Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 3, 2016

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 3, 2016

Georgia & American History

On January 1, 1751, the law prohibiting slavery in Georgia was repealed after an act passed by the Georgia Trustees the previous year.

On January 2, 1766, some Sons of Liberty marched on the Royal Governor’s Mansion in Savannah to “discuss” the Stamp Act, which required the use of stamped paper for all printing as a means of taxing the colonies. They were met by a pistol-toting Governor Wright. The next day, January 3, 1766, the Royal Stamp Master arrived at Tybee Island and was taken to the Governor’s Mansion. On that day, Georgia became the first and only colony in which the stamp tax was actually collected.

Georgia became the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution on January 2, 1788.

Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts became the first United States Senator to be censured by the body on January 2, 1811.

Delaware, technically at the time a slave state, rejected a proposal to secede from the United States on January 3, 1861.

The Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln went into effect in eleven Southern states on January 1, 1863, though parts of Virginia and Louisiana were exempt.

On January 3, 1973, Andrew Young was sworn in as the first African-American Congressman from Georgia since 1871.

Remains of a ship believed to date to the 1800s were found on a beach at Cumberland Island.

A wooden ship from the mid-1800s, possibly a Civil War blockade runner, recently has been discovered along the beach at Cumberland Island — a previously unreported find that locals, archaeologists and parks officials believe could be a major historical discovery.

The unknown vessel lay in the shallow waters of Cumberland, a barrier island off Georgia’s southeastern coast. Officials surmise a December storm shifted enough sand to make visible the ship’s bones — its wooden gunnel, or midsection, lying exposed like the ribs of a dead cow.

[National Park Service archaeologist Michael] Seibert estimated the ship had lain untouched and covered by sand for at least 50 years. Sheltered from the sun and the wind, the vessel’s remains — one timber measures 80 feet in length, suggesting the ship was at least 100 feet long — are in relatively fine condition.

“There was an awful lot of Civil War military traffic along the coast (with) many smaller vessels that were all about stealth and speed,” said Chris McCabe, the deputy archaeologist for the state of Georgia. “We can’t say definitively that it’s a blockade runner, and we may never be able to say definitively, but it’s an absolute possibility.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Former Governor Sonny Perdue appears to be the leading candidate for Secretary of Agriculture in the Trump Administration.

Drew Ferguson (R-LaGrange) will be sworn in as the Congressman from the Third District today in Washington, DC.

“I’m excited for the work ahead and honored to be going to Washington, D.C. to serve the people,” Ferguson said Saturday. “I’m optimistic for the district, for Georgia and for the nation. America has a lot of work to do. People expect Congress to start getting it right. I believe we will.”

It’s been a time of big changes for Ferguson prior to today’s event. He sold his dental practice, per House ethics rules. He and his wife Buffy sold their house and moved closer to West Point’s reenergized downtown, where just about any restaurant of your choosing is within walking distance.

He knows who he’ll represent when he begins his term today. He knows transportation issues around here mean finding ways for people to get to work and improving routes from West Georgia to the coast. Uber is not a pressing issue. Neither are driverless cars, unless someone invents an automatic pulpwood truck.

“I’d like to work myself into a position where I can do something about poverty and the entitlement programs and bring in some real-world ideas,” he said. “We can’t get rid of entitlement programs, but we do have to make them more effective. This government has kept people in poverty.”

In the meantime, he’s hoping to land a spot on the House transportation committee or the energy and commerce committee in his first term. Transportation issues are vital to Georgia and the district, he said.

“We’ve got the interstate. We’ve got the automotive manufacturing industry. We’ve got something as forward-thinking as the Ray,” he said. The Ray is the stretch of interstate near West Point called the Ray C. Anderson Memorial Highway with a series of initiatives planned to improve safety and environmental standards in transportation.

State Senator Elect Matt Brass (R-Coweta) spoke to the Newnan Times-Herald about his priorities for the legislative session.

“There are so many different areas where we have been able to help people. That is probably the most rewarding part of public service for me,” Brass said.

Work to get a law passed may not show results for years. But the evidence of constituent service is immediate.

“When you help a veteran get the benefits that he deserves, that’s instant gratification for him and for yourself,” he said.

Legislators typically get assigned to four committees. Freshman apply for eight that they would like to serve on.

Two large electrical plants, Yates and Wansley, are in the district, so Brass has asked for Regulated Industries and Utilities. He’d like to serve on Health and Human Services because Coweta is becoming a health care destination.

He’s asked for Natural Resources and Environment, and Education and Youth, as well as Veteran’s Affairs. Working with Westmoreland’s office, Brass had a lot of interaction with the U.S. Veteran’s Administration and local veterans.

“For me, as a conservative, pro-life Republican, if I’m going to fight to keep children alive, I want to make sure they’re living well while they are here,” he said.

State Representative Elect Josh Bonner (R) joins Brass as a freshman in the state legislature.

Though he won’t know which committees he’s will be assigned to until probably the end of the first week of the session, he is hoping for the Veteran’s Affairs, Economic Development and Tourism and Utilities and Telecommunications committees. He’s also put education and small business committees on his wish list.

Bonner said he thinks the area of government where he can make the biggest impact is workforce development. He and his brother run Southeast Properties, a commercial real estate and property management company started by their father and a partner.

“In every industry I have spoken with there has been this shortfall in a viable workforce,” Bonner said. “There are a lot of good things going on in Georgia with technical schools and internships and job training programs, including Coweta’s German-style apprenticeship and the Central Educational Center. There’s the Georgia Film Academy program at Pinewood Studios in Fayette and Piedmont-Fayette has a program for high school students,” he said.

“We need to try to get a little more attention to those and really look at what jobs can be filled by people in Georgia,” Bonner continued.

The AJC characterizes the 2017 Session of the Georgia General Assembly as one of uncertainty.

[L]awmakers face more uncertainty than at any time in recent years when they head into the 2017 session on Jan. 9. The election of the entirely unconventional Donald Trump as president, and a GOP Congress itching to make major changes in how government programs operate and are funded, have seen to that.

Nowhere might the impact show up more quickly than in the state’s budget, which is heavily padded with federal funding and is the financial lifeblood for millions of Georgians who rely on public money for education, health care, transportation and policing.

Will the new Congress quickly pass a stimulus plan that sends a torrent of money to the state for road and bridge projects? Will it change the formula for funding programs by sending “block grants,” chunks of money with fewer strings attached? Will tax laws be changed, making an impact on the state’s bottom line, and will complicated, big-money health care programs such as Medicaid for the poor and elderly be rewritten?

None of that may occur anytime soon. Or all of it could affect the General Assembly enough over the next few months that lawmakers call a temporary halt to the session or hold a special session later in the year to deal with any changes Congress makes.

I think that last paragraph hits something I’ve been talking about a lot lately – will the Session be extended to end later in the year or is a special session a real possibility?

I believe that the 2017 legislative session is likely to adjourn sine die before the end of March, but I can’t for the life of me think of how the state writes a budget consisting of roughly half federal dollars without knowing how the Trump administration will change Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, and infrastructure funding.

Back to that AJC story:

“Budget writers are always nervous about uncertainty,” said Carolyn Bourdeaux, the director of Georgia State University’s Center for State and Local Finance and a former Georgia Senate budget director.

As House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, said, “We really have no clue.

“I personally think we go in and we see whether or not Trump’s 100-day agenda looks like it’s on the rails and is actually going to happen,” he said. “Then we have to consider what to do if it is.”

I think the only way for the legislature to “consider what to do” after the first 100 days of the Trump administration is in a special session devoted to budgetary changes and any substantive changes that accompany a budget update.

Georgia’s Republican National Committeeman Randy Evans, apparently channeling President-elect Trump’s social media voice, thinks it’s the AJC that’s gone off the rails, posting on Facebook:

The clueless AJC – actually the single most dominant dynamic for the next Ga. session is the beginning of the 2018 election cycle as legislators in both parties start positioning for their spot as the musical chairs begin with term limited Gov. Deal’s departure.

The only thing missing is a closing exclamation. Sad!

State Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) told the AJC that religious liberty is likely to be an issue in the session.

“I’m coordinating with the House members and Senate members to see who’s going to introduce legislation and see where everyone is on it,” said state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, who has become the most public face of the effort over the past three years. “You’ll see religious freedom bills introduced in both chambers.”

McKoon might find some of his colleagues are less interested in reliving the battles of the past few years. McKoon himself is expected to lose his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee (a direct result of his outspoken support for religious liberty bills), and Republican leaders in the Senate, who have publicly supported past years’ efforts, have indicated that “religious liberty” is not among their top priorities for 2017.

“The Metro Atlanta Chamber wants to work with the General Assembly and Governor Deal to advocate for policies that will strengthen Georgia’s reputation as the No. 1 state in the nation for business,” said Katie Kirkpatrick, the chamber’s chief policy officer. “That means a great education for the workforce of tomorrow, continuing to support additional transportation options and working to ensure that Georgia remains a welcoming place for all people.”

Late in November, the outgoing chairman of the chamber’s board, SunTrust Banks Executive Vice President Jenner Wood, said the group would fight “religious liberty” bills again. The conversation alone over the legislation, which critics deride as discriminatory toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, is damaging to the state’s reputation of tolerance and inclusion, Wood said.

“We are not supportive of any bill that in any way would discriminate against any person,” Wood said in a media briefing ahead of the chamber’s annual meeting in November.

Former Republican State Rep. Roger Hines writes in the Marietta Daily Journal about religious liberty legislation.

The deplorable-elite divide has another context besides the Trump-Clinton presidential race. That context is the religious freedom and transgender issue that still simmers across the heartland. The 80 percent of evangelicals who voted for Trump are sure to be emailing and ringing up their state legislators in a matter of days. They still believe it’s indecorous and dangerous for a man to enter a women’s restroom simply because he “identifies” as a woman.

The elites in the religious freedom and transgender debate are, among others, the Chamber of Commerce, corporate heads, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and The National Collegiate Athletic Association. The deplorables are ordinary citizens who believe pastors should not be punished for preaching what they believe Scripture teaches — that pastors, bakers and florists shouldn’t be required to violate their religious convictions by participating in homosexual weddings, and that parents and husbands shouldn’t have to be fearful when their daughters or wives are in a public restroom.

Time is not on the side of those who oppose the legislature’s religious freedom bills. Ordinary people are emboldened. As in America, the populist movement is upending Britain, France, Germany and, most recently, Italy. Moral, fiscal and immigration issues are all involved in the emerging populism. Joe Lunch Box, Eli the electrician, and Paul the plumber are registering to vote across America and Europe. They want common sense and freedom from the intelligentsia so long in power.

Georgia legislators know this. I predict they will stand with McKoon and Teasley and withstand the bullying corporations and sports titans. If so, then bully for them.

Gas prices will rise as part of a restructured sales tax comes online.

In 2015, with bipartisan support, state lawmakers passed HB 170 to change the way Georgia taxes gasoline.

Georgia’s increase, a fraction of a penny, will not have a huge impact on what consumers pay. The revenue, however, will greatly increase the number of roadway improvement projects.

“We’ve already begun to see orange barrels and cones all around the state,” said Seth Millican. “The state DOT has begun to do more work and you’ll continue to see more of that.”

Millican is the head of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, he says that unlike other statewide problems, transportation is an easy fix – it just needs more money.

“You are paying a little bit more at the pump when you buy gas,” Millican said, “but you’re also going to see a lot more work and a lot more progress on roads and bridges that may have gone unrepaired for quite some time.”

Healthcare

Arguably, the biggest issues in the 2017 General Assembly will involve healthcare. Medicaid and Medicare funding and any changes in eligibility are almost certainly shelved until we have a better idea what the federal programs look like under the Trump administration and incoming Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America will seek changes to the state program that requires some new healthcare facilities receive a Certificate of Need before opening.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) Southeastern is airing radio and television commercials in an effort to spur grassroots support for change or repeal of Georgia’s law that allows state officials to decide if there is a need for a proposed medical facility. Without a certificate of need from the Georgia Department of Community Health, no hospital or clinic can open or add on.

“The campaign, known as SpeakNowGeorgia is ongoing,” explained spokesperson Roland Alonzi. “The coalition is dedicated to continuing in 2017 in an effort to educate and raise awareness of the certificate-of-need laws that we are looking to revise.”

CTCA is known, however, for big-budget advertisements, according to BenefitsPro, a website and magazine geared toward benefits and retirement professionals. A recent article indicated that the chain of health care facilities, which includes a network of five hospitals in the U.S., budgets more than $100 million annually for advertising.

Contention stems from Kent’s claim that the board’s request for reclassification is simply to “have the same rules apply,” to CTCA. According to Georgia Hospital Association Senior Vice President of Government Relations, Ethan James, the facility has another objective in mind.

“If given the opportunity, CTCA will cherry-pick patients based on those who have the ‘best’ insurance,” James said, noting that the association has long suspected the for-profit cancer facility of turning away patients with no insurance and low incomes.

“CTCA does not comply with the law to disclose data regarding indigent care,” James said. “There is no data indicating the hospital meets requirements.”

James noted that if CTCA expands and continues to discriminate against uninsured sufferers, all cancer patients will subsequently be affected. Nonprofit cancer treatment centers like those found in nearby hospitals and those located across the state, will ultimately lose money if left with only the uninsured to treat.

“Those hospitals may then be forced to cut back on various lines of services offered,” he said. “It could hinder cancer and other specialty care in local hospitals.”

Jerry Fulks, CEO of WellStar West Georgia Medical Center, writes about the need for the Certificate of Need program to stabilize existing hospitals.

In emergency medicine, the “golden hour” immediately after a traumatic event like a car accident or a heart attack is the time in which the patient’s chance of surviving can be most improved by access to skilled medical care. Today, Georgia’s healthcare system faces a “golden hour” in which legislative action is required to ensure the long-term survival of the local hospitals that protect our families, our communities, and provide high-quality healthcare and well-paying jobs.

Simply put, our statewide hospital network requires immediate stabilization to ensure that no more communities lose access to healthcare.

The first measure to stabilize our hospitals is renewal of the Medicaid provider fee, which helps fill in a financial hole left by the federal system. Some call it a “bed tax,” though no tax is levied on patients or on hospital beds. Without legislative renewal, the provider fee will expire on June 30, 2017, and Georgia will lose hundreds of millions of dollars of our own federal tax dollars.

Georgia’s certificate of need law was put into place nearly 40 years ago to ensure that all citizens would have access to care – no matter where they live, what their income level or how serious their condition. These laws require that any new medical facility or hospital expansion meet a true unfilled need.

Why is this important? Because hospitals, especially not-for-profit facilities, rely upon a delicate balance of services, patient mix and reimbursement levels to maintain their financial viability. Requiring proposed expansions or new facilities to go through the certificate of need process helps to safeguard that critical balance while expanding medical care where it is needed the most.

Proposed changes to the certificate of need law will be among many health care issues our legislators debate this coming year, but few will be more important given the potential impact on local communities throughout our state. In some cases, those decisions could mean the difference between a hospital staying open or closing; in others, difficult choices about what services to provide or eliminate. No one should ever lose a loved one or suffer more than necessary because they did not have timely access to quality care.

[Disclaimer: I am currently working with the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals as a communications consultant. The author of the above piece in the LaGrange News is Chairman of the Board for the Alliance.]

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