Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local Columnists

February 18, 2013

State Rep. Mike Cheokas: February 17, 2013

Atlanta — Monday, Feb. 11 was Legislative Day 15 of the 2013 Session of the Georgia General Assembly. As more and more bills and resolutions go through the Committee process, we are seeing more activity on the Debate Calendar.

First up was HB 59, by Rep. Tom Taylor, District 79, which passed by a vote of 157-9. This measure requires alarm monitoring companies to use a second contact for alarm verification in the event that no contact is made on the first attempt. This measure is intended to assist law enforcement officers by reducing the number of false alarm responses. The second verification call will not be required in the event of a fire alarm, panic alarm, robbery in progress or crime in progress alarm which has been verified by video or audio means.

HB 79 by Rep. Wendall Willard, District 51, is the annual General Reviser Bill, which passed by a vote of 160-3. This measure simply corrects, modernizes and revises errors and omissions in the Official Code of Georgia.

HB 115 by Rep. Tom Dickson, District 6, passed by a vote of 151-15. This bill changes the procedure used by the State Board of Education for suspending members of a local Board of Education following their school system’s loss of accreditation. This bill requires the local Board of Education to notify the State Board within three business days of losing accreditation. It also allows the State Board of Education 90 days to conduct a hearing.

HB 116, also by Rep. Dickson, passed by a vote of 165- 0. This measure allows the State Board of Education the ability to transfer items (such as donations, gifts, property, etc.) that belong to the State Board to the Georgia Foundation for Public Education. It further gives the authority over the administration and management of these items to the Foundation.

The final measure on the Debate Calendar Monday was HB 154 presented by Rep. Mark Hamilton, District 24, which passed by a vote of 165-0. This measure is the product of the Advisory Committee for the State Board of Worker's Compensation. It caps medical payments for non-catastrophic cases at 400 weeks; it requires insurers to reimburse for mileage expenses within 15 days (down from 30); it changes the interest rate from 7 percent to 5 percent on advances on settlements; it requires a good faith effort for an employee to try a job made available to him or her within the restrictions from their physician; it increases the maximum Temporary Total Disability (TTD) and Temporary Partial Disability (TPD) rates to $525 and $350 per week, respectively.

That afternoon at the House Health and Human Services Committee meeting, there were three Bills on the agenda.

HB 208 by Rep. Ben Watson, M.D., District 166, requires nursing homes to offer free flu shots to their healthcare workers and employees. This measure received the “Do Pass” recommendation.

Next was HB 209, also by Rep. Watson. This bill revises the definition of Security Paper used by doctors to prescribe medication. It adds Medicare and Medicaid approved prescription pads to the list of Security Paper acceptable by pharmacist sand pharmacies. This measure also received the “Do Pass” recommendation.

In an attempt to control the rapid growth of Unregulated Pain Management Clinics in the state of Georgia, Rep. Tom Weldon, District 3, brought forth HB 178, titled “The Georgia Pain Management Clinic Act.” After the state of Florida restricted the expansion of these so-called Pain Management Clinics, commonly known as "pill mills," they began to move to the state of Georgia and expand their business here. His lengthy and detailed legislation will require that these pain management clinics be owned and operated by Georgia Composite Medical Board approved doctors.  t gives the Composite Medical Board extensive authority in the licensing and regulation of these clinics. It also requires law enforcement officers, medical examiners, the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Medical Examiner's Office authorization to send pertinent records on deaths suspected of being the result of Pain Management Clinic abuse to the Georgia Composite Medical Board.  We heard testimony from many law enforcement agencies.  These agencies reported an increase in deaths due to prescription drug overdose when these clinics moved into their locality. This measure expands on the successful Legislation passed in Florida and other states. HB 178 also received the “Do Pass” recommendation. Keep up the good work Tom!

After we adjourned I attended Georgia's Electric Membership Corporation's Annual Legislative event at the Georgia Railroad Depot. There I visited with Bob Jernigan, chairman of the Board of Directors of Sumter Electric Membership Corporation. He was accompanied by board members William Harris and Willie Cutts. Charles Kendrick from Sumter EMC provided the transportation. They were in Atlanta to attend the Georgia Electric Membership Corporation Advisory Board meeting earlier in the day. Representing Flint Energies was Bob Ray, CEO, and board members David Cleveland of Fort Valley and Neal Talton of Bonaire.

 Tuesday, Feb. 12 was Girl Scout Day at The Capitol. Girl Scouts have  always been about leadership. Many women who are leaders in their fields — medicine, law, journalism, education, science, politics, finance and more — credit Girl Scouting with helping them to build the critical set of skills that paved their road to success! Eighty percent of women business owners were Girl Scouts; 6 percent of female U. S. Senators were Girl Scouts; 67 percent of female members of the U.S. House of Representatives were Girl Scouts.  And virtually every female astronaut who has flown in space was a Girl Scout.  Girl Scouts have identified three keys to leadership. Girls: 1) discover a strong sense of self; 2) connect with their communities; and 3) take action to make the world a better place. Rep. Debbie Buckner, District 137, treated each of us to a box of Girl Scout cookies.

First on the Debate Calendar was HR 4 from Rep. Harry Geisinger, District 48. This measure passed by a vote of 171-2 and authorizes the Governor to enter into negotiations with the state of Tennessee to resolve a dispute that arose from a flawed 1818 survey of the boundary line between the state of Georgia and the state of Tennessee. It further lays claim to riparian water rights to the Tennessee River at Nickajack.

HB 101 by Rep. Bubber Epps, District 144, passed by a vote of 160- 2. This measure amends the definition of food service establishment pertaining to nonprofit organizations. It allows local governments the authority to issue permits to nonprofit organizations for special events through the County Board of Health. It further provides that no fees shall be charged to a nonprofit organization for the issuance of a permit.

Rep. Allen Peake, District 141, brought before us a series of four Senate bills dealing with nonpartisan elections for the newly Unified Government of Macon/Bibb County. SB 25, passed by a vote of 111-62, provides for the nonpartisan election of the Mayor and Commissioners. SB 26 passed by a vote of 110-62.  This measure provides for the nonpartisan election of the Coroner, Judge of the Civil Court, Chief Magistrate of Magistrate Court,  and the Probate Judge of the Probate Court. SB 30 which passed by a vote of 108-66, provides for the nonpartisan election of members of the Macon/Bibb County Board of Education. SB 31 passed by a vote of 114-61. This measure provides for the nonpartisan election of members of the Macon/Bibb County Water and Sewer Authority.

Wednesday, Feb. 13 started early with the House Insurance Committee meeting. HB 254 by Rep. Bruce Williamson, District 115, received a “Do Pass” recommendation. This measure allows insurance companies to verify motor vehicle liability insurance coverage via mobile electronic communication devices.

HB 235 by Rep. Earl Ehrhart, District 36, also received the “Do Pass” recommendation. This measure expands the prescriptive authority for doctors of optometry. It also removes the exemption for continuing education requirements for persons practicing optometry who are 65 years of age or older.

 Immediately after the Insurance Committee adjourned, I attended the Georgia General Assembly Rural Caucus. The first order of business was to change the By-laws to include state senators.

Next we had a program sponsored by the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA). The GMA voiced its opposition to HB 282 by Rep. Mark Hamilton, District 24. This measure would prevent municipal governments from entering into broadband digital networks that compete with existing businesses.

The GMA then voiced support for HB 128, “The Georgia Downtown Renaissance Act” by Rep. Alan Peake, District 141. This measure would provide tax credits as an incentive to private sector investments in downtown areas and creates The Georgia Renaissance Fund to support these investments.

During session we took up five measures on the Debate Calendar. HB 103 by Rep. Jason Shaw, District 176, passed by a vote of 173- 0. This measure provides the Commissioner of Insurance the ability to allow insurance companies to issue group life insurance to certain groups who otherwise do not qualify as a group.

HB 135, by Rep. Andy Welch, District 110, passed by a vote of 172-1. This measure clarifies existing law and requires that notices to local governments be issued prior to litigation and must specify the amount of damages sought. It also specifies that these notices should be served to the mayor or the chairman of the City Council/County Commissions by certified mail or standard overnight delivery.

HB 198 by Rep. Richard Smith, District 134, passed by a vote of 154-16. This measure defines Health Insurance Navigators. These are individuals who give expert advice on health insurance. HB 198 also allows the Commissioner of Insurance licensing authority over the Navigators and requires the appropriate training, continuing education and regulatory background checks.  

HB 50 by Rep. Sharon Cooper, District 34, passed by a vote of 152-16. This measure requires registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, advanced practice registered nurses, nursing employers and state nursing license agencies to report to the Nursing Board any violation of the Nursing Code, suspected or witnessed.

The last measure on the debate calendar for Wednesday was HB 60 by Rep. Doug Holt, District 112, which passed by a vote of 167-3. This bill broadens the type of judges that have the ability to carry firearms in places such as government buildings and schools zones. It provides for all retired state, local and federal judges, full-time and permanent part-time judges of municipal and city courts, and former judges retired from their respective offices to be exempt from the restrictions involving the Right to Carry Firearms.

That afternoon at the House Information and Audit Committee meeting, we heard a presentation by Greg Griffin, the State Auditor. He said that the Department of Audits was created by the General Assembly in 1923, and consists of 10 areas of operations: State Government, Education Audits, Performance Audits, Healthcare Audits, Technology Risk and Assurance, Nonprofit and Local Government Audits, Sales Ratio, Office of Quality Assurance, Information Technology, and Administrative. He said that the Department’s staff of professional and administrative personnel is committed to promoting accountability and stewardship in state and local government.  The Department has 270 professional personnel: 78 CPAs, 7 CIAs (Certified Internal Auditors), 30 CFEs (Certified Fraud Examiners), 11 CISAs (Certified Information System Auditors), 77 professional personnel with advanced degrees, 74 with other professional designations such as Certified Government Auditing Professional (CGAP), Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM), and Certified General Real Property Appraiser.

He concluded, "The Department of Audits and Accounts exists to provide independent, objective audit and assurance services and information to leadership of the State, agency- management and the citizens of Georgia in order to improve government accountability and transparency."

At the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee meeting held in Room 341 of the State Capital, we heard presentations from: John Brown with the University System of Georgia;  Ron Jackson, commissioner for the Technical College System of Georgia; Tim Connell, president of the Georgia Student Finance Commission; Teya Ryan, executive director of Georgia Public Broadcasting; and Lamar Veatch, State Librarian. Consistent throughout each presentation was the 3 percent cut in state funds to each of these agencies.  

Next Rep. Earl Ehrhart, District 36, and chairman of the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee, presented HB 45. This measure extends the carry forward of revenue for the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia from June 30, 2013 to June 30, 2016. This measure received the “Do Pass” recommendation.

At a State Properties Committee meeting there were two measures up for consideration. Frank Smith, deputy director of the State Properties Commission, presented for consideration HR 205, which is the annual property conveyance legislation.

Next came Rep. Tommy Benton, District 31, with HB 91 which received the “Do Pass” recommendation. This measure states that no publicly owned monument located on the real property owned by the state of Georgia shall be removed or concealed from display. It further defines the liability and cost should such a monument be damaged, destroyed or removed.

Thursday, Feb. 14, Legislative Day 18 was University of Georgia Day at the Capital. Retiring President Michael Adams was honored at the podium and thanked for his 16 years of service. Speaker David Ralston and Rep. Chuck Williams, District 119, informed us of the many accolades and accomplishments the University of Georgia received during President Adam’s tenure. The University of Georgia became America's first State-Chartered University in 1785. It has produced 21 Fulbright Scholars in the last three years and since 1996, UGA has produced eight Rhodes Scholars, 37 Goldwater Scholars and 10 Truman Scholars. In the area of research, over 300 commercial products and 123 start-up companies have originated from UGA.

First up on the Debate Calendar was HB 194, presented by Rep. Jay Powell, District 171, which passed by a vote of 160-0. This bill gives the current venue option available for railroads and power companies to gas utility companies. In the event of a tort or breach of contract suit brought against a gas utility, the case can be heard in the County where the incident occurred increasing the likelihood of a speedy resolution to the case.

HB 87 by Rep. Dusty Hightower, District 68, passed by a vote of 141-20. This measure adds private property lines of a Restricted Access Residential Community (Gated Community) to the list of acceptable borders for voting precincts, allowing election officials greater leeway in drawing voting precincts that represent communities of interest.

HB 202 by Rep. Bubber Epps, District 144, passed by a vote of 160-0. This housekeeping measure is the annual Georgia Department of Transportation legislation that updates Georgia law.

HB 80 by Rep. Tom Rice, District 95, passed by a vote of 159-4. This measure amends the ad valorem title fee system established in the Tax Reform Package of 2012. It adjusts the definition of fair market value for purchased and leased vehicles. Rented vehicles will be assessed a cumulative use tax of .75 percent collected by the rental company. It allows for online registration and creates a misdemeanor for failure to obtain title and registry of a motor vehicle. Other sections of this bill were needed to further clarify the ad valorem title fee.  

John Hagin, Young Farmer advisor and agriculture teacher at Marion County Middle High School, brought a group to Atlanta for the 2013 Georgia Young Farmers Legislative Conference. He said there are 137 students in the FFA program and 39 Young Farmers in Marion County. Accompanying John was his lovely wife Mari-Beth, who is a radiology student at Southern Crescent Technical College. Kevin Wells, treasurer for the Young Farmer Association in Marion County, was also on hand. They brought along three outstanding students: Caleb Chatman, a senior, is FFA president. He plans to attend Columbus Technical College and study x-ray technology. Forrest Crowder, a senior, is FFA vice president and plans to attend Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and study forestry and wildlife management. David Garrett, a senior, FFA sentinel, plans to attend South Georgia Technical College and study electrical engineering. It is always great to have our future leaders come visit their Capitol in Atlanta. Keep up the good work, John!  

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


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