Weekly Report to the People
Rep. Mike Cheokas, District 138
Friday, Feb. 1
Monday, Jan. 28 was Legislative Day 5 of the 2013 Regular Session of the Georgia General Assembly. Now the members of the Legislature are getting settled with their new Office and Committee Assignments. This week we will have the organizational meetings of our committee which traditionally includes an introduction of members, the chairman goals and a vote on Committee rules. Back in the House Chambers, bills and resolutions are being read and assigned to Committee and so the process of government is moving forward Once assigned to a Committee, it is the responsibility of the author of the legislation to meet with the Committee Chair to request a hearing. That’s when the real work begins.
In Atlanta again this year was Ellaville Mayor David Theiss. He and City Council member Leslie Haynes-Minter attended The Georgia Municipal Association’s Mayor’s Day Training Program. They went to the Environmental Sustainability Training Session. Theiss said “The focus of the course was, anything you do in the environment affects other things, or nothing happens in a vacuum.” Later, both Theiss and Haynes-Minter attended a Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG) Program. MEAG CEO Bob Johnson reported on the state of the Plant Vogtle Expansion and the effects of EPA regulations on coal fired electricity generating plants in Georgia.
On Tuesday, Jan. 29, in observance of Catholic Day at the State Capitol, Rep. Brett Harrell, District 106, introduced the Most Rev. Wilton D. Gregory, SLD, Archbishop of Atlanta, to lead us in prayer. The Archbishop made reference to the number “40” in the Bible. The 40 days and nights of the Great Flood, the 40 years that the children of Israel wandered in the Sinai desert and the 40 days that Jesus Christ, our Lord, fasted. Then he compared the references to the 40 days that the Legislature meets each year and challenged us with a verse from Micah 6: 8 in the Old Testament, “To do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” After the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of our country, we began the Legislative Day.
In honor of Georgia National Guard Day at the State Capitol, our own Rep. John Yates, District 73, stood at the Speaker’s podium to introduce Maj. Gen. James Butterworth, adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard. Yates is a true American hero. During the World War II, he served under Gen. George Patton as a field artillery captain in Patton’s Third Army. He flew a piper airplane for reconnaissance and saw action during the Battle of the Budge. He told the story of how he disabled a German tank by dropping a five-gallon gas can on it.
Butterworth then thanked Yates for his service and Yates received a standing ovation. Butterworth then said that there were 13,821 Georgia National Guardsmen and women in the state. He said that more than 15,000 have been deployed since Sept. 11, 2001, in combat operations overseas. There are Georgia Guards men and women living in every county in Georgia and there are 60 units based in towns throughout the state. He then talked about the economic impact the Guard has in Georgia:
• $25 million in state income tax by Guardsmen
• $9 million in state funding
• $512 million in federal funding
• $91 million in military construction projects
He concluded his remarks by talking about the Georgia National Guard Youth Challenge Academy and its impact on high school dropouts. He said that 10,487 have received their diplomas and graduated from the Academy. Go Guard!
There are 47 Guardsmen in Sumter County, nine Guardsmen in Schley County, five Guardsmen in Marion Count, and 11 Guardsmen in Chattahoochee County.
When we adjourned, we were all treated to Varsity hot dogs at the Capitol, furnished by the Georgia Council of Public Libraries. The Librarians were in town to request additional state funding for:
• Parity in pay scales
• Library collections
• Capital grants for facilities
Visiting from Americus was Anne Isbell, director of Lake Blackshear Regional Library. Over hot dogs, she pointed out how the role of public libraries has evolved and grown. She echoed the Council’s examples of services our citizens look to public libraries to provide:
• When tax payers are unemployed, where do they go to create a resume and start their job search? Their public library.
• When students need to have a test proctored for their distance learning class, where do they go? Their public library.
• When adults need Child Support Services, CDL licensing tests, file tax forms, fill in FAFSA and college applications, where do they go? Their public library.
That afternoon the Insurance Committee visited Ralph Hudgens, the Commissioner of Insurance, at his offices across the street from the Capitol in the West Tower of the James H. Floyd Building. Hudgens pointed out that he is also the Safety Fire Commissioner, the Industrial Loan Commissioner and the Comptroller General. He introduced his Deputy Commissioners and Directors and they each described their responsibilities.
Later that day we attended the “Georgia Association of Convenience Stores” Legislative Reception also in the James H. Floyd Building. Jim Tudor, president of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores, is one of the most respected Association presidents at the Capitol. His knowledge and experience of the Legislative Process are only beat by his integrity and sincerity. He has seen a lot in the past 30 years and he represents his industry well. His is quick to point out that there are 6,626 convenience stores in Georgia. Their combined annual payroll is almost $1.5 billion and they employ 72,885 Georgians, adding 1,005 jobs last year.
Wednesday, Jan. 30 was Georgia Tech Day at the Capitol. Bud Peterson, president, was invited to speak at the Speaker’s podium. He was introduced by Rep. Buzz Brockway, District 102, and Rep. Mike Dudgeon, District 25, both graduates of Georgia Tech. Peterson also brought along Georgia Tech Mascot “Buzz” who entertained us from the Gallery.
Rep. Ellis Black, District 174, and Rep. Jason Spencer, District 180, then went to the podium to introduce and welcome Capt. Rhett Jaehn of the USS Georgia (SSGN-729). The USS Georgia, commissioned in 1984, is an active service Ohio-class submarine and the fourth “Trident” class nuclear powered submarine in the U.S. Naval Fleet. She is equipped to carry 154 Tomahawk missiles and 66 Special Forces personnel, Navy SEALS. Her home is The Naval Submarine Base at Kings Bay in Camden County, Ga.
Visiting from Americus was Alex Riccardi, a dental school student at Georgia Regents University in Augusta. She came to Atlanta to show her support for the Georgia Dental Association (GDA) Legislative Agenda. The GDA supports HB 132, which transfers the Georgia Board of Dentistry and the Georgia State Board of Pharmacy from being administratively attached from the Secretary of State to the Department of Community Health, and SB 24, “The Hospital Medicaid Financing Program Act.”
Three other groups were recognized at the Capitol on Wednesday:
• Building Georgia 2013: Sponsored by the American Institute of Architects, Georgia; the American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia; and the Association of General Contractors
• Georgia Economic Developers Association (GEDA)
• Georgia State Retirees Association (GSRA), which is made up of 5,800 retired and active state employees and educators.
Thursday, Jan. 31, Legislative Day 8, we had two measures on the Debate Calendar come before us for a vote. First was HB 55 by Rep. Rich Golick, District 40, which passed by a vote of 164-1. The purpose of this bill is to allow superior court judges jurisdiction over a particular crime under investigation to issue a warrant with statewide application. Because modern technology allows criminal enterprises beyond one area or jurisdiction, judges need the ability to grant statewide authority for wiretaps.
Next came HB 57 by Rep. Matt Ramsey, District 72. This legislation seeks to expand the list of substances that are considered illegal by the state of Georgia to include the most recently developed components of synthetic marijuana. It passed by a vote of 167-1.
It was Columbus State University Day at the Capitol on Thursday. Tim Mescon, president of Columbus State, was recognized in the Gallery. The Capitol was filled with Columbus State students talking about the different programs that are offered there. Over a box lunch on the first floor, Mescon shared with me and other legislators the many successes and accomplishments the University has achieved. He also requested support for the renovation of Howard Hall, which is part of a long-term plan to revitalize the academic core of the campus.
Visiting from Cusseta and Americus was Larry Dillard, the Chattahoochee County District supervisor for the Pine Mountain Soil and Water Conservation District. He joined me for the Weekly Rural Caucus Meeting. This week it was held at the Department of Agriculture Building across from the Capitol and hosted by Gary Black, Agriculture commissioner. Our program was Governor Nathan Deal.
He spoke about the importance of the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, adding that they provide the state with hard facts to better create public policy. He continued by pointing out how SB 24 was vital to the survival of rural hospitals.
At the organizational meeting of the Insurance Committee I saw Russ Childers from Americus. He was in Atlanta to attend a Georgia Association of Health Underwriters meeting.
Also visiting from Americus was Darrell Sabbs, director of Community Benefits and Legislative Affairs at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany. He brought a letter from Tommy Chambless, senior vice president of Phoebe Putney Health System. It said, “This comes to make sure that you know how important SB 24 is to the hospital industry in the state of Georgia, particularly providers who have significant caseloads of Medicaid patients. Should the existing provider fee disappear July 1, thus depriving the state of finding necessary to draw down additional federal funds, it would be devastating to hospitals such as Phoebe Sumter and Phoebe Putney Memorial, which have very heavy Medicaid and indigent patient caseloads. I, and others, certainly stand ready to discuss this with you in further detail any time you desire it, but this comes to assure you of the interest that Phoebe Putney Health System has in the passage of Senate Bill 24, and we certainly hope that we can count upon you to be supportive of this very important piece of legislation affecting so many of your constituents.”
I later received a fax from Keith Petersen, CEO of Phoebe Sumter Medical Center. He wrote: “I agree with this (SB 24) and hope we can count on your support.”
Friday, Feb. 1, Legislative Day 9. The only legislation on the Debate Calendar was SB 24, by Sen. Charlie Bethel, District 54, and presented by Rep. Matt Hatchett, District 150, the Governor’s floor leader. SB 24, the “Hospital Medicaid Financing Program Act” will authorize the Board of the Georgia Department of Community Health to establish and assess one or more provider payments on hospitals. The Board has the authority to discontinue the payments if the funds are no longer eligible for federal matching funds. All revenues raised under this Act will be kept in a segregated fund within the Indigent Care Trust Fund. The sole purpose of these funds is to obtain federal participation for medical assistance payments to providers on behalf of Medicaid recipients. This provides the funds necessary to draw down a 2 to 1 match from the federal government. The General Assembly retains the authority to override the board’s provider assessment. Furthermore, the General Assembly retains the right, through the appropriations process, to adjust the amount of money flowing towards the hospitals. The provisions of SB 24 are automatically repealed on June 30, 2017, unless reauthorized by the General Assembly. It becomes effective upon the Governor’s signature or July 1, 2013, whichever happens first. Alaska is the only state that does not use this process in some form to draw down Federal funds. The same process has been successfully used by the nursing home industry for many years. This provider rate is needed to encourage economic development and act as a selling point for businesses moving into rural areas of Georgia.
This measure was supported by the Georgia Hospital Association, the Alliance of Community Hospitals, and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. It passed by a vote of 147-18.
Thank you for choosing me to represent you in Atlanta at the State Capitol.
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