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SB 127: Significantly revised and updates Georgia’s 40 year old Juvenile Code.  Status: Currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, has garnered general support from the Governor’s office as well as the office of the Speaker. Next steps are being developed. To keep up with the progress of this bill, visit http://www.justga.org. Way to go JUSTGeorgia!

HB 200: Seeks to discourage trafficking of persons for labor or sexual servitude and provide greater protections to persons subject to such crime. Status: PASSED the House and Senate (overwhelmingly in both) and now goes to the Governor for a signature.

HB 185: Service providers sheltering with runaway youth to report contact with children within 72 Hours. Status: Recommended Do Pass by the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, but did not come out of the Rules Committee by the end of crossover day. This being the case, a maneuver has occurred whereby the language of this bill, with some modification, has been put into SB 94, virtually replacing the initial language of SB 94. The bill is now on the House general Calendar, and so, may be debated in the Chamber at any time.

SB 63: Calls for the use of a “smart card” to verify identification of Medicaid recipients and provides that the department may also use biometric technology to verify the identity of Medicaid enrollees. Status: Passed the Senate on Crossover Day after much debate on the floor. Has been assigned to the House Health and Human Services Committee, where it will be heard this Thursday.

SB 17: Establishing the Special Advisory Commission on Mandated Health Insurance Benefits. Status: Passed the Senate. Passed the House on Wednesday by a vote of 96-67. Two amendments were added: one adding a pediatrician, an OB/GYN and two business people; the other stated that there would be no per diem related to meetings.

HB 214: Creates a Department of Public Health. Status: Passed the House. Given a Do Pass Recommendation by the full Senate Health and Human Services Committee, and is scheduled for debate and vote on the Floor of the Senate Chamber Thursday.

SB 185: Requires that after the death of any child at any early care program, the commissioner issue an immediate order closing the program for a period of not more than 30 days from the date of the order and also that the commissioner close an early care program when a child’s safety or welfare is in imminent danger. Status: Passed the Senate on 3/16 and has since been given a Do Pass recommendation from the House Education Committee.

The Joint Committee on Tax Reform’s plan for legislation this session has emerged as HB 387, and was given a Do Pass Recommendation this Tuesday by the Committee. The bill has been anticipated on the House floor, but apparently, since emerging from committee, the Senate does not appear to have the votes for passage, which has held up the introduction of the bill in the other Chamber. Subsequently, compromise is still being hammered out, with the Speaker of the House threatening to bring lawmakers back on Saturday if the work is not completed. As the bill originally passed committee, it contained, among other things, the following provisions:

  • The personal income tax rate will be cut from 6% to approximately 4.5%.
  • Most itemized deductions would be eliminated, such as for charitable giving or interest on home mortgages.
  • The tax on energy for manufacture, agriculture, and mining will be eliminated.
  • The tax on telecommunication franchise fees will be eliminated and replaced with a 7% flat tax across all telecommunication services.
  • There will be a tax on personal vehicle sales, excluding family member to family member.
  • There will be a tax levied on automobile service and parts.
  • There will be no taxes on the following (among others): groceries, veterinary services, legal fees, cigarettes, childcare, prescription drugs, haircuts, dry cleaning, cost club memberships.

Note: With only four Legislative Days left, the General Assembly will convene for days 37 and 38 Thursday and Friday of this week, recess next week and then come back in for days 39 and 40 on April 12 and 14.

The only legislation that the General Assembly is constitutionally obligated to vote on each session is the following year’s budget. Wednesday, the Senate version of the FY 2012 budget passed the Senate and, as a result of differences with the House version, will be assigned to Conference Committee made up of three members from each Chamber. Once the Conference Committee agrees, the bill will return to the Chambers for a vote. The Conference Committee process will be repeated until there is agreement. Highlights of the Senate Version are:

  • $2.8 Million restored for the Children First 0-5 screening program
  • 400 additional Childcare slots
  • A loss of funding for the Ferst 0-5 Book Program
  • An agreement with the House to cut Medicaid provider reimbursements by 1/2 %
  • A restoration of funds for the Citizen Review Panels for foster child placement
  • Restoration of funding for Community Health Program grants

This morning the AJC ran a news article related to Senate Bill 63, which is proposed legislation with the stated aim to cut down on Medicaid fraud occuring here in Georgia. If you’ve been following Voices’ weekly updates, you’ve heard about this bill before as it’s one that we’ve been watching carefully. The bill calls for a mandatory pilot project that will utilize “smart cards” and may also include the use of other biometric identification measures (like electronic fingerprinting) to verify the identity of patients enrolled in Medicaid at every point of service, including doctors visits, when picking up medication at the pharmacy, etc. 

Voices has been concerned with how passage and implementation of this bill could have a negative impact. From the standpoint of the child enrolled in Medicaid, questions remain about how to verify the identity of a child or newborn through a photograph and/or through fingerprinting, if utilized. There’s also a conern as to how implementing these measures may further restrict Medicaid enrollees’ access to providers. Medicaid providers already are feeling strapped, since other legislative efforts this session include budget proposals to cut Medicaid provider reimbursement rates and to implement co-pays to be collected at the point of service by providers from children enrolled in PeachCare. If providers additionally are required to manage and maintain equipment and practices for more more stringent verification purposes of patients walking through their door, how many may decide that it’s not worth the hassle and forgo seeing Medicaid patients altogether?

Another concern is how this will impact the state’s bottom line. A fiscal note prepared in response to the original version of the bill gave an initial price tag of about $600,000 for a pilot program and over $23 million for a statewide rollout.

No system operates without fault and this is not to say that Medicaid fraud does not happen. There is a concern, however, that the measures proposed in Senate Bill 63 are not the best way to target fraudulent activity. And now with issues raised in the AJC article, questions are posed regarding how and why this proposed legislation came to be, providing even greater cause for concern.

Joann Yoon, Assoc. Policy Director for Child Health

Voices for Georgia’s Children

HB 185: Service providers sheltering with runaway youth to report contact with children within 72 Hours.  Status:  Recommended Do Pass by the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, but did not come out of the Rules Committee by the end of crossover day.  This being the case, a maneuver has occurred whereby the language of this bill, with some modification, has been put into SB 94, virtually replacing the initial language of SB 94.

HB 200: Seeks to to discourage trafficking of persons for labor or sexual servitude and provide greater protections to persons subject to such crime.  Status:  Passed the House (overwhelmingly) and has been recommended Do Pass by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

HB 373: Would allow the Department of Juvenile Justice or a child to bring a motion to modify custody when the child has been committed to the Department following an adjudication for a designated felony.  The bill allows the court to recognize a child’s good behavior, and academic and rehabilitative progress by granting release from restrictive custody.  The motion could only be filed after the child had served a year in custody, and could not be refiled more than once a year.  Status:  Passed House.  Recommended Do Pass by Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB 17: Establishing the Special Advisory Commission on Mandated Health Insurance Benefits.  Status:  Passed the Senate.  Recommended Do Pass by the House Insurance Committee.

HB 214: Creates a Department of Public Health.  Status: Passed the House.  Given a Do Pass Recommendation by the Senate Health Care Delivery Subcommittee.  The bill now rests in the full Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

One Year Anniversary of the Federal Affordable Care Act:  Click here to check out the Op-ed piece penned by Voices’ Joann Yoon and Cindy Zeldin of Georgians for a Healthy Future.

HB 181: State board of education to waive prior year in Georgia school as requirement for special needs scholarship. The bill has been amended so that the funding formula for the voucher reflects th deduction of the five mill share and austerity cuts so a student going to a private school would not be granted a voucher at a higher rate than a child going to the public school.  Status: Passed the House on Monday (3/14).  This week the bill was given a Do Pass recommendation by the Senate School Choice Subcommittee, and now rests in the full Senate Education and Youth Committee.

HR 192: Creating the Joint Higher Education Finance Study Committee to Evaluate Higher Education Funding Formula.  The bill was amended so that 27 member committee was reduced to 20 with the loss of some legislators and business people, as well as all parents.  Status:  Passed the House and was given a Do Pass recommendation by the Senate School Choice Subcommittee, and now rests in the full Senate Education and Youth Committee.

The Vision for Public Education, a joint venture of GA School Board Association and GA School Superintendents Association, was presented to the House and Senate Education Committees this week.  The project lays out guiding principles, short and long range steps for Public Education in Georgia, covering everything from Early Education and K-12 to funding and implementation goals.

Note:  The Legislative Calendar has been set for the rest of the 2011 Session.  The General Assembly will convene Monday through Friday of next week, recess the following week and then finish up with Legislative Days 39 and 40 on Tuesday 4/12 and Thursday 4/14.  In addition to the many bills still to reach the floors of the Chambers, the 2012 Budget still needs to pass the Senate.  Once that happens, differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget will be resolved in conference committee as the Session winds down.

One of the more significant events of the week was the unveiling of the Joint Committee on Tax Reform’s plan for legislation this session.  The Committee is expected to release a bill in the House on Monday and push it through both Chambers by the end of the week.  Some of the promises of the committee listed in the meeting today are as follows (Note:  the actual bill will be dropped on Monday, and things can still change over the weekend):

  • The Committee will not consider tax credits this session.
  • There will be no taxes on the following (among others):  groceries, veterinary services, legal fees, cigarettes, childcare, prescritpion drugs, haircuts, dry cleaning, cost club memberships.
  • The personal income tax rate will be cut from 6% to approximately 4.5%.
  • The tax on energy for manufacture, agriculture, and mining will be eliminated.
  • The tax on telecommunication franchise fees will be eliminated and replaced with a 7% flat tax across all telecommunication services.
  • There will be a tax on personal vehicle sales, excluding family member to family member.
  • The tax exemption will remain for 529 College Savings Plans.
  • The tax exemption will remain for non-profit organizations.
  • There will be a tax levied on automobile repairs.

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