This week, I was honored to have been appointed by the House Democratic Caucus as Ranking Member of the House Regulated Industries Committee. As a senior Democratic member of the committee, this assignment involves serving as a liaison and advising the caucus leadership on key regulated industries-related legislation on a daily basis throughout the session.
Following a week’s recess for Appropriations Committee members to examine Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed budget, the House of Representatives reconvened and made progress on some of the other major issues affecting Georgia. The past week dealt with legislation addressing wiretapping, synthetic marijuana and funding for our state’s Medicaid program.
The first piece of legislation approved by House members was HB 55, which would allow Superior Court judges to issue a warrant with statewide application. To issue a statewide warrant, the judge must have jurisdiction over a particular crime under investigation. HB 55 responds to a recent Supreme Court ruling that placed a multitude of wiretaps in jeopardy of being found unconstitutional.
The problem is particularly compelling because modern technology makes it easier than ever for criminal enterprises to extend beyond one single area of local jurisdiction. Judges, therefore, need the ability to grant statewide wiretaps, so that law enforcement can launch effective investigations against large scale organized crime. The House approved this legislation with near unanimous support, so it will now go to the Senate for consideration.
House members also voted on HB 57, legislation to protect Georgians from the growing problem of synthetic marijuana and narcotic “bath salts.” These designer drugs can cause extreme paranoia, suicidal tendencies, hallucinations, or even death in some cases. HB 57 helps remove these dangerous substances from store shelves by expanding the list of substances that are considered illegal by the state of Georgia.
The General Assembly passed similar legislation last year, but the makers of these drugs constantly change their chemical formulas to avoid the newly passed laws. Consequently, HB 57 is needed to add the most recently developed components that give these substances their narcotic effects to the state list of Schedule I narcotics. The House also approved HB 57 with near unanimous support, so it too will now go to the Senate for consideration.
The final bill the House passed this week, SB 24, will ensure necessary funding for Georgia’s Medicaid program, which provides health care for indigent women and children, as well as elderly patients. This legislation essentially continues a funding mechanism first created in 2010 to cover a Medicaid shortfall that was in the hundreds of millions. The General Assembly enacted the 2010 mechanism after hospitals asked to enter into a payment agreement with the state in order to provide a funding stream that could be used to draw down additional federal Medicaid funds and returned to hospitals with an increased Medicaid reimbursement rate.
This provider payment allows the state to avoid a Medicaid rate cut that would be devastating for many Georgia hospitals and physicians. In fact, this financial program is so successful that 49 states and the District of Columbia now have similar provider payment agreements.
The 2010 Hospital Provider Payment Arrangement stated that it would automatically end on July 1, 2013. Now that this sunset date is drawing near, state leaders have once again worked with our state’s hospitals to assess the Medicaid funding arrangement used for the past three years and to decide how the state should move forward. SB 24 authorizes the Department of Community Health (DCH) to establish, assess, and discontinue provider payments on hospitals.
To ensure that the payments remain beneficial to the state’s hospitals and provide oversight, SB 24 allows the General Assembly to override DCH provider payment assessments. The General Assembly will also retain the ability to adjust the amount of money flowing to hospitals through the funding it appropriates in the state budget. Finally, similar to the previous 2010 measure, SB 24 will automatically sunset after four years.
The delicate balance struck in SB 24 will once again allow our state to forgo substantial Medicaid cuts that would have likely resulted in the closing of at least 10 hospitals throughout the state. These cuts would have most affected Georgia’s rural communities, where people already have to travel long distances to reach the nearest hospital. The loss of these hospitals would also hurt our attempts to encourage job creation and economic development throughout the state. Now that both the House and Senate have approved SB 24, it will go to the Governor for his likely signature.
It is always good to see citizens from House District 132 at the Capitol during the legislative session. On Jan. 30, we welcomed officials from Warm Springs and the Little White House in observance of the 131st birthday of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Warm Springs Mayor Sheila Lee, Friends of the Little White House President Brian Roslund and Little White House Site Manager Robin Glass were honored in the House of Representatives, and FDR re-enactor James Fowler performed for House members.
Rep. Carl Von Epps (D-LaGrange), Georgia House District 132. During the legislative session, contact me at 512 Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; by phone at 404-656-7859; or by email at email@example.com.