Department of Community Health: The House Appropriations Committee passed the proposed DCH budget for 2012.  The Health Appropriations Subcommittee made the changes to the Governor’s proposed bill, a few of which are highlighted below:

  • Changes Medicaid certification period to 12 months, rather than the current 6-month period
  • Restores $1.5 million in state funds for the Children 1st Program
  • Transfers $1.3 million in funds to DCH from DHS to streamline enrollment in Medicaid and in WIC
  • Kept in place the optional benefit coverage for adult vision, dental, and podiatry services, to the Medicaid Aged, Blind, Disabled enrollees
  • Decreased the provider reimbursement cut by ½, resulting in a total proposed cut of 0.5%
  • Despite concerns raised by Voices and other provider groups, the Health Appropriations Subcommittee did not make any changes to the proposed implementation of co-pays for enrollees in PeachCare for Kids

Department of Human Services Budget: The House Appropriations Committee also passed the proposed DHS budget for 2012.  Among the changes by subcommittee were:

  • Inclusion of $680,000 to provide 15 waivers for youth who are scheduled to age out of the state foster care system
  • Increased funding for 400 new slots for child care services
  • Transfer of $1.3 mil to DCH for fast-tracking enrollment among Medicaid and WIC enrollees
  • Restoration of proposed cuts to Marcus Institute
  • Rejection of the proposed transfer of Georgia Family Connection Partnership to move under the purview of the Georgia Office of Children and Families

Medicaid Fingerprinting: A substitute to SB 63 (Sen. Albers, 56th) was submitted by Senator Johnny Grant (Dist. 25) and the sub passed favorably out of the full Senate Insurance Committee with one dissenting vote from Sen. Nan Orrock (Dist.26).  The substitute is similar to the original in that its intent is to decrease incidence of Medicaid fraud, but the bill was stripped of the requirement that a biometric identity verification process must be used.  Instead, the bill calls for the use of a “smart card” to verify identification and provides that the department may also use biometric technology to verify the identity of Medicaid enrollees.  The vote came after a rather lengthy hearing, at which about 11 different individuals testified, the majority of whom stated concerns about the original bill.

Department of Public Health: HB 214 (Rep. Mickey Channell, dist. 116), which would establish a separate Department of Public Health, passed out of the House this past week.  The bill is being carried in the Senate by Sen. Greg Goggans (7th).

Health Exchange: HB 476 (Rep. Richard Smith, Dist. 131) would establish the Georgia Health Exchange Authority, a governance body to oversee planning for a health insurance exchange for Georgia.  The bill passed favorably out of subcommittee and the full House Insurance Committee by substitute this past week.  The only change included in the substitute was to move up by a few weeks the date by which this advisory committee must issue its report.

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Note: The 30th legislative day takes place this coming Wednesday.  This is generally the last day which a bill can pass from one chamber to another during this session.  That said, the days leading up to and including Wednesday will be busy both in committee and on the floors of the Chambers. 

Georgia’s Pre-K: Monday, Governor Deal announced his revised plan for the Lottery funded Pre-K Program.  The program will maintain it’s current full day (6.5 hour) program, shorten the annual number of days from 180 to 160, eliminate funding for Pre-K Transition Coaches, and will add 2000 slots (as opposed to the 5000 slots proposed in the initial plan), bringing the total number of Pre-K lots to 86,000.  For more details, click here.

HOPE: Having passed the House on Tuesday, the Governor’s HOPE bill (HB 326, Rep. Doug Collins, 27th Dist.), which lays out parameters for post-secondary education funding, passed the Senate on Wednesday, adding four amendments.  Thursday, the bill went back to the House, which approved the amendments.  It now goes to the Governor for his signature, which is expected early next week.  There is no GA Pre-K language in that bill.

Faith based Child Care Centers and Pre-K’s: Wednesday, SB 152 (Sen. Don Balfour, Dist. 9) was heard in the Academic Support Subcommittee of the Senate Education & Youth Committee.  The bill would require day-care centers and child care learning centers operated as part of a local church ministry, a nonprofit religious school or a nonprofit religious charitable organization operate in accordance with the same fire safety, health, and safety rules and regulations established by the board for the operation of licensed day-care centers, but would exempt these day-care centers from licensure all other rules established by the board.  The Chairman decided to hold the bill until the 2012 Legislative Session so that the bill’s sponsor can work on the language during the interim with the Department of Early Care and Learning and other interested parties.

Death of Child in Child Care Program: This week the Senate Education and Youth Committee gave a Do Pass recommendation to SB 185 (Rep. Freddie Powell Sims, 4th Dist.).  This bill would require 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.  This bill would also require that the commissioner close an early care program when a child’s safety or welfare is in imminent danger.

The Pre-K program for FY12 will open its doors in the fall with the best possible plan given the reduced budget, but another door has opened that bodes well for the future of young children in Georgia.

Governor Nathan Deal announced changes today to his Pre-K proposal that will maintain a high level of quality and will reduce disruptions to children, families, and providers.  The choices were tough for the Governor and his Commissioner of Early Care and Learning but they promise to maximize the budget dollars reserved for PreK.

There is other good news that comes from this crisis and from the very energetic voices that were heard by our elected and appointed leaders.  The experience we have had in the state with Pre-K for the last 18 years has made believers out of Georgians:  Pre-K is not a luxury; it is an early and fundamental step in a child’s learning and preparation for school and for life. 

The voices that were heard at the state capitol were not just from current parents and teachers at risk of losing hours or jobs. Other voices were loud and clear about the importance of Pre-K to later learning; the need for high quality in the program; the impact on working parents; and the value of  well trained professionals.  Why else would  Pre-K teachers suggest increasing their class sizes?  would school superintendents begin searching for local funding? would advocates agree to a smaller increase in slots?  would center directors accept smaller profits or, for nonprofits, the need for more fundraising?  All are advocates for preserving and extending early learning opportunities because they know that both children and the state’s economy are significantly affected by these investments.

The governor likewise understands the value of early learning for Georgia.  We congratulate him for upholding his commitment to reducing the waiting list and maintaining qualified professionals to teach our children.  And we look forward to working together to continue to improve Georgia Pre-K and all early childhood programs as times improve.

Pat Willis, Executive Director

Voices for Georgia’s Children

Federal Budget: This week, the U.S. Senate vote to pass a two-week Continuing Resolution for the federal budget that will keep the federal government going for the time being.  The CR includes $4 billion in cuts, which impact vital programs for children and families.  If signed by the President, the CR will continue through March 18, 2011.

Supreme Court: The Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a case involving child-abuse investigations at school, questioning whether a search warrant or a parent’s consent is required before a child can be questioned at school by a child care worker or a police officer.  For a basic overview, check out this article:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/27/AR2011022703904.html

Human Trafficking Bill: HB 200 (Rep. Edward Lindsey, 54th Dist.) passed the House on Wednesday with a vote of 168 to 1, and now goes on to the Senate.

Runaway Shelter Bill: Thursday, HB 185 (Rep. Tom Weldon, 3rd Dist.) will undergo it’s third hearing in the Setzler Subcommittee of the Non-Civil Judiciary Committee.  The Runaway Youth Safety Act would require that service providers who deal with runaway or homeless youth to contact the parents or legal custodians of a runaway child or file a report in compliance with Code Section 19-7-5 no later than 72 hours after initial contact with a child to prevent being charged with the crime of interfering with custody.   This bill would also define a service provider to mean any community-based program with staff trained to provide services to children who have run away or children who are homeless or their families.

Medical Loss Ratio Waiver: On Monday, the Senate Health Care Delivery Subcommittee of the Insurance Committee voted DO PASS out of subcommittee by a vote of 2-1 on SB 22 (Judson Hill, Dist. 32), which authorizes the state Insurance Commissioner to apply for a waiver from the federal government to meet Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) requirements set into law by the Affordable Care Act. MLR sets standards for what percentage of a consumer’s premium must go toward medical care, as opposed to administrative costs or amounts retained for profit by the insurance company.  This legislation does not afford the Insurance Commissioner any new authority, as the Insurance Commissioner already has the authority to apply for this waiver.

Medicaid/PeachCare Fingerprinting: SB 63 (Albers, Dist. 56) would require all individuals enrolled in Medicaid and PeachCare, including children and infants, to be fingerprinted when first enrolled within the program and at the point of receiving medical care as a means to decrease fraud.  The Senate Health Care Delivery Subcommittee of the Insurance Committee by majority chose not to bring this bill to a vote but decided to wait for a fiscal note to be completed first.  Some issues raised were about access to data to inform at which points Medicaid fraud occurs, what the costs to implement would be, whether requiring fingerprints would violate federal maintenance of effort (MOE) provisions and put federal Medicaid dollars to Georgia at risk, what if any additional administrative functions would be needed, and whether implementation would negatively impact access to care.

Georgia’s Pre-K/HOPE:  This week the Governor’s HOPE bill (HB 326, Rep. Doug Collins, 27th Dist.), which lays out parameters for post-secondary education funding, passed the House and is now being taken up in the Senate Higher Education committee. There is no GA Pre-K language in that bill.  The jury is still out on the final plan for Pre-K this year, but expectations are that the $54 Million cut for FY 2012 will remain, whatever form the programmitic changes take.

Last Wednesday, the Child Protection and Public Safety Act (the Children’s Code Rewrite bill) was reintroduced as Senate Bill 127 (formerly SB 292) by Senator Bill Hamrick of Carrollton (District 30) along with 43 co-sponsors.

For those of us involved in the project or watching the bill, we were thrilled when we learned that it had been refiled.  Things moved pretty swiftly since then as the first hearing on the bill was held at the Capitol on Monday, Feb. 28th. Even with the short notice, the hearing was packed with stakeholders and advocates ready to provide their support and input.

This hearing was quite productive and provided legislators with an overview of the expected long-term cost savings of the bill, a summary of changes from its original form to what is now SB 127 as well as the substantive changes proposed to the delinquency article.  We fully expect to have additional hearings to review the remainder of the bill and welcome public participation and input.  To ensure that you’re aware of upcoming hearings and all the activities surrounding the Children’s Code Rewrite, sign up to receive email updates and become a JUSTGeorgia coalition member.

Julia Neighbors, JUSTGeorgia Project Manager

Private School Tax Credits: HB 325 (Rep. Earl Ehrhart, 36th Dist.) alters Georgia’s existing private school scholarship tax credit law. Among other things, the bill would:

  • Increase the current cap on the program from $50 million to $62.5 million and, in effect, permanently remove any cap on tax credits for future years,
  • Remove any income limits on SSO tax credits by individuals or married couples, provided that they pay at minimum 25 percent of their total tax liability,
  • Allow private pre-kindergarten programs to be eligible to receive SSO funds.

Children’s Law Re-write: SB 127 (Sen. Bill Hamrick, 30th Dist.), formerly known as SB 292, now revised and known as the “Children’s Code Rewrite,” was reintroduced Wednesday, February 23. This omnibus bill substantially revises the current provisions related to juvenile proceedings, based on evidence-based best practices, Efforts to move it toward passage will recommence with an ongoing series of legislative hearings, starting Monday at the State Capitol at 3:00 p.m.

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