The legislative session convenes Jan. 14 at the state Capitol, but many of the legislators will be attending the Dec. 9-11 28th Biennial Institute for Georgia Legislators, to be held at the University of Georgia Conference Center in Athens. The event is billed as a session for legislators to explore state issues prior to the upcoming General Assembly session.
“Gov. Deal has made it clear that Georgia will not be implementing the Healthcare Exchanges,” District 18 Rep. Kevin Cook, R-Carrollton,. said Monday. “I applaud that decision, and it’s the best for Georgia.”
“In an effort to keep small businesses afloat, we must continue to fight against Obama’s one size fits all approach to healthcare,” said District 68 Rep. Dustin Hightower, R-Carrollton. “If Obamacare is implemented within Georgia, I fear many businesses will start moving many of their full-time workers to part-time and many more businesses will be forced to make layoffs.”
When asked about the major issue this year, Rep. Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, replied, “Budget, budget, budget.”
“A lot is yet to be determined, but the biggest issue is the budget,” Nix said. “We’re going to have less federal revenue, which has already been taken up through Medicaid and increased education spending.”
However, Nix agrees with other local legislators that Obamacare will be a major issue facing the state.
“I think Obamacare will be a disaster for the country,” he said. “It’s an open checkbook. Once you start it, it takes more money and you don’t know where the money will come from in the future to fund it.”
District 28 state Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan, said the largest issues resolve around the Medicaid program and how it will impact the state.
“On the one hand, we have the expiration of the ‘bed tax,’ which will probably be the most contested issue,” he said. “On the other hand, we have the proposed expansion of Medicaid. If the bed tax is not renewed, there is the potential of a $400 million shortfall in the state budget due to matching funds from the federal government.”
The 1.45 percent hospital bed tax was passed by the 2010 Assembly, but will end next June 30 if not renewed. Hospitals that largely depend on Medicaid funding support the bed tax, but those with small Medicaid populations either oppose it or are neutral.
“On top of this, the pending takeover of healthcare in our country by the federal government through Obamacare has provisions to expand Medicaid roles in the state by over 400,000 persons,” Crane said. “If implemented here, this would push the number of Georgians on Medicaid to nearly 2 million. While the feds promise to pay 100 percent of this staggering new cost for three years, I don’t believe a word they say. Eventually, and probably sooner than later, the burden will fall to the state because the feds are bankrupt.”
Hightower noted that attracting and creating jobs will continue to be a major issue.
“There is a national need for economic growth and job development. We, as a legislative body, are committed to making Georgia an attractive place for new business,” Hightower said. “This will be done through continuing tax reform and implementing incentives to small and large businesses.”
An example, he said, was the bill passed in the last session to do away with sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, to attract new manufacturers to the state. It has worked, he added.
“The House has also spearheaded the Red Tape Watch, which is a committee dedicated to doing away with unnecessary regulations that stifle small business development and growth,” he said.
On the local legislation level, Hightower said he will introduce legislation to help Fairfield Plantation residents keep their voting precinct.
“For many years, the Carroll County citizens of Fairfield Plantation have been one of the strongest voting bodies in the county, often having a voter turnout twice as much as the next closest precinct,” he said. “In a time when voter apathy is at an all-time high, I believe we must do all that we can to encourage voters to vote and stay away from putting barriers in their way. The legislation would allow for voting precincts to be housed within a gated community as long as the community ‘opened’ its gates to full and complete access by the public during an election day.”