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Yesterday was the most drama-filled day at the Capitol that I have experienced in my nearly 4 sessions of lobbying in Georgia.

The focus of the day was the Senate’s scheduled vote on HB 307 which will temporarily raise needed revenues for Medicaid.  HB 307 implements a three-year, 1.45 percent provider fee on hospitals to generate $169 million in net new revenue. These revenues fund Medicaid services and provider reimbursements, helping to fill a gap in Medicaid funding due to the recession.

HB 307 has been the subject of controversy for most of the session since it was proposed by Governor Perdue.  Originally, hospitals, with the support of key leaders in the House, strenuously opposed the measure.  Yet, when the governor stated that if HB 307 does not pass, the Medicaid program will face severe cuts to provider reimbursements and the Senate refused to consider a tobacco tax increase, the hospital association changed its position and agreed to support the bill.

Yesterday, the Senate recessed twice so that leadership could work to convince members to vote for HB 307.  The Democratic Caucus, in the meantime, resolved to vote against the measure. In the end, the measure passed with an amendment that would eliminate health insurance premium taxes sometime in the future.

 The AJC’s account of the vote gives an accurate picture of what happened yesterday and today’s aftermath in which House Speaker Ralston has said that he will reject the Senate’s amendments and send the bill back to the Senate.

From the beginning of the 2010 session, Voices has spoken out for the need to fill the Medicaid hole and avoid reimbursement rate cuts that would have a devastating impact on the health care infrastructure of Georgia.  We have urged that all options, including the hospital fee and the tobacco tax be considered.

The political drama continues, yet, what remains clear is that the legislature must work together to resolve the looming Medicaid crisis by approving new revenue sources.

Mindy Binderman, Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy

Voices for Georgia’s Children

www.georgiavoices.org

Raise your voice for Georgia’s children and families!

Join us at a RALLY FOR REVENUES on Tuesday, March 23rd at 2 pm at the Georgia State Capitol (Washington Street Side).

State budget cuts are already threatening access to health providers, education, child welfare, and quality pre-K in Georgia and around the country. 

This column from New York Time’s columnist Bob Herbert quotes Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician who is president of the Children’s Health Fund in New York and a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Dr. Redlener says:

“We’re looking at all these cuts in human services — in health care, in education, in after-school programs, in juvenile justice. This all points to a very grim future for these children who seem to be taking the brunt of this financial crisis.”

In Georgia, advocates, including Voices for Georgia’s Children, have joined together to call for a more balanced approach to the budget crisis so that Georgia can address the current crisis while also ensuring that our children and our state are well positioned in the future. This crisis cannot be addressed by cuts alone.  The governor and state legislators have already cut essential programs deeply, threatening our state’s progress.  Now, leaders must consider revenue measures.

Raise your voice with us on Tuesday to ensure that revenue options should not be off the table.

Mindy Binderman

Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy

www.georgiavoices.org

The legislature took a 2 week break ostensibly to deal with the state budget and returned today, seemingly without resolution on either the FY 10 amended or the FY11 budgets, to more bad budget news .

The Governor released the February 2010 revenue numbers today.  The revenue collections for the month of February 2010 compared to February 2009 were down 9.9%.  And, last February was pretty grim. 

The news brought demands from Senator Chip Rogers for even more budget cuts, but we are also hearing that some legislators are slowly warming to the idea of the tobacco tax or other new revenues.  That is the only good news in a increasingly dismal budget atmosphere- we cannot simply cut our way out of this budget mess without hurting Georgia’s children and the future growth to our state that they represent. 

There are some rumors that legislators might take another break soon to wait for the March revenue numbers.  Unfortunately, I am not optimistic that next month’s revenues will improve enough to make a difference.

The time has come for a more balanced approach.

 Mindy

The legislature reconvened today after a two week break.  My day was a busy one as I focused on three issues that have attracted a lot of attention this session- taxes, commercial sexual exploitation of children, and guns.

 I began the morning at a rally in support of a $1 increased tax on tobacco.  The bill is what supporters are calling a win-win-win.  It is a win for children’s health as higher costs have been found to deter teen smoking.  It is a win because it has been projected to raise approximately $354 million annually in revenues.  And, finally, it is a win because it is popular.  73%of Georgia voters favor an increased tax on tobacco.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a substitute to SB 304 this afternoon.  Instead of the original version of the bill which would have mandated that children under 16 could not have been prosecuted for prostitution, the substitute would, instead, provide that the child be treated as an unruly child and directs the Governor’s Office for Children and Families to develop an appropriate system of care for such children.  Advocates including Georgia Women for a Change, the Catholic Conference and the Presbytery, the Fulton County DA’s office, and a Future Not a Past spoke in support of the substitute.  Others, including Concerned Women for America and the Freedom Forum continued to express opposition and stated that the girls were not always victims but engaged in sex for money willingly and deserved punishment.  Several of the opponents’ comments led Sen. Seth Harp to ask, ‘What would Jesus have done?”  The hearing concluded without a committee vote.

Finally, late this afternoon, the Senate Special Judiciary Committee held a hearing on SB 308 which specifies where guns can be carried in public.  The bill passed the committee with just one vote opposed by Sen. Donzella James and now goes to the Rules Committee.

Mindy

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