Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local Columnists

February 18, 2012

Weekly Report to the People Representative Mike Cheokas, District 134 Friday, February 17, 2012

AMERICUS —

Wednesday, February 15th marked the 19th Legislative Day of the 2012 Regular Session of the Georgia General Assembly. Before the Regular Session started the House Insurance Committee met to review HB 820. This measure brought forth by Representative Howard Maxwell (District 17) will allow for the sale of vehicle service agreements or extended warranty agreements to be sold by retail installment sellers. It further states that retail installment sellers comply with all regulations required by the Insurance Commissioner. And it further provides that the retail installment sellers maintain with the Insurance Commissioner current disclosure statements and audited financial statements in order to be exempted from reinsurance requirements. This measure received the Do-Pass recommendation from the Insurance Committee.

We had two measures on the debate calendar. First up was HB 785 by Representative Allen Peake (District 137) which passed by a vote of 167-1. This measure will ensure that the licensing of Medical Doctors and Dentists will continue to be based on competence, education and merit, and not be dependant upon any contractual obligation with a third party government payer.

Next came HB 729 by Representative David Knight (District 126). This four section Bill passed by a vote of 166-0. Section 1 will update and conform the Georgia Tax Code to the Federal Internal Revenue Code for Calendar Year 2011. Section 2 reflects the changes in the state portion of property tax that is scheduled to be repealed. Section 3 contains a Terminal Retail Adjustment Clause (TREC) that guarantees businesses a certain residual price for vehicles when the lease expires. Section 4 provides for insulin to be tax exempt. Immediately following adjournment, the Appropriations Higher Education Sub-Committee met in Room 341 of the Capitol. There Chancellor Hank Huckabee of the University System of Georgia began his remarks with a graph showing the Annual Fall Enrollment Growth over the last ten years. For FY 2001, University System Wide Enrollment was 205,878 students. In the fall of 2011 University System Wide Enrollment stood at 311,442 students. Chancellor Huckabee predicted that in the fall of 2012, System Wide Enrollment would stand at 318,000. He continued with the Budget Briefing by saying that the Governor’s recommended FY 2012 original budget stood at $1,738,915,019. The recommended 2.27% cut was offset by formula funding enrollment growth of 3 percent, increased formula funding for operations due to new buildings coming online and Nursing Faculty Initiatives as well as an increase in the Medical Residency Program which resulted in a net increase of funds to the University System of Georgia of $86,765,208, bringing the total to $1,825,680,227. John Brown, the Budget Director for the University System of Georgia, was introduced to offer a more detailed analysis of the FY 2013 Governor’s Recommended Budget. John stated that the University System FY 2013 Capitol Outlay Bond Projects included $11M for equipment to be used in six buildings that were coming online. Georgia Southwestern State University will be receiving $1.4M for the new Health and Human Sciences Building. He added that each of the four new construction projects that were included in the package totaling $164.5M had substantial local match funding. Also in the bond package was $45M for Major Repair and Rehabilitation (MRR). John concluded his remarks by saying that, “in the Governor’s approximately $700M bond package, the Board of Regents will receive $232.6M.”

Next came Commissioner Ron Jackson for the Technical College System of Georgia. Commissioner Jackson began his remarks by highlighting their accomplishments in 2011. He said that the Technical College System of Georgia:

Implemented Quarter to Semester Conversion

Implemented One Additional Administrative Merger

(Total of 8 Mergers in 3 Years)

Implemented HOPE Grade Requirements with Students

Expanded Articulation and Transfer Agreements with USG System and Private Colleges

Expanded SACS/ COC Accreditation to 21 of 25 Colleges

 (Completing all 25 by 2015).

Then he listed the numbers of students served:

Technical College Enrollment:195,366

Full Time Equivalent Students: 107,629

Total Number of Graduates: 35,579

Trained in QuickStart Programs: 98,544

Jobs Created- QuickStart: 9,507

Jobs Saved- QuickStart: 4,151

Students Served in Adult Education: 82,755

GED Diplomas: 19,066

Again, the 2 percent cut in the Budget was offset by the formula funding enrollment growth, resulting in a $329,570,350  FY 2013 Budget Recommendation for the Technical College System of Georgia. Commissioner Jackson concluded by saying that in the FY 2013 Capital Outlay Bond Package, no new projects were recommended. He said that the $55,550,000 request was for major repair and rehabilitation of existing facilities.

Next came Tim Connell, President of the Georgia Student Finance Commission. He discussed the $650M in lottery funds that would be distributed to students through the HOPE Scholarships, HOPE GED, HOPE Grants, Zell Miller Scholarships and Tuition Equalization Grants. He said that on average it takes students approximately six years to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree. He added that there was a $20M need-based program available to students.

There were a host of visitors that came to Atlanta on Wednesday. Ginger Starlin visited us for State Farm Insurance Day at the Capitol. Joining her were Mike Browning, State Farm Insurance Agent from Cordele, and his lovely wife Kathy. Later, Schley County School System Superintendent, Larry Stubbs, came to my office to proudly share with me the many achievements and accolades his students have achieved. We went on to discuss how the growth in Schley County over the last ten years can be attributed to its successful school system.

At the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee, Chairman, Representative Chuck Martin (District 47) presented HB 920. This measure is designed to determine if tax exemptions meet the objective for which they were granted. Being that this was a hearing, no action was taken.

Representative Ben Watson, MD (District 163) presented HB 845 for consideration at the Health and Human Services Committee. This measure simply requires that parents of children enrolled in licensed day care facilities be given simple written information published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding recommendations for the immunization of children ages 6 months and older against influenza, causes and symptoms of influenza, risks associated with influenza and means by which influenza is spread. This Bill is an effort to increase Georgia’s low immunization rate and received the Do-Pass recommendation.

HB 879 by Representative Matt Ramsey (District 72) requires the Department of Education, the Department of Public Health, the Georgia Board of Nursing, and the Georgia Medical Board to develop guidelines for training school employees in the care of students with diabetes. The local board of education will be required to train at least two school employees and all bus drivers responsible for diabetic students in the recognition of diabetic emergencies. The parents will submit a diabetes medical management plan. Upon written request, the student will be allowed to self-regulate and possess all necessary supplies needed in the treatment of diabetes. HB 870 received the Do-Pass recommendation.

At the Annual Cordele/Crisp County Legislative Fish Fry, I visited with: Wallace Mathis, Chairman of the Crisp County Board of Commissioners; John Watford, ED.D., Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs, South Georgia Technical College; Monica Simmons, Chamber of Commerce President; and Raymond M. Rambo, Jr., President R&R Management, Inc.; Also at the event were Ben Easterling V, President and Jodie Monts, Sales Representative for Flint Environmental. I enjoyed catching up with Ben and Jodie, both who are formally from Americus.

Thursday on the Debate Calendar was HB 835 by Representative Jay Roberts (District 154) which passed by a Vote of 163-0. This measure will allow the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation to issue an “Annual Commercial Wrecker Emergency Tow Permit” for a fee of $500. This permit will allow emergency vehicles to tow disabled, damaged or wrecked commercial vehicles even though the load exceeds the maximum load limits as specified in Code Section 32-6-28.

SB 183, presented by Representative Sharon Cooper (District 41) passed by a vote of 157-1. This Bill will allow local school boards to consult with off-campus health professionals, including the use of telemedicine for the School Nurse Program.

HB 744, by Representative Edward Lindsey (District 54) clearly defines “heirs’ property” and provides for the uniform procedure to divide it upon inheritance. It passed by a Vote of 166-0. Receiving the most debate was HB 800 by Representative Matt Hatchet (District 143) which passed by a vote of 92-61. This measure will allow Army and Air Force Officers that have obtained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel or higher to be appointed by the Governor to the rank of Assistant Adjutant General of the Georgia National Guard. It also removes the requirement that these Officers serve five or more years in the Army or Air National Guard of Georgia prior to their appointment by allowing active duty service to count as an alternative.

I had the opportunity of presenting HR 1325 which passed by a vote of 166-0. This measure urges the U.S. Congress to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to allow the use of cell phone “jamming” technology in Georgia Prisons. In 2011 the Georgia Department of Corrections confiscated more than 8,500 illegal cell phones as contraband and arrested more than 300 visitors and 60 staff employees for attempting to bring illegal cell phones into our state’s prisons. Rampant illegal cell phone use in our prisons are a major contributor to the growing danger of organized crime, gang violence, and terroristic threats. Inmates illegally use cell phones to coordinate attacks and protests against staff, expand criminal activity and increase their money and power from “inside the wire.”

After we adjourned, Christopher King, a reporter for the CBS Atlanta News interviewed me about HR 1325. I told him that it was my hope to raise awareness of the public safety threat that the use of illegal cell phones in our prisons create. I added that the Georgia Institute of Technology has developed cell phone jamming equipment that is cost effective and would render cell phones useless to the inmates in Georgia’s prisons.

Keith Peterson, CEO of Phoebe Sumter Medical Center visited me in Atlanta. He came to show his support for the Georgia Rural Health Association Day at the Capitol.

First on Friday’s Debate Calendar was HB 904 by Representative Robert Dickey (District 136) which passed by a vote of 154-15. This measure will allow for the nonpartisan election of the Probate Judge of Monroe County. HB 824 by Representative Mike Dudgeon (District 24) passed by a vote of 143-23. This measure recalculates the Equalization Grant Formula which is the method the state uses to ensure that the poorest counties can provide a quality basic education. The new formula establishes the statewide average property tax wealth per Full Time Equivalence and seeks to meet that average. Based on this new formula, Sumter County will receive an extra $205,000; Schley County will receive $258,000; Marion County will receive $14,000.

Receiving the most debate was HB 636 by Representative Mike Jacobs (District 80) which passed by a vote of 101-57. This measure will provide for a public referendum for the incorporation of the city of Ashford in DeKalb County. This unincorporated area is currently known as Brookhaven. Session will begin again on Tuesday, as we are off on Monday to honor President’s Day.

Thank you for choosing me to represent you in Atlanta at the State Capitol.

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