Legislative briefs

Resolution calls for study of ways to overhaul Medicaid

House lawmakers voted Thursday to create a joint House-Senate committee to study ways to overhaul Georgia’s ailing Medicaid program.

“It’s time we take a serious look at Medicaid reforms and ensure that hardworking taxpayer dollars are being implemented in the most cost-effective manner,” said Rep. Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula, who sponsored the resolution.

House Resolution 107 calls for a committee of lawmakers, health care providers and at least one consumer to look at ways to better run the state’s health care program for the poor. Medicaid provides health coverage for roughly 1.7 million Georgians, mostly pregnant women, children, the elderly and disabled. The program busted its budget last fiscal year by $32 million.

— Misty Williams

Bill calls for legislators to examine health department spending

The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would create an overview committee of legislators to work with the Department of Community Health to examine practices and identify potential savings in the department.

Senate Bill 62 is sponsored by Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta, and would require the committee to have legislators from both chambers of the General Assembly.

The state’s Community Health Department oversees Georgia’s massive Medicaid health care program for the poor, which covers mostly pregnant women, children, the elderly and disabled.

— Misty Williams

Bill would require insurance premium information involving Obamacare

Senate lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill that would require health insurance companies to include on consumers’ premium statements the amount of rate increase, if any, resulting from the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“It is good for us to be transparent with the consumers of Georgia and show exactly what this legislation coming down is going to do to our insurance premiums,” said Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson, who sponsored the bill.

Senate Bill 236 would also require workers on the state’s health benefit program to receive the same information. The bill passed 36-17.

— Misty Williams

Bill would shift authority over dentistry, pharmacy boards to health agency

A bill passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday would move responsibility for overseeing the state boards of pharmacy and dentistry to the Georgia Department of Community Health.

The two boards, which oversee pharmacists, dentists, dental hygienists and other health care professionals, are currently under the purview of the Secretary of State’s Office. Supporters of House Bill 132 said it would make responding to Georgians’ problems more efficient and cost-effective by sharing existing resources with the Georgia Composite Medical Board, which is already under the authority of the Community Health Department.

A individual recently called the Secretary of State’s Office and was told there were 140 calls ahead of him or her and ended up hanging up, said Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, who sponsored the bill.

“It’s one thing to be on hold when you have a problem with your plumbing, but if you have a health problem and hear 139 calls in front of you, that’s a problem,” Hawkins said.

The bill passed 122-46.

— Misty Williams

Senate passes nurse discipline bill

The Senate unanimously approved a bill requiring nurses to report their colleagues to the Georgia Nursing Board if they suspect they have violated any of the board’s grounds for discipline.

The sponsor of Senate Bill 13, Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, said it would keep bad nurses from being quietly fired from medical facilities only to get a job elsewhere in the state.

Aside from a Senate resolution urging Congress to balance the federal budget, the bill was the first to pass the Senate on Thursday.

— Chris Joyner

Community broadband bill knocked down

The House on Thursday voted down an effort to limit local governments’ ability to create their own broadband Internet networks, an effort to spur greater private-sector competition.

House Bill 282 failed 70-94, despite a bipartisan coalition of Democrats and rural Republicans who said that private telecoms have failed to build reliable networks.

Sponsored by Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, the bill would have allowed local governments to enter the Internet marketplace if no private network provided at least 3 megabytes per second of service.

Hamilton said allowing cities, with unlimited tax dollars, to compete with private companies erodes the free market and is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

But Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, said his community was unable to get a private company to provide sufficient service, and that meant the loss of economic development opportunities.

“You cannot get it, you cannot keep it without high-speed fiber,” Powell said. The provider, he said, “wouldn’t provide it because they knew they didn’t have to. They provided whatever crumbs from the table they wanted.”

— Aaron Gould Sheinin

Deal signs fix for car tax

Gov. Nathan Deal has signed legislation fixing the state’s new car tax, setting in motion changes Georgians who lease cars will see in a matter of days.

The state Legislature passed the legislation Tuesday.

It fixes unintended consequences of a new law that took effect Friday that eliminated the state’s hated “birthday tax” on car registrations. A chief problem was a double tax on car leases.

— Kristina Torres

House passes bill that could bring package stores closer to campus

House lawmakers approved a bill Thursday that would allow local governments to decide just how far college students must walk to buy alcohol to-go.

House Bill 517, introduced by Rep. Chuck Williams, R-Watkinsville, would allow city and county governments to determine the distance between college campuses and retailers of beer and wine. Current law allows local governments to specify the distance establishments such as bars and restaurants must be from a campus, but it does not allow the same for package retailers.

Williams said he introduced the bill to accommodate a grocery chain considering a store in the Athens area.

The University System of Georgia took a neutral stance on the bill, Williams said. But Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, was more spirited in his interest.

“Is there any potential for this having a detrimental effect on the game day experience in certain college towns in autumn?” he asked Williams, who assured him “game day Saturdays are safe.”

HB 517 passed 156-6. It now heads to the Senate.

— Katie Leslie

Bid to lower Fulton County property taxes fails for now

House lawmakers blocked a measure backed by Republican leaders that would increase Fulton County’s homestead exemption to $60,000 after a three-year phase-in period.

Under the proposal, introduced by House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton, the homestead exemption would grow from $30,000 to $60,000 by 2017. The measure needed 120 votes, but it only garnered 119. House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta, called for another vote on the plan for Monday.

Democrats worry that increasing the homestead exemption could hamper Fulton County’s services.

— Greg Bluestein

House approves making Fulton’s chief magistrate elected

The state House voted 110-56 to make Fulton County’s chief magistrate judge an elected office, rather than appointed by the State Court judges. A Democratic lawmaker said it’s a move to put a Republican in the seat.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, said the change was recommended by a special task force that examined Fulton’s court system last year. But Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, questioned why the bill has the governor making the first four-year appointment, rather than starting with an election. That would likely oust Chief Magistrate Judge Stephanie Davis and give her successor the advantage of incumbency when the first election is held, Bruce told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Willard said the governor could appoint anyone, including Davis.

— Johnny Edwards

Legislation targets commercial use of mug shots

Private companies that lift mug shots from government sites and charge people to take them down would have to find a new business model under legislation approved by the state House on Thursday.

House Bill 150, sponsored by Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, would bar private companies from charging people who are exonerated from having their mug shot removed from their web site. It passed the House 165-3.

The bill, Bruce said, is “a truly bipartisan effort to stop the exploitation of our citizens by these companies who put mug shots out on the Internet and in publications that they have essentially stolen.”

People who are arrested but later found not guilty or have their case dismissed were being charged as much as $8,000 to have their mug shot removed, Bruce said.

“We just want to stop the exploitation,” he said. “It will make it illegal for them charge you to remove a photograph from one of these sites.”

— Aaron Gould Sheinin