400 traffic has slowed |

Hospitals now must report drug-addicted nurses |

Hospitals and other medical personnel in Georgia are legally required to report nurses who have substance abuse problems or who make medical errors that endanger patients, lawmakers decided this week.

The General Assembly passed such a law last year but only this week agreed to fund it — and only then with money that the Secretary of State had squirreled away for another purpose.

Under the law, such reports would go the state nursing board, which already has a backlog of disciplinary complaints. The Secretary of State’s office, which oversees most of the state’s professional boards, is unhappy that money it was saving for technology improvements will be funneled instead to the nursing board.

But advocates for nurses were pleased. “We’re feeling pretty good about it,” said Debbie Hackman, CEO of the Georgia Nurses Association.

via Hospitals now must report drug-addicted nurses |

Deal plan aims to revive ailing rural hospitals |

Spooked by a spate of recent hospital closings in rural Georgia, state leaders on Wednesday embraced a rewrite of healthcare rules aimed at keeping faltering facilities open.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan would allow rural hospitals to dramatically scale back their services if they are in danger of closing or if they’ve shut their doors in the last year. The goal is keep these healthcare facilities afloat as they struggle for funding amid high unemployment rates and stagnant population growth in struggling areas.

The changes only apply to facilities within 35 miles of a full-service hospital. They would be allowed to convert into a freestanding emergency room that can stabilize patients and transfer them to nearby full-service hospitals. The changes allow them to abandon other costly staples of hospital care, such as inpatient surgery and complicated child deliveries.

“Communities should not have to go without crucial services – many of them life-saving – simply because they don’t fall within a certain zip code,” said Deal, adding: “By eliminating the necessity of trying to staff a full-service hospital with beds that do not have patients, with staff they do not necessarily need, I think this will help hospitals to stay open.”

The plan earned bipartisan support from rural lawmakers and healthcare advocates. Yet several legislators warned that a more sweeping fix is needed to help sustain rural hospitals in the longer term, and contended that Deal’s decision to reject funding for Medicaid expansion under the federal healthcare overhaul only aggravated the situation.

via Deal plan aims to revive ailing rural hospitals |

Health care bills’ passage sparks plenty of reaction |

Local leaders Wednesday warned that two anti-Obamacare bills waiting for Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature could hamper their ability to educate their residents about the health care law and ultimately end up costing Georgia taxpayers money.

The pair of bills approved by state lawmakers after heated debate late Tuesday night would all but ensure Georgia won’t expand its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. The more sweeping of the two goes further by preventing any state or local governments, agencies or employees from advocating for expansion, under certain circumstances, or from creating a health insurance exchange.

Many cheered the bills’ passage, but local leaders and consumer advocates worried that the legislation would bar state organizations, including the University of Georgia, from running health insurance navigator programs to help people buy health plans through the federally run Health Insurance Marketplace.

That has Fulton County Chairman John Eaves concerned.

Eaves, a prominent Obamacare supporter, on Wednesday called the General Assembly’s passage of the bills “shortsighted” and an “impediment” to thousands of uninsured Georgians who could gain access to health care.

“These are people who are vulnerable and need to have access to health care,” he said.

via Health care bills’ passage sparks plenty of reaction |

Budget passes, with a last-minute surprise |

With primaries two months away, the House and Senate gave final approval Tuesday to an election-friendly budget that gives a little something to pretty much everyone.

Including, at the last minute, the Atlanta Falcons.

The spending plan for fiscal 2015 — which begins July 1 — pours more than $300 million extra into schools to eliminate furloughs, lengthen the school year and, if there’s money left over, give teachers pay raises. Some state employees will also get merit raises.

The budget pumps more than $800 million into construction projects, with the bulk of the money going to new schools, college buildings, libraries and the Savannah harbor deepening project.

It provides extra scholarship money to technical college students with top grades, more for health care programs for teachers and state employees and more for efforts to detect and diagnose autism in children. More goes to programs for seniors who get meals delivered to them, and more is spent helping marketing Georgia farm products.

And on the 39th day of the 40-day session, lawmakers agreed to set aside $17 million requested by the World Congress Center for parking for the new Falcons stadium. Another $14.5 million is included for equipment to help beef up the state’s response following this winter’s ice and snow storms.

via Budget passes, with a last-minute surprise |

State lawmakers approve proposal to cap the state’s income tax |

A constitutional amendment that would prohibit any increase in the state’s 6 percent income tax narrowly won approval Tuesday in the state House.

The measure, which was amended in committee, now must go back to the Senate.

If it wins approval in the Senate, it could go on the ballot in November, giving Republicans an enticement to draw more voters to the polls.

Senate Resolution 415 was approved by a 120-54 vote, earning the needed two-thirds support after House Speaker David Ralston backed it.

Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer sponsored the amendment, which also had the backing of state Rep. Ed Lindsey, an Atlanta Republican running for an open congressional seat.

via State lawmakers approve proposal to cap the state’s income tax |

Abortion bill passes Georgia Legislature |

Legislation that would bar the state employee health insurance plan from covering abortions in most cases received final passage Tuesday from the Georgia Legislature, sending it to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

Senate Bill 98 passed after both the House and Senate agreed to changes made to the bill in committee. House members voted first, 105-64, to approve the measure. The Senate then voted 36-18 to do the same.

The bill makes no exception for rape or incest, only allowing consideration of a medical emergency involving the life of the mother. It doesn’t make any medical procedure that is legal today illegal. It instead dictates how medical care involving abortions is paid for through the state health plans and through insurance exchanges offered via the Affordable Care Act.

SB 98, authored by Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta, makes permanent a decision made last year by the Department of Community Health’s board to bar abortion coverage under the state health plan except when the life of the mother is at stake. That move followed a directive from Gov. Nathan Deal after lawmakers failed to pass a similar bill in the waning hours of the 2013 session.

“This legislation provides permanency rather than the temporary nature of rules and regs,” said Rep. Richard Smith, a Republican from Columbus and chairman of the House Insurance Committee.

But Democrats in both chambers decried what Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, called an “egregious attack” on women’s access to health care.

via Abortion bill passes Georgia Legislature |

Legislative briefs |

Private operation of dorms clears Legislature

The state Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would extend a property tax exemption to private companies when they take over operations of University System of Georgia dorms and parking areas.

The 44-7 vote met the two-thirds requirement for final passage of House Bill 788.

The tax exemption is a key part of the University System’s privatization plan that could help wipe almost $4 billion in debt off its books. Under the plan, the system would retain ownership of the buildings and land, but the selected companies would operate and maintain the facilities according to leases that could run as long as 65 years.

A few senators questioned how the tax exemption would work. “As long as its state property and used for the stated purposes, it would be exempt” from property taxes, said Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton. Bethel, who’s a floor leader in the Senate for Gov. Nathan Deal, said the governor supported the measure.

State voters will get to weigh in later this year on whether to amend the law to allow developers to receive the exemption.

MLK, Ten Commandments bills pass

Legislation to allow a privately funded statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Capitol grounds is on its way to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk.

House Bill 1080 received final approval in the House on Tuesday by a vote of 171-2. Rep. Charles Gregory, R-Kennesaw, and Rep. Sam Moore, R-Macedonia, were the lone votes against it.

via Legislative briefs |