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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

Spent a day this week going through my wildly out-of-control email inbox and trying to catch-up on a few things – Okay, on a lot of things…my apologies to those of you who didn’t always get the most timely responses 😉

It was a lot of work, but I’m glad I did it. As overwhelmed as I feel by all the “updates” sent to me, the reality is they often provide great information. One I thought was particularly worth sharing came from Connect For Kids. They send biweekly email updates that cover a huge range of child advocacy topics. Apparently last year they counted the “hits” on each of the stories/links in those weekly updates and compiled a list of the most popular. Take a look at their website or go directly to any of the stories below that were of interest to folks all across the country.

b

FROM CONNECT FOR KIDS:

The Most Popular Items from Updates in 2009

Overall, you clicked on funding alerts more than any other single category in the 2009 CFK Updates. It’s not really fair to single out a few feature items, but it is interesting. Here, in a nutshell, were your favorites:

The House passed the FY 10 Amended budget today.  The bill calls for furloughs of state personnel including teachers, caseworkers and food stamp eligibility workers and cuts to funding for independent living programs, recruitment and screen of prospective adoptive parents and domestic violence shelters.  The House also rejected the Governor’s plan to pay for certain scholarships with lottery reserves and, instead, funded those scholarships with general revenue funds.  The FY 10 Amended budget now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Voices for Georgia’s Children invites you to attend their
6th Annual Legislative Breakfast on TUESDAY FEB 23.

The breakfast if presented as part of the
2010 Children’s Policy Watch at the Capital

This year’s theme: Investing in Young Children: The Value of Partnerships

The breakfast brings together more than 100 legislators and child advocates from across Georgia to focus on current policy issues affecting children in our state.

REGISTER NOW!
www.georgiavoices.org

DETAILS:

Tuesday, February 23
7:30 – 9 a.m*

NOTE: Following the legislative breakfast, from 9:40 – 10:20 a.m., JUSTGeorgia and Georgia CASA will present a briefing on issues related to safety and fairness for Georgia’s youth. This is presented as part of JUSTGeorgia/CASA Day at the Capitol. February 23 is also Georgia PTA Day at the Capitol and a lobby day for the Georgia League of Women Voters.

The Georgia Freight Depot – Blue Room

65 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Atlanta, GA 30303

Legislative Breakfast speakers include:

Philip A. Peterson
(see bio below)
Senior Vice President, Aon Consulting
Advisory Board, Partnership for America’s Success

Dr. Beverly Tatum
President, Spelman College
Co-Chair, Early Education Commission

Rep. Penny Houston (R- HD 170-Nashville, GA)
Chair, House Appropriations Human Services Subcommittee

REGISTER NOW: www.georgiavoices.org

*Philip A. Peterson, Senior Vice President and a human resource consultant and actuary for Aon Consulting, specializing in global retirement strategies, stock option valuation and human capital metrics development. As a member of the Advisory Board of the Partnership for America’s Success, Phil is part of a group of influential corporate leaders who seek to highlight importance of early childhood investment as a strategy for America’s long-term economic competitiveness.

Phil currently serves on the board of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, and on the state board of the Pennsylvania Economy League. Phil helped co-create with Child Care Matters, the Aon/United Way of Southeastern PA Hand-in-Hand Award for quality child care in the business community. Phil is the co-chair of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission, and Pennsylvania delegate to the Telluride Economic Summit on Early Childhood Investment.

The House Appropriations Subcommittees approved their individual versions of the FY 10 amended budget today.  The full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote on the FY 10 Amended budget tomorrow, and the full House will take up the bill on the floor on Thursday.

 The House Appropriations Education Subcommittee took a stance against one of the Governor’s budget proposals.  The Governor had relied on lottery funds to pay for certain scholarships that have, historically, been funded through state general funds.  Legislators believe that approving this state appropriation would be surplanting state general funds with lottery funds and would, therefore, be unconstitional.

In these lean budget times, there’s a lot of talk about “right-sizing” government. Recently I’ve also heard people speak of what government “must” do versus what government “should” do and that in these tough times, we have to let a lot of the “shoulds” go. But indulge me for a moment as I think about kids.

The other day one of my colleagues pointed out a few “shoulds” for kids. Kids should do their homework and they should brush their teeth every day. Technically, these aren’t “musts.” If they don’t do their homework this weekend, they’re not going to be expelled from school on Monday. If they don’t brush their teeth tonight, they’re not going to see all their teeth fall out by Tuesday. That said, even in tough times, we still make our kids do their homework and brush their teeth. Why? Because we know there are serious long term consequences if they fail to act responsibly today. The same is true for government, especially when it comes to caring for our kids and planning for the future of our state. That is why we MUST not continue to cut the budget of the Department of Human Services (DHS) in a manner that hurts kids. We have to fund some of the “shoulds,” even if it requires increases in revenue.

One of the biggest concerns I have about the proposed DHS budget [summary available on DHS’s home page. Scroll down to Joint Appropriations Committee Presentation] is the attempt to “save” money by putting additional responsibilities on existing workers. Those existing workers are already way over-burdened and shifting more responsibility to them, will simply result in the work not getting done – not because the workers don’t care, but because the workers have reached a breaking point, they are already stretched beyond all measure and cannot be asked to do more.

A few key points about the DHS budget:

–         At a time when more people are unemployed and thus needing help – including help to feed their children, the state is reducing the number of eligibility workers.

  • When it comes to children, helping eligible people access food stamps and other essential safety net services is not a should, it’s a must.

–         At a time of greater stress for families because of the economic situation, we’re investigating fewer cases of child abuse and neglect but also cutting in-home case management contracts by $2 million.

  • Those in-home services help families whose children were diverted from state custody but are considered at risk of abuse and neglect.
  • Protecting children from abuse and neglect is not a should, it’s a must.

Evidence says our DHS workers are already at a breaking point.

–         The most recent report from federal monitors appointed due to a lawsuit against the state related to conditions in the child welfare system shows a significant reduction in oversight of private placements for children in foster care at the same time we’ve seen an increased percentage of children abused while in state custody (abuse rate in report is double that allowed by the lawsuit settlement and triple the newer federal standard).

–         The same report shows a dangerous drop in case workers meeting the requirement to visit children in foster care twice a month. Goal is 95% of children visit with their case managers twice a month. Last report shows only 51% of cases reviewed met that standard.

–         Maybe even scarier, the most recent Child Fatality Review Panel report reveals more than a 30% increase in “homicide deaths associated with maltreatment findings.”

–         Also check out TV news coverage of the situation in Fulton County.

Is protecting children a should or must? Apparently not all of us see eye-to-eye. What do you think?

beth

Various Appropriations Subcommittees will meet to hear budget presentations from agencies serving children in the upcoming days and weeks.  Here’s the schedule we have now:

Wednesday, January 27

House Appropriations- Education Subcommittee meets at  2 pm in 341 CAP for a public hearing on the FY 10 Amended Budget.  There will be a sign up sheet for members of the public who wish to speak, or you may email tammy.liner@house.ga.gov to asked to be placed on the list.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

House Appropriations- Human Resources Subommittee is scheduled to meet in 406 CLOB.  At 3 pm, they will hear a presentation from the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities is scheduled to give its budget presentation at 4 pm.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Senate Appropriations- Education Subcommittee will meet at 9 a.a. is 450 CAP to review FY10 Amended Budget proposals for the Department of Early Care and Learning and the Department of Education.

Monday, February 1, 2010

House Appropriations- Education Subcommittee will meet at 2 pm in 341 CAP for budget presentations from the Department of Education and will accept public comments on the FY10 amended budget.

The Capitol was abuzz today with news that Speaker Ralston has asked the Appropriations Committee to craft a budget that does not rely on the Governor’s proposed provider tax to fund Medicaid. 

 At last week’s budget presentation on her department’s budget, Commissioner of the Department of Community Health (DCH) Rhonda Medows explained that her department had very few budget options.  When Georgia accepted federal funds, it agreed not to cut eligibility or benefits.  Dr. Medows stated that, without additional funds, Georgia would either have to make deep cuts to provider fees or end the Medicaid program.

It is my understanding that Speaker Ralston’s charge to the Appropriations Committee was to find cuts throughout the entire budget, not just DCH’s budget.  Many of us expect that this may lead to even deeper cuts in K-12 education which, adjusted for inflation, will fall to its lowest funding level in a decade in FY 11.

Will this exercise in extracting even more savings from a skeletal budget lead legislators to conclude that they cannot merely cut themselves out of this fiscal situation?  Will they consider revenue measures such as the tobacco tax?  Will there be further cuts to education, child welfare,public health,  juvenile justice, and other programs that ensure that our children have a brighter future?

 We’ll be watching.

As I write this post, the clock reads “1:09 am,” yet I can’t sleep, in part due the bad news for Georgia’s kids that keeps reverberating in my brain.

And, I wonder… which of our dreams for the future of Georgia’s children have been dashed by the current budget crisis?

I’ve emerged from a sobering three days spent listening to various heads of the state agencies presenting their proposed budgets for the remainder of the current fiscal year and FY 2011.

Just a few of the cuts to services that affect children throughout the state include:
• Cutting $800 million in the basic funding schools receive this year and in FY 2011;
• Reducing pre-adoption assistance contracts with organizations that assist DHS in recruiting and screening potential adoptive homes;
• Cutting $1.3 million in FY 10 for the Independent Living Program for youth aging out of foster care;
• Cutting $518,000 from family violence reduction programs in FY 10;
• Cutting food stamp eligibility worker positions;
• Reducing funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers;
• Cutting Medicaid provider rates; and
• Eliminating resource coordinators who work with Georgia pre-K families.

These cuts must be giving agency heads nightmares.

B.J. Walker, Commissioner of Human Services, called cuts to her agency “painful” and said that some cuts would result in the agency not being able to deliver the same standard of services. She said that the budget crisis has required her and her staff to take a hard look at “what are ‘must dos’ versus ‘should dos’ and ‘nice to dos’” for the kids in her agency’s care.

Secretary of Education, Kathy Cox, told legislators that the deep cuts to the Department of Education will mean than failing schools will not get the assistance they need to improve and ensure better outcomes for Georgia’s students.

And, Dr, Rhonda Medows who leads the Department of Community Health, told lawmakers that unless they approve proposals to generate new revenue by instituting hospital and Medicaid provider fees, they will have to either drastically cut rates to Medicaid providers or cut the entire Medicaid program upon which 1.6 million Georgians and an entire healthcare industry relies.

Despite the grim news, I know this: members of the legislative leadership do care about our youngest citizens and our strong community of child advocates will speak up for kids throughout the legislative session.

This gives me the courage to hope for peaceful slumber and not nightmares when I finally shut my eyes.

Budget briefings will be held in Room 341 of the Capitol all week.  The following are briefings of specific interest to children’s advocates:

 Tuesday 1/19/10

1:05 pm  Governor Perdue speaks

1:30 pm Economic Outlook and Revenue Estimating, Dr. Kenneth Heaghney, State Fiscal Economist

2 PM  Department of Revenue, Bart Craham, Commissioner

Wed. 1/20/10

10:30 am  Juvenile Justice, Albert Murray, Commissioner

1 pm Education, Kathy Cox, State Superintendent

Thursday, 1/21/10

9 am  Human Services, B.J. Walker, Commissioner

10 am Community Health, Dr. Rhonda Medows, Commissioner

11 am  Behavioral Health, Frank Shelp, Commissioner

You can watch the briefings from the comfort of your home or office by clicking http://www.legis.state.ga.us/legis/2009_10/house/Committees/GLN/boardcastIndex.htm

Admins/Authors

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