Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 12, 2017


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 12, 2017

On January 12, 1775, St. Andrews Parish on the Georgia coast passed a series of resolutions that included approving the actions of patriots in Massachusetts, three resolutions critical of British government actions, and a renunciation of slavery. The resolutions also appointed delegates to a provincial legislature at Savannah and urging that Georgia send two delegates to the Continental Congress to be held in Philadelphia the next year.

Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as Governor of Georgia on January 12, 1971.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

State of the State

Yesterday, Governor Nathan Deal delivered the State of the State address to the General Assembly.

You can read the full text of the Governor’s address here. Here are the economic toplines from the address.

That first year, 2011, I was just entering office as your governor. Our state was still in the grip of the Great Recession. Businesses were going bankrupt, homes were being foreclosed upon, jobs were being lost, our unemployment rate was 10.4 percent. Our rainy day fund was dangerously low at roughly $116 million – hardly enough to operate state government for two days.

The result: that 10.4 percent unemployment rate has dropped to 5.3 percent. Our Rainy Day Fund has increased to approximately $2.033 billion. With prudent budgeting, we have maintained a AAA bond rating. We have set new records in trade, film production and tourism.

We have laid the groundwork to improve our transportation infrastructure dramatically over the next 10 years. We have made our communities safer and offered hope to those with addiction or behavioral disabilities through our accountability courts. We have reduced the rate of recidivism and saved the taxpayers of Georgia millions of dollars, a great example of eliminating the negative. New private sector jobs have reached more than 575,000 and for four consecutive years, Georgia has been named the best state for business.

The budget for FY2018 is based on projected revenue growth of 3.6 percent over the amended FY2017 budget. It will allow us to sustain the important programs that are currently in place as well as address new areas that require attention.

11Alive notes several healthcare measures Deal mentioned:

Deal said he wants state lawmakers to expand mental health coverage for children younger than four in the state’s Medicaid and PeachCare programs.

Deal also wants to allow pharmacists to dispense an overdose-reversing drug over the counter. [Narcan/Naloxone]

Deal said he will ask state lawmakers to expand mental health coverage for children younger than four in the state’s Medicaid and PeachCare programs.

Fox5 Atlanta discusses education issues in the State of the State:

The governor announced that his budget proposal includes two percent pay raises for teachers that will be built into the state pay scale as well as raises for caseworkers with the Division of Family and Children Services, or DFCS, at an average of 19 percent.

“Currently, the greatest negative in the education landscape of Georgia is the number of children trapped in failing schools,” Deal said.  “Two years ago, there were 127 chronically failing schools with roughly 68,000 enrolled students. Now that we have the data from the last school year, we find that there were 153 schools that had a failing score for three consecutive years. Those 153 chronically underperforming schools served almost 89,000 students last school year.”

According to Governor Deal, the majority of the schools the state classifies as failing are elementary schools and that is where he wants to focus state reforms.

“Our prospects for addressing this issue will place an emphasis on elementary schools.  If we can reverse this alarming trend early on, if we can eliminate this negative that directly or indirectly affects all of us, we will see our reading comprehension scores, our math skills, our graduation rates and the quality of our workforce in general improve,” Deal told lawmakers.

From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

The governor dived deep into healthcare issues into his speech, urging the General Assembly to not move too quickly on Medicaid reforms because of expected changes to health care laws at the national level, including a likely repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

“We are very fortunate that former Georgia state senator and Congressman Tom Price is nominated to become the Health and Human Services secretary,” Deal said. “Hopefully very soon, the authority to make decisions regarding our state Medicaid program and how to design it in such a way that best fits the needs of our citizens will be returned to Georgia.”

There is one action related to Medicaid that Deal asked legislators to take however: Renewing the bed tax.

The bed tax, also known as hospital provider fee, is set to expire this year. While it generates about $311 million each year to help pay for Georgia’s Medicaid program, it also lets the state have access to another $600 million from the federal government. In all, $10.5 billion is expected to be spent on Medicaid in the next budget.

Deal said it is important for the General Assembly to renew the Department of Community Health Board’s authority to collect the hospital provider fee.

“If that authority is not renewed, the more than $900 million dollars now available to us for the Medicaid program will have to be made up elsewhere in our allocations,” Deal said. “Therefore, I encourage you to reauthorize the authority expeditiously so that we do not have to take away from other portions of the budget.”

Deal also announced plans to work with Sen. Renee Unterman and Reps. Sharon Cooper and Katie Dempsey to improve Medicaid and state health benefits coverage for people with autism up to the age of 21. He is also planning to ask the legislature to approve $2.5 million in the budget to provide Medicaid and PeachCare to kids who have behavioral and mental health issues.

Deal is planning to have the state take out another $3 million in bonds to fund construction of a facility that will serve veterans who have suffered traumatic brain injuries or PTSD. The state previously took out $3 million in bonds last year for the facility.

Other veterans-related initiatives include training for state employees on state-provided services to help veterans, and hiring a women veterans coordinator who will work with female veterans on issues including sexual assault and counseling.

Georgia Health News has more information on the healthcare related aspects:

Deal unveiled a record $25 billion spending plan for fiscal 2018, which begins July 1.

He also cautioned lawmakers not to take “giant leaps’’ on state health care policy until the U.S. Congress acts on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. Republicans who control Congress, along with Donald Trump, who becomes president next week, have pledged to repeal the ACA.

Deal said in his address that his budget plan would include about $2.5 million to expand children’s mental health services under Medicaid and PeachCare. Currently, he said, that coverage is only available to children of age 4 and older. It would be extended to younger children under Deal’s proposal.

Deal also advocated that mental health services be improved for military veterans. “They have given of themselves to protect us,’’ Deal said in his address. “It is only fitting that we should protect them in kind.”

As expected, Deal pushed for the renewal of the hospital provider fee, which would plug a large hole in the state’s Medicaid budget. The funding would help draw more than $600 million from the federal government.

“If that authority is not renewed, the more than $900 million dollars now available to us for the Medicaid program will have to be made up elsewhere in our allocations,’’ Deal said. “Therefore, I encourage you to reauthorize the authority expeditiously so that we do not have to take away from other portions of the budget.”

The budget plan contains $17.9 million to raise Medicaid pay for primary care doctors and OB/GYNs.  “Without adequate funding for our physicians, we will not be able to maintain the proper quality of providers in our Medicaid program,” Deal said.

And the governor said he aims to enhance coverage for autism treatment in Medicaid and the State Health Benefit Plan for those up to age 21, with $20.8 million set aside for this proposal.

Legislative Committee Meetings








State House Committee Chairs

The State House Committee on Assignments announced 2017-18 Committee Chairs:

Committee chairmen for the legislative term are as follows:

  • Agriculture & Consumer Affairs – Rep. Tom McCall
  • Appropriations – Rep. Terry England
  • Banks & Banking – Rep. Greg Morris
  • Budget & Fiscal Affairs Oversight – Rep. Chuck Martin
  • Code Revision – Rep. Buzz Brockway
  • Defense & Veterans Affairs – Rep. Bill Hitchens
  • Economic Development & Tourism – Rep. Ron Stephens
  • Education – Rep. Brooks Coleman
  • Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications – Rep. Don Parsons
  • Ethics – Rep. Randy Nix
  • Game, Fish & Parks – Rep. David Knight
  • Governmental Affairs – Rep. Ed Rynders
  • Health & Human Services – Rep. Sharon Cooper
  • Higher Education – Rep. Rick Jasperse
  • Human Relations & Aging – Rep. Tommy Benton
  • Industry & Labor – Rep. Brian Strickland
  • Information & Audits – Rep. Darlene Taylor
  • Insurance – Rep. Richard Smith
  • Interstate Cooperation – Rep. Matt Dollar
  • Intragovernmental Coordination – Rep. Jan Tankersley
  • Judiciary – Rep. Wendell Willard
  • Judiciary (Non-Civil) – Rep. Rich Golick
  • Juvenile Justice – Rep. Mandi Ballinger
  • Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment – Rep. Johnnie Caldwell
  • MARTOC – Rep. Tom Taylor
  • Motor Vehicles – Rep. Bubber Epps
  • Natural Resources & Environment – Rep. Lynn Smith
  • Public Safety & Homeland Security – Rep. Alan Powell
  • Regulated Industries – Rep. Howard Maxwell
  • Retirement – Rep. Paul Battles
  • Rules – Rep. John Meadows
  • Science & Technology – Rep. Ed Setzler
  • Small Business Development – Rep. Chad Nimmer
  • Special Rules – Rep. Buddy Harden
  • State Planning & Community Affairs – Rep. Jimmy Pruett
  • State Properties – Rep. Gerald Greene
  • Transportation – Rep. Kevin Tanner
  • Ways & Means – Rep. Jay Powell

Chairmen of the subcommittees of Appropriations are as follows:

  • Economic Development – Rep. Penny Houston
  • Education – Rep. Robert Dickey
  • General Government – Rep. Amy Carter
  • Health – Rep. Butch Parrish
  • Higher Education – Rep. Earl Ehrhart
  • Human Resources – Rep. Katie Dempsey
  • Public Safety – Rep. Andy Welch
  • Transportation & Infrastructure – Rep. Jason Shaw

The Committee on Assignments also appointed members of two working groups of the House. Working groups differ from standing committees in that they are term-limited and will expire at the end of this legislative session. These working groups have been tasked with working on legislation relating to military affairs and medical cannabis, respectively.  The chairmen of these two working groups are as follows:

  • Medical Cannabis – Rep. Allen Peake
  • Military Affairs – Rep. Dave Belton

Maggie Lee of the Macon Telegraph looks at the new Medical Cannabis Working Group:

House Speaker David Ralson, R-Blue Ridge, announced the formation of the group on Wednesday. The chair will be Macon Republican state Rep. Allen Peake, author of the state’s medical cannabis possession law.

“I think the naming of this committee just reinforces that this is a real priority for the House, a real priority for Speaker Ralston. And I think that’s a good thing for a lot of Georgia citizens who could potentially benefit,” Peake said.

The new group will be able to hold hearings, and its members will be able to file bills.

Peake has announced two medical cannabis legislative plans this year. First, he will ask fellow lawmakers to set up a 2018 statewide referendum on the cultivation of medical cannabis in Georgia. Second, he wants to open Georgia’s medical cannabis registry to people who have more diagnoses, including post-traumatic stress disorder, autism and chronic pain.

Asked about Peake’s in-state cultivation proposal, Ralson said during a news conference last week, “What I think is important is that we be able to fulfill the promise that was contained in the original (medical cannabis registry) legislation providing access to Georgians.”

Georgia Chamber Focuses on Rural Areas

At the Eggs & Issues breakfast earlier this week, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce announced a new focus on economic issues in rural Georgia.

A key element in the plan will involve reaching out to rural Georgia by forming a new committee to address rural issues and, for the first time, opening a regional office to focus on strengthening the rural economy.

“We can’t have a healthy economy if over half of our counties lose population and close hospitals,” chamber President Chris Clark said during the chamber’s annual Eggs and Issues breakfast at the Georgia World Congress Center.

And from Maggie Lee at the Macon Telegraph:

The chamber will work on legislation to help businesses in rural Georgia, he said, such as making it easier to navigate the complex business of providing broadband internet. The chamber will also hold more events statewide and open a regional office in Tifton that will focus on rural economic prosperity.

“I am excited about the emphasis on rural Georgia,” said Nipper Bunn, chairman of the board of the Forsyth-Monroe County Chamber of Commerce, who was watching from a table at the side of the packed room.

“It seems as though we’ve had ‘two Georgias’ for quite a while,” Bunn said, using a political phrase that’s been around more than two decades. One of the Georgias consists of the mostly urban and suburban counties that attract the most new residents, jobs and investments. The other Georgia is the rest of the state.

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