Math gets tricky trying to find an antidote to Georgia nurse shortage

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Here’s a lesson in legislative math.

The state Senate on Thursday passed its version of the $23.7 billion budget. It includes the usual assortment of proposals, such as more than $1 billion in road and bridge projects, hundreds of millions of dollars in increases for public health programs, and funding for efforts targeting crime and terrorism of a cyber nature.

But this budget has a lot to do with playing catch-up after the Great Recession.

That's why Gov. Nathan Deal earlier this year proposed 3 percent raises for teachers and state workers who had to weather layoffs and furloughs for years after the economy took a swan dive.

The Senate’s budget pays special attention to public health nurses. Here’s why: Georgia has lost more than 20 percent of these nurses since 2008. Pay appears to be a big reason: The state Department of Public Health reports that the entry-level salary for a registered nurse in the public health system is $32,418, while the average starting salary for RNs in Georgia is $57,456. That means the public health nurses are getting slightly more than 56 cents for every dollar earned by starting registered nurses — kind of a gauze ceiling.

So the senators, whose proposal more than doubles what Deal and the state House set aside for the nurses, generously decided to give all the public health nurses a 10 percent raise. That would bring the starting salary up to $35,659.80, or 6 cents more for every $1 beginning RNs make overall.

That ought to do it.

It's a 'new day' for legislator, Tech boss

State Rep. Earl Ehrhart this past week played an interesting game of good cop, bad cop. Or maybe it's the other way around.

On the receiving end was Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson.

Ehrhart, in an interview with The Marietta Daily Journal, recently called for the dismissal of the head Yellow Jacket. What a buzz kill.

In his role as chairman of a House subcommittee that controls university funding, Ehrhart ripped into Peterson earlier in the session during a hearing over whether the school had failed to provide due process to students accused of sexual assault and other wrongdoing. The lawmaker, who threatened to reduce the school's funding, also labeled Tech's treatment of the accused students as "Kafkaesque."

Tech has been hit with a pair of lawsuits by students who were expelled after being found responsible — unfairly they say — for sexual misconduct. The Board of Regents, which oversees the University System of Georgia, earlier this year reinstated one of the students. Tech is also embroiled in a dispute for disciplining a fraternity accused of hurling racial slurs at a black female student. The fraternity says it didn’t happen.

Following the Ehrhart tongue-lashing, Tech withdrew a request for $47 million to renovate its library complex.

Then Ehrhart called on the Board of Regents to let Peterson’s contract expire when it comes up for renewal next month.

(The regents took a separate but related action Wednesday, approving uniform policies for the way the state's 29 public colleges and universities handle student misconduct cases. Critics say the new policies will make things worse, creating a "cumbersome" process that will discourage sexual assault victims from seeking charges against students. One student from Georgia Tech blamed the "flawed" policies on Ehrhart's "bullying.")

Then on Wednesday, with nobody to serve as good cop, Ehrhart filled the role himself. He reported that Peterson had turned things around. He said Peterson had reached out to the mother who said school officials had prevented her from being in the room for her son's hearing on allegations of sexual misconduct. Peterson also wrote a letter to the fraternity apologizing for unfairly punishing the students.

Ehrhart now says that work on Tech’s library complex could be back in the budget next year.

Said Ehrhart, “We’re moving forward to a new day.”

At least they didn't say the dog ate it

When Georgia tried to go electronic with its campaign finance reporting system for local-level officials, it met a lot of static.

Finally, after years of hearing complaints, the state pulled the plug.

That left a backlog of thousands of reports that were never filed, plus millions of dollars in potential ethics fines.

Now, though, relief appears to be coming for the thousands of county commissioners, mayors, school board members and other local officials who did not file campaign finance reports from 2010 to 2014. To wipe the slate clean, there's one catch: If House Bill 370 becomes law, those officials can only avoid being fined by getting their delinquent paperwork in by Dec. 31. When the Big Peach drops, so could the hammer.

HB 370 represents a compromise formed in committee between the state ethics commission and the lobbyists for the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia.

The trouble all began in 2010, when the state started requiring local officials to electronically file their campaign reports directly with the ethics commission rather than with local clerks. What followed was a revolt against an often confusing online filing system — hey, who hasn’t been there? It swamped the state with complaints and passive-aggressive behavior. Now, after lawmakers changed the law back to allow the reports to be turned over to local filing officials, the ethics commission’s database of late filers has about 27,000 entries. Most of them represent those missing reports for local-level politicians who were unable or unwilling to file.

HB 370 passed the Senate last week and now returns to the House, where it faces a tougher deadline than the officials it would apparently rescue. If the work’s not done by March 24, Sine Die, the only file it will see will be circular.